Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp have become an enduring TV partnership – but just what is it about each of them that makes it work so well on television?
The world of television can be a fickle business, one day you’re a star, the next you’ve been all but forgotten – not recognised in one of those ‘where are they now?’ columns.
Given that enduring relationships are few and far between and Location, Location, Location, is seven years down the line, it’s satisfying to know that Kirstie and Phil still enjoy each other’s company.
In fact, 2006 saw them both become parents, Phil for the second time, while Kirstie gave birth to her first child. It meant that she was on maternity leave while Phil carried on, with Sofie, Kirstie’s younger sister, standing in.
‘It’s funny, we didn’t work together for six months and I was looking forward to teaming up with Kirstie again,’ says Phil. ‘I did wonder if it would have changed but that first time back we had a chat about the people on the show, walked down the road and nailed the introduction first take. It felt so comfortable. We both bring different things to the party and it just works.’
In the beginning
Perhaps a lot of this is down to how they found their way on to the screen in the first place.
Kirstie was working in an interior design business but then fate – or former New Labour spin-doctor Derek Draper – intervened. A friend of a friend, he asked her to find him a flat, and soon loads of Westminster and media types were ringing up, asking for expert help and advice in tracking down the right property.
There was a name check in the Guardian, closely followed by the Telegraph, and then Channel 4 asked her to do a screen test with an ex-marine called Phil Spencer.
The show is now in its eighth series, and its presenters are in a professional partnership off screen as well as on with their joint venture, Garrington Home Finders.
‘Property is my security blanket,’ says Kirstie. ‘If you don’t have a day job, or at the very least a job you can go back to, you are setting yourself up for a terrible fall,’ she reveals.
‘We are a great double act,’ says Phil. ‘Kirstie is more forthright than me, while I prefer to give people information and empower them to make their own decisions. But we know we are better house finders together than apart.’
And, like Kirstie, becoming a TV presenter was not a planned career move for Phil. ‘I got a call out of the blue from Channel 4 who had conjured up the concept for a show,’ he says. ‘Trouble was, they didn’t know anything about buying property, so they asked me and five others to come in and consult for half an hour.’
Cue Kirstie who, like Phil, was one of a tiny brigade back in the 90s offering an independent property search service for house buyers. Phil and Kirstie were asked to help make a pilot show and very soon a hit series was born.
‘We knew of each other professionally and had a great deal of mutual respect, but my first impression was that she was barking mad,’ jokes Phil. ‘Now I’m probably more confident that she IS barking mad!’
Phil admits that where Kirstie is gushing and bold, he is calm and measured. ‘We are completely different,’ he says. ‘She is either really excited or really hacked off, which makes great viewing, while I’m more on a level. She can fall in love with a house on somebody else’s behalf, while I will be the one saying, “yes, but you wanted it to do a, b, and c.”
‘Kirstie has a fantastic architectural and historical knowledge – which I don’t – and she is highly emotional about property – which I’m not. We get on very well – we just tackle things in different ways. Buying property is an emotional experience, so from a client’s perspective I’m better for the structural and maintenance side, whereas Kirstie is better at giving interiors advice.
And what does Kirstie have to say about her TV co-presenter?
‘Phil is very precise in what he does,’ she reveals. ‘He gets up, gets spruced up, irons his shirt and comes down for the hotel breakfast with the rest of the crew and he seems to have plenty of time on his side. I’m different. There’s the hair to do, the jewellery and accessories to get right and everything ends up in such a rush. I end up flying through the breakfast room grabbing what I can and shoving it in my handbag for later. It may not be the best way to start the day but whatever
I do, I just can’t find enough time to take it at a more leisurely pace.’
ups and downs
The conflicts are not presenter to presenter, but presenter to TV crew. Phil and Kirstie present a united front when it comes to dealing with the clients and whether they are on TV or not the customer always comes first.
‘It’s the telly things against the property considerations,’ says Kirstie. ‘We want to show the property in a certain way and there is a symmetry to the way we do that. The TV crew are into the light and the space and want us to approach the job more aesthetically. Sometimes the two just don’t go together and that is when we will put
our foot down.
‘There are properties that come up on the short list that have tremendous TV potential but just don’t fill the brief. I remember one property in Kent where the couple looking at it thought there was no garden – in fact, there was a magnificent walled-garden that we could unveil dramatically towards the end of the viewing.’
The two-presenter format has big advantages in that rather than too many cooks spoiling the broth, many hands make light work. The pair are constantly on the phone during filming, checking out properties, wheeling and dealing.
There is constant on-the-hoof research and there have been times when a home has been recommended and put on the shortlist only for it to be sold before the crew and the TV clients have the opportunity to look around it.
And then there’s what Kirstie and Phil each see in a property – they admit that they don’t always get it right, as sometimes the lure of a particular property can outwit them.
‘I remember one case where we were looking for a London home for a disabled woman and it was imperative that she had parking,’ says Kirstie. ‘Phil found a property that seemed perfect and was delighted that it did have parking. But I could see the problem straight away – yes, there was a dedicated parking spot, but it was two hundred yards from the house. The client burst into tears the minute she saw the set up. I miss things as well. Phil’s great on the structure and the roof. I can miss bits there and that is why our teamwork pays off.’
Each programme is filmed as it happens, so if the prospective purchaser pulls a disgusted face at a property it will appear on the screen. ‘What you see is what really happens,’ says Phil.
Surely some scenes are mocked up? Phil can often be seen ringing Kirstie – or vice versa and the camera may only film one part because the call was unplanned.
‘That’s the only place where it might get mocked up,’ explains Phil. ‘My end might be recorded but they may have to get Kirstie to repeat her end later.’
Both hosts have become experts at jotting down extensive contemporaneous notes so that the eventual phone call will be as true to life as possible. But eagle-eyed viewers may wonder why Kirstie, Phil and their clients disappear for two or three days on their viewings and wear the same clothes throughout.
‘Kirstie doesn’t like that,’ says Phil. ‘She’s paranoid about it. But it’s for continuity reasons. We might have to do the piece for the beginning of the show later, for example. It’s much easier for the show’s editors if people don’t change what they’re wearing.’
Occasionally, however, small differences appear. Kirstie might wear a different necklace or shoes. ‘It’s her little way of rebelling,’ laughs Phil. ‘And on the day of filming the producer doesn’t notice anything!’ Poacher TO gamekeeper ‘I hate moving,’ admits Phil. ‘It’s too stressful.
I have invested in and developed properties but I’ve only lived in three houses.’
In fact, he’s just recovering from a house move. ‘I only looked at one house but I was very clear about where I wanted to live. Last time it came down to two roads, and only one side of those two roads. This time I only looked at one road and spoke to the three estate agents that dealt in that area. I was very focused in my search and worked out the specific road where we wanted to live. By putting a lot of thought into it and walking the streets, I was able to find what I call a “best of breed” property that has something extra – the better view, a garage, bigger garden or that extra bedroom.’