DIY SOS presenter Nick Knowles praises generosity of Huntingdon

WHEN The Hunts Post wrote about mum-of-the-year Julie Jones, it sparked an unprecedented number of applications on her behalf to the primetime BBC show, DIY SOS: The Big Build. CATHERINE BELL talks to presenter Nick Knowles and the team about the show, its success and a very deserving family.

DIY SOS has been transforming homes – and lives – for 13 years.

Today (Wednesday), the team is just two days away from revealing its latest project, a radically-redesigned home in Stukeley Meadows belonging to super-mum Julie Jones.

Julie, 46, of Rydal Close, hit the headlines in January when she picked up the Tesco Mum of the Year award after taking in her best friend’s five orphaned children, despite being a working single parent to three children already.

The BBC received more than 300 applications nominating Julie – the highest number for a family in the show’s history – and the whole team agrees that what Julie has done is extraordinary.

Builder Julian Perryman has been on the show since day one.

He said: “It’s great to be able to go out and help people, and Julie is incredible. I can’t imagine what it is like taking on five children: doing it as a family, as a couple, would be one thing, but as a single parent is something else …”

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Presenter Nick Knowles has also been with DIY SOS since the beginning and agreed with Julian.

“Julie is extraordinary. We are here because I received 50 e-mails to my website and hundreds of applications were sent to the production team – applications from people who don’t even know Julie.”

He added: “We are giving this family the chance, the space, to have as normal a life as possible and it will help Julie to continue the extraordinary job that she’s doing.”

For a group cramming a three-month project into nine days, the Big Build team seemed remarkably relaxed, exchanging a stream of banter that will be familiar to the legion of fans who regularly watch the show.

Now filming its 24th series, viewers have watched the friendships of Nick, Julian and team leader Mark Millar, along with plasterer Chris Frediani and electrician Billy Byrne, develop.

Nick joked that his longest relationship has been with his DIY SOS colleagues and added with a twinkle in his eye: “A lot of television people pretend to like each other and you can easily see through it. With us, we don’t even have to try to like each other … We just don’t!”

For Nick, the Big Build has moved on from the show’s humble origins and is much more than a home makeover programme.

“Rather than being a makeover show, we’re a building site show,” he said. “And it’s not about DIY anymore – the guys we have on here are professionals.

“People turn out to help us when they could be out earning a living. I ask them why they do it and they say: ‘I’ve got 51 other weeks in the year to earn a living’. It’s incredible. We make such good friends on every build. They are such amazing people: proper working-class heroes who are helping to make a difference.”

As well as being inundated with nominations, the BBC crew has been inundated with cakes – brought in by well-wishers who have no other way of helping.

Nick said: “99 per cent of people have been really welcoming and they have done whatever they can to help: we have the most cakes we have ever been brought – I have never seen so many cakes!”

He continued: “The suppliers and tradesmen in Huntingdon have been incredibly generous.

“They are all extraordinary people who do an amazing job – we just bring a ball of momentum to the area. This job is being done by local businesses for a local family.”

Mark agreed: “Every time we do this job it shocks me just how generous people are. I’m knocked sideways by how kind they are and that they go out of their way to help somebody else.

Asked if he had a favourite part of the show, Nick hesitated and then said: “I honestly don’t think I have a favourite bit … I love walking around a site and having a laugh with the guys. It’s always exciting at the start and we make such great friends during the build. I like meeting the locals, too, and we went out in St Ives with some of the lads.

“We get involved with the family so much. The reveal is heart warming, although I try not to get emotional on camera otherwise I would look like Kate Winslet accepting an Oscar every week … it wouldn’t be good!”

He added: “I just feel lucky and proud to be a part of it.” No date has been set for the broadcast.