Celeb interviews

At home with: Nick Knowles

Nick Knowles is one of Britain’s most versatile presenters and has appeared in an impressive list of programmes. The third series of Original Features will be on the Home channel in March, and Nick has once again discovered the genealogy of different people’s properties. He talks to Lynda Clark about his property experiences and interesting career >>

FTB: Tell us about your first step on the property ladder.
NK: I bought my first home in 1986 for £29,950. It was a three bedroom semi in Hawkhurst, Kent. During the boom years it was worth £90,000, but then there was the crash and I eventually sold it for £45,000. But that’s the way of the world, and property prices are often like that. I rented for several years and then bought a property in Chiswick, west London, which was a wreck. Nothing had been done to it for 80 years, and it didn’t even have a bathroom! I completely gutted it; at one point it had no roof so you could see the sky, but I turned it into a very modern, fabulous home. I bought it for £340,000 and sold it for £725,000. Now I’m renting again and not rushing into anything, as I want to find exactly the right house. I’m keen to live in the country, but I may need to compromise.

FTB: How did your career start?
NK: I grew up in Southall until I was 11, and then we moved to Tunbridge Wells. I have a brother and three sisters, and my mum and dad were always there for us. I remember my dad doing three jobs to earn enough money to pay for Christmas presents, and he never stopped working. I had a bit of an attitude at school and was called motor mouth, but I had the corners knocked off me. I was passionate about sport, and I was music mad. I teamed up with my brother when I left school and played in bars and clubs, then I tried a bit of acting, but I couldn’t make up my mind what I really wanted to do. Eventually I got a job at the BBC as a runner and then moved on to become a researcher. I decided to go to Australia and play rugby, but I got a job on a news station as a reporter and then as a producer and director. I had some lucky breaks, but I never approached anything by the normal route. I have worked on many series including DIY SOS, which is very successful and is regularly watched by eight million people each week. I love Africa, and one of the most memorable films I did was on orangutans for the BBC’s Saving Planet Earth.

FTB: What is your real passion?
NK: I really love social history – it’s been a subject that has fascinated me for a very long time. I am interested in tribal customs, and when I was in Australia I lived with aborigines in the outback. I ate witchity grubs, which look exactly the same as maggots but are better when they are roasted on the fire, as they taste like sausages. I also lived with Navajo indians in Arizona, which was equally as fascinating.

FTB: Tell us about your new series
NK: It’s great to be working with the Home channel again, and this is the third series of Original Features. It’s a great show as I peel back the wallpaper and rummage in the roof spaces to help homeowners unlock the genealogy and design DNA of their properties. Each episode features a renovation with a twist as I delve into the untouched corners of a house a couple have recently bought to discover the property’s true history and bring it back to its former glory. For example, I met the Seymours who own a 17th century thatched cottage in Hampshire and the Hughes who are planning to renovate their 13th century farmhouse, complete with a moat and priest hole! Everyone and every home have their own story to tell, and it’s a fascinating journey through time.

FTB: What advice have you got for anyone trying to get on the property ladder?
NK: It’s very tough for anyone considering buying their first home at the moment as we are going through hard times. The economic situation is very unstable, and the problems in Europe are adding to the situation. So this might not be the right time to speculate on buying a home. I think that anyone who can live with their parents and save up and wait for the economy to pick up is in a very good position. It’s all too easy to stretch yourself too far and then get into difficulties, and there is nothing worse than not having enough to pay the mortgage and having to give the keys back. There are some first time buyers who are in a stable situation and they should look carefully at what mortgage deal they can get. I suggest they go for a fixed mortgage rate, and then they will know exactly how much they have to pay each month and can budget accordingly. At least you know you are safe for a few years, and hopefully things will improve. I also suggest they go to a sympathetic lender who is keen to help first timers as it will make life a lot easier.

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