This series nobody hated it, nobody went mad….
‘Handy Andy’ Kane is literally flying high. The Changing Rooms’ chippie has been nabbed by CBBC Education, and has been jetting all over the world to make a series of programmes that will be watched by 10 to 12-year-olds throughout the UK.
The Weather, the Place, the People is his latest venture, and it has taken him from the icy climes of northern Lapland to the furnace-like heat of the Arizona Desert.
"The programme is all about the weather and how people live in different climates," he explains. "It all started when I got a phone call from the BBC’s education department, totally out of the blue, asking me to do a maths’ programme. They wanted me to make up a room so we could use it to work out how much paint was needed, for example, and how you’d work out how many floor tiles to lay. It was all very simple stuff and it went really well.
"Then I got another call last spring saying they were doing a new series of geography programmes and was I interested. I’ve always found the weather interesting and I liked geography at school, so I said yes.
"We went to northern Lapland, which is as far north as you can fly. We took part in reindeer herding and then we visited the local school. We tried out snowmobiles and ice fishing and learned how people actually live. They have triple glazing in the houses, which are built off the ground because it’s freezing all year round."
Next stop was the tropical island of Grenada in the West Indies, where there’s a constant temperature of 85 degrees. "We were there for the downpours," says Andy. "One minute it’s dry, the next a foot of water has fallen from the skies, and two hours later it’s bone dry again. I picked nutmegs, went to the fruit market, met a local family and popped into the local school again."
Spain was next, to the resort of Torremolinos, made infamous by the famous Monty Python sketch in the Seventies as the place for Ôfish, chips and Watney’s Red Barrel, and waiters with matchstick hips’.
"It’s nothing like that today," says Andy, who despite his unmatchstick-like hips became a waiter in a Spanish restaurant. "There are lots of Spanish people living there now, and we were looking at the impact tourism has on the Spanish way of life."
Their final destination was Arizona’s Death Valley. "It was 125 degrees every day but it’s an amazing place. It has the lowest golf course in the world which uses one million gallons of water a day from a natural spring."
Although there was a lot of rushing about, Andy says it was a brilliant experience. "I had a fabulous time. They repeat these education series for ages. My own kids will probably benefit from watching them at school!"
Meanwhile, he’s also been filming two more back-to-back series of Changing Rooms, which should be on our television screens around the time you’re reading this article. "Changing Rooms is my core thing," he says, with a hint of pride.
It is, of course, the reason why Handy Andy has become a household name. There are even Handy Andy’s in other countries who have copied the Changing Rooms format!
"We thought it would finish two years ago, then a year ago, but the programme remains successful and they keep commissioning a new series.
"Making the programmes has progressed from the early years. For instance, we have all the tools we need now. It’s a well-oiled machine. We buy loads of gear in advance, all the sheets of MDF and other stuff, and if we need more somebody shoots out and get it.
"I do 20 episodes of Changing Rooms every year and I consider myself very lucky to be part of such a successful show. Let’s face it, everything I’ve done has come out of Changing Rooms. I have two books out and I’m due to write another one but they’re not really what I’m about."
Elsewhere, Andy’s role as the cheeky chippie is also changing, and for the first time ever he has become a presenter on UK Style’s Room Rivals. "I am the Carol Smillie of the show," he laughs. "There’s a chippie as well, so at first it was really weird because I was so used to getting my hands dirty. I still do a bit but not to the extent I do on Changing Rooms."
Still, sometimes it must be a relief not to have to conjure up the more wacky designs dreamed up by the likes of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and his counterparts, although Andy’s not being drawn on that one. What he’s always admitted to, though, is that Graham Wynne is his favourite designer. "He’s totally and utterly disorganised but he has such a good eye. I’m going to get him to do my front room for me. He’s the only one I’d ever have round my house!"
Although many more women are turning to interior design and doing their own DIY these days, it’s still rare to see a female builder or carpenter. But Andy reckons all that is changing, albeit slowly.
"I recently judged a Handy Mandy competition and the girl who won was really good. She got £10,000 and a massive supply of power tools and is now going to work on a magazine. Why shouldn’t girls be able to do DIY anyway?
"I think women have developed DIY skills because there are lots of single women and single parents out there and they’ve simply had to learn to do it themselves otherwise they’d be spending a fortune on hiring someone every time they wanted a hole drilled. I have three daughters but I bet they won’t have to learn to put up shelves because they’ll be on the phone saying ÔDad, dad!’."
Andy believes college courses are OK but you have to seriously want to learn a skill to make that kind of commitment. For the rest of us who just want to know how to ensure a platerack stays on the wall he recommends the new DIY Channel which has just started and gives viewers the basic skills. "I did a three-year apprentice-ship but I learned more by being on site than I ever did at college," he confesses.
"What you need to remember with DIY is to take your time, and don’t be hasty. It’s far better to take longer than rush it and make do with a bodged job."