TV: Alan Carr on his home interiors, judging style and taking on America

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The reality TV competition, which moves from BBC Two to BBC One for its upcoming third series, will welcome a new batch of aspiring designers willing to battle it out for their big break in the fast-paced world of commercial interior design.

Each week, the talent – all on the cusp of turning professional – take part in a different commercial brief – working alone or in teams – to transform everything from show homes, shops and restaurants to beach huts, bars, and luxury holiday villas with their brightest ideas.

The prize: a career-defining contract with a luxury hotel in Cornwall.

“It’s acquired an added confidence (this series),” Carr, 45, believes, addressing the channel move. “The challenges are tough from the outfit so the designers have to really think on their feet – even from episode one.”

This season, “we’ve had suspended boats, boob cushions, AstroTurf walls, terrifying taxidermy – you name it, I’ve seen it!” the Northampton comic lists, recalling a number of standout creations.

“There was one moment where the designer literally demolished the space because she wanted a total transformation. I mean, it was a pile of rubble and dust and she only had two days to complete it…

“There were a few anxious looks from the producers that day but that’s what makes great viewing, people taking chances and creative risks!”

So as the title of the show suggests, mastery comes in handy. And who better to scrutinize their skills than returning head judge, interiors guru and former editor of Elle Decoration Michelle Ogundehin.

Industry names offering advice and appraisal on a week-by-week basis include Matthew Williamson, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Mary Portas, Guy Oliver, Sophie Robinson, Ross Bailey, Abigail Ahern and Sarah Willingham.

Williamson, for one, “genuinely loves the show,” declares Carr, who is speaking from an Edinburgh hotel room having embarked on his UK-wide Regional Trinkets tour.

“And then Laurence Llewellyn Bowen, he’s brilliant. It was funny seeing him in Wales up on this campsite with his Fleur-De-Lys suit and Chelsea boots – I don’t think he’d ever been that far north before!

“And Mary Portas, she was doing the shops, so I feel we’re getting a better caliber of guests on it, and Ross Bailey, the pop-up shop man, it’s all really good,” boasts the Chatty Man star.

And there’s a lot at stake, for at the end of every challenge the weakest designers will find themselves on the sofa (“It’s terrifying,” Carr insists) to face the judges and explain their decisions. Then, at least one will be eliminated.

It’s a process Carr struggles with, admitting: “I just feel like the kid in the middle, looking down because I get quite awkward with confrontation.

“I just wish I could pick up one of those books on the coffee table and go through it,” he jests. “It’s very awkward, and when they start crying I don’t really know what to do – there’s a lot of tears this time and it never gets easy.”

The somewhat relaxation of Covid rules since the second series meant Carr could at least comfort the contestants if needed.

“Now when they go, you can at least pat them on the back and give them a cuddle,” he said. “Before, you used to just wave from six feet away and go, ‘Byeee!’ It felt really cold and horrible!”

As for his judging style, “I try and be firm but fair, but I have the worst poker face going!” he quips, his trademark laughs infectious. “Sometimes lime green or baby-poo brown, I mean, I try to be quite neutral, but with this face you’re fighting a losing battle!

“But I do learn from Michelle. It’s all about the flow and what does the room tell you? Then a pop of colour, so I try to be a bit more finger-on-the-pulse.”

Have the tips and tricks he’s learned spilled over into his own home?

“Well yeah, it has, really! I mean, I will look at a chair in the corner of the room and go, ‘What’s your story?’, but I like plumping up cushions and lighting an expensive candle,” he says, admitting he “loves a bit of art deco” too.

“So I am getting better – but I can’t work my way around a power tool or anything. Putting up a picture is like the dark arts; I just don’t know how you do it, I’m useless!”

Carr continues: “I’m actually friends with Kelly Hoppen and Matthew Williamson, and it is funny having interior designers round your house, because Matthew will look at something really disgusting and have a raised eyebrow, where Kelly will sort of straddle it – she will push your sofa, sometimes while you’re on it!

“I think if you’ve got that in you, that creative thing, you just can’t turn off, so having friends like that, there’s a lot of pressure, innit?” I have questions. “It’s like when I go for a meal with Gok (Wan), I make sure my shirt’s ironed, and everything’s clean and it’s on trend and it’s fashion forward!”

Fashion aside, next Carr is set to take on the US: “I mean, it says in the paper I’m going to break America, but I doubt that with a 100-seater in New York!” he shrieks, laughing.

“But I want to do it; I’m no spring chicken and I’ve got to bite the bullet and go!”

That is, of course, after his live tour wraps up in London this October. Does he enjoy being back on the road?

“Do you know what, the atmosphere is absolutely insane. People are just up for a laugh and it’s just so lovely to be out there again!

“I’m really happy with the show – it’s a very personal show, and it’s weird for me, because of what’s going on in my personal life,” he follows, referencing his recent separation from husband Paul Drayton. “I’m writing as I go along, which is different, because normally you have your show and you stick to it.

“It’s interesting, it’s a learning curve, but it’s fresh and it’s nice. I’m getting a lot of love from the audience, which is wonderful.”

It’s been a form of self-therapy, Carr realizes: “That’s the way I deal with things – through comedy. I get a lift from it and I love that mutual buzz you get. I got that with the Royal Variety Performance. I’ ve done that a couple of times before and the audience can be a little bit muted, but as soon as I got on that stage, they were up for it!

“From the get-go they were like, ‘Let’s have a laugh’,” he finishes, smiling. “There’s electricity out there, people want to have fun. They’re sick of it all. And they want Alan Carr to entertain ’em!”

Interior Design Masters with Alan Carr, BBC1, Wednesday, 9pm.