Ge­orge Clarke may be a recog­nis­able face on TV but he has no in­ter­est in fame. He’s hap­pi­est just be­ing a de­signer, as finds out ‘This idea of be­ing a celebrity makes me feel a bit ill’

Gemma Dunn

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - WEEKEND TV -

Ge­orge Clarke is in his el­e­ment. The ar­chi­tect-turned-TV-pre­sen­ter is stand­ing atop a snow­capped moun­tain in the Alpine vil­lage of Ver­bier — and by his own ac­count, he’s feel­ing “Christ­massy”. But the Restora­tion Man star isn’t sim­ply get­ting his fes­tive fix: he’s in the Swiss re­sort to film a very spe­cial edi­tion of his hit Chan­nel 4 show, Amaz­ing Spa­ces.

Aptly ti­tled Win­ter Won­der­land, the stand­alone episode will see Clarke and mas­ter-crafts­man Will Hardie ex­plore the in­ge­nious, small-space won­ders hid­den away among the snowy peaks of the Swiss and Ital­ian Alps.

Start­ing their epic road trip from an ob­ser­va­tion point 4,000 me­tres above sea level, the duo will set out on an ad­ven­ture which takes in a se­cret ski lodge dis­guised as a boul­der, a tree­house re­sem­bling a gi­ant acorn, a tra­di­tional cabin made al­most en­tirely from con­crete, a breath-tak­ing moun­tain­top ho­tel which glows in the dark and a star-gaz­ing hide­away which ro­tates with the night sky.

“Even just be­ing here, film­ing, re­ally does get you in that fes­tive mood,” says Clarke (44). “We’ve done Nor­way, we’ve done Canada, we’ve done some far-flung places, and you for­get what’s right on our doorstep.”

How has he en­joyed switch­ing up the cli­mate?

“I love it,” re­sponds the Sun­der­land na­tive. “I’m from the north-east, any­way, so it’s al­ways freez­ing up there. And gen­uinely I am a moun­tain per­son. I go up to the Lake Dis­trict all the time, the West­ern Isles of Scot­land, the High­lands. It makes you feel fresh. The air’s cleaner and I love walk­ing and I love climb­ing.

“So, to be able to see Amaz­ing Spa­ces’ projects when there’s a lovely di­a­logue be­tween great de­sign and beau­ti­ful land­scapes, it’s a fan­tas­tic com­bi­na­tion.”

From the UK to Europe, there’s cer­tainly been no short­age of in­spir­ing builds to span seven sea­sons of the show — plus sea­sonal spe­cials.

“Ev­ery year that I think we’ve vir­tu­ally done ev­ery­thing, a whole other batch of projects come up again,” adds Clarke. “Peo­ple are build­ing all the time any­way, so ev­ery year there are new projects be­ing cre­ated and I’m gen­uinely blown away by peo­ple’s in­ven­tive­ness and cre­ativ­ity.

“I think that’s what’s unique about small spa­ces. If it’s small and it’s some­thing that’s just fun, it’s eas­ier to do. And it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily cost the earth, ei­ther.”

It’s about “mak­ing ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, par­tic­u­larly home de­sign, as ac­ces­si­ble to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble”, he main­tains.

“Ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign can be quite a se­ri­ous sub­ject and I even think that the ar­chi­tec­tural pro­fes­sion takes it­self a bit too se­ri­ously some­times,” con­fesses Clarke, who is the cre­ative di­rec­tor of Lon­don-based de­sign and build com­pany Ge­orge Clarke + Partners.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still teach ar­chi­tec­ture, and when you’re teach­ing things like the his­tory and the­ory of ar­chi­tec­ture, they can be quite deep sub­jects.”

“But one of the proud­est things about Amaz­ing Spa­ces is I get a huge amount of school teach­ers, say­ing, ‘Do you mind if we run an Amaz­ing Spa­ces school pro­ject?’ And I’m like, ‘Go for it’. If I can in­spire young kids to de­sign a lit­tle house at the bot­tom of their gar­den, or re­design their bed­room, or de­sign their dream home, that’s all fan­tas­tic stuff,” con­cludes Clarke, who also hosts the bril­liant Old House, New Home.

“To me, the two most im­por­tant things in my in­dus­try — I’m not just talk­ing about tele­vi­sion, I’m talk­ing about be­ing an ar­chi­tect and a de­signer — are in­no­va­tion and ed­u­ca­tion.

“They al­low young peo­ple to be ed­u­cated in some re­ally ex­cit­ing things. I fell in love with (de­sign) when I was a kid.”

As for the fame that comes with be­ing on screen, Clarke has mixed feel­ings.

“I’m in a very priv­i­leged po­si­tion and I feel thank­ful ev­ery day with the ca­reer that I’ve got. Yes, it’s tele­vi­sion, but all I wanted to be was an ar­chi­tect. And when I be­came an ar­chi­tect, that was a dream come true. When I started my own ar­chi­tec­tural prac­tice, my own com­pany and my own de­sign agency, that was an­other dream come true.”

And the “celebrity” tag? “I never use the ‘C’ word,” he re­torts, with a laugh. “I don’t want to be a celebrity. I want to be a good ar­chi­tect. I want to make and craft re­ally beau­ti­ful pro­grammes that peo­ple love watch­ing.

“For me, it’s work. It’s my job; I get up ev­ery morn­ing, I go to work, I do pieces to cam­era, meet peo­ple, sketch and de­sign.

“So, the thought of be­ing a celebrity just makes me feel a bit ill.” Amaz­ing Spa­ces Win­ter Won­der­land, Chan­nel 4, Thurs­day, 8pm

WIN­TER WON­DERS: Ge­orge Clarke ex­plores small-space ideas in the Alps for his new show

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