What can we expect from the series?
The woodworkers are extraordinary and surprised us constantly. The reason I was so delighted to be asked to do this job, I think during the lockdowns, people turned to crafts and gardening and making things and had to slow down in a way we haven’t really collectively before, and this show captures that.
Watching people work with wood, which is natural and earthy will speak to people, I hope anyway. There’s something very addictive about the method and the simplicity of it, it’s amazing. I was in awe of the contestants, they are proper artists.
Tell us about the judges, Alex and Helen. What sort of judges are they?
I don’t think either of them are going for the Simon Cowell panto villain. They’re a brilliant pairing and we’re so lucky to have them. Alex is our vigilant eye on design and aesthetic, as well as a constant champion of wood. Helen keeps us rooted to the making, the joinery, the nitty gritty of the craft. They’re an exceptional duo and legends in their fields. Alex is world-renowned in the field of architecture and Helen is an iconic woman who set up the London School of Furniture Making. Because they’re both teachers, they’re all about creative, constructive criticism
Were you impressed with the standard of the contestants on the show?
The guys are phenomenal. They had no time between episodes, which is so unusual. On Bake Off, we’d film at the weekends then the bakers would have the week to practice and relax. This was like a marathon and the woodworkers have got such grit. They’re a brilliant bunch of people and enjoyed all being together because it is usually such a solitary activity, so for them to meet others who have the same passion was wonderful.
Did you expect to see so many female woodworkers in the mix?
I was delighted to see so many women. One of our woodworkers, Michelle is a grandmother, she rides a motorbike, she does martial arts. You meet someone like that and it’s inspiring. We had another lovely lady, a mum of three, Chantal. It’s really cool, I really hope it will ignite people’s imaginations. I love to think thousands more people will be wanting to get into the woodshed to knock up a little stool or something!
The location is stunning, did it add to the atmosphere of the show?
Definitely. Our directors and producers said right from the word go that the outdoors is part of this show, and that really appealed to me because I really love being outdoors. We were in the woods, surrounded by trees and we were making stuff out of trees, it’s an amazing thing. And we were bloody lucky with the weather as well, we only had a couple of rainy days. I cycled to work every day through a forest, it felt very special. I hope it gives people watching a sense of calm and a sense of hope because we’re living in weird times.
You filmed the series in a production bubble because of the pandemic, how was that?
It felt like we were in a travelling circus, we were in this mad bubble, 59 of us and it was the most incredible time. We were in beautiful Mid-Wales, we had incredible weather, it was a bit like being at a festival, with some work obviously thrown in as well. It was wonderful working in the incredible outdoors and there were a few parties, too, with us all dancing in a field. It was such a gorgeous thing because so much of that had stopped in our lives at that time. We all felt so safe.
Do you have any practical or DIY skills?
I’m quite handy at holding a ladder up for someone else to ascend. Quite a lot of time in my youth was spent moving scenery in theatres, so I’m quite handy. I’d like to think I can handle a cordless power drill and I will strut around the place with a hard hat and a Makita in my hand. But when it comes to constructing anything, I’m not so good. I’m a good helper, I’m always happy to help, to hold something and be there in a trusty pair of dungarees.
Though I’m not bad with a paintbrush. I ran a small decorating firm with one of my best friends after we left university, called Ham Decorators, and we did up a couple of houses in Wales. We were so incredibly lazy, and it was mainly done for relatives.
Bake Off inspired lots of people to get into the kitchen and Pottery Throwdown got more people taking ceramics classes. Do you think Handmade will have the same result for woodwork?
I love the idea of that, suddenly the sales of cordless power drills go up. It would be lovely to think of that happening. When times are strange and difficult, which they are, people need comforting, reassuring things, nostalgic things, maybe, and I think this falls into that category. We’ll see, I’m excited.