Fans go nuts for TV architect George Clarke
Apr 3 2010 by Karen Wilson, The Journal
NORTH East architect George Clarke is back on our screens in Restoration Man. KAREN WILSON, who caught up with the TV presenter at The Ideal Home Show last week, talks to him about his vision for Sunderland, his life growing up in Washington and his nutty fans.
HE MAY consider himself first and foremost "an architect who just happens to be on TV" but that doesn’t stop Sunderland born George Clarke from receiving some very odd fan mail.
The 35-year-old, whose family still live in Blackfell, Washington, is currently on our screens in Channel 4’s Sunday night show Restoration Man. But with several property series behind him - Build a New Life in the Country, A Dream Home Abroad and The Home Show - his high profile has led to some bizarre incidents.
"I had a bra thrown on stage once, which made me laugh a lot. I kind of feel like Tom Jones when that happens," he says. "People have sent underwear for me to sign and send back and I’ve been sent pencils from people saying ‘can you use my pencil on your next show when you’re sketching?’"
At Christmas he was even sent a big box containing chocolate nuts, a nut cracker and a squirrel, from a Twitter fan group called ‘The Nutters’, all because of an innocuous tweet George made about spilling hot coffee on his groin area. "It was probably the most bizarre surreal package I’ve been sent," he laughs.
Men also get in touch, but they tend to want building advice. "I get letters from guys going, 'Look mate I want to change my house and my wife's doing my head in. Can you look at my plan and let me know what to do,'." says George.
Although he now lives in West London with his half Spanish wife Catriona and three children Georgie, seven, Emilio, five and Iona, two, George grew up in Pallion and then Washington, attending Oxclose comprehensive.
It’s clear he’s still very passionate about the North East - returning two or three times a year to visit family - and is working with Sunderland city council on a master plan for the riverside area.
"Newcastle and Gateshead have been totally transformed over the last 20 years but the smaller and newer cities like Sunderland have been left behind a bit," he says. "The things that’s great about Newcastle is when they built the law courts just before I became an architecture student, it triggered all that amazing regeneration along the Quayside. What I want is to do something similar in Sunderland.
"At the moment the city doesn’t really connect with the river. You’ve got that big derelict Vaux site. I think it should be a cultural hub for the city. There’s no point in just building a big supermarket. It’s cultural projects that change cities like that."
George has been passionate about property since he was a nipper. Both his grandads were builders - one built the Silksworth ski slope - so he would sketch buildings and sit in diggers with them from the age of six or seven. It was a strong focus for George after his dad died when he was just six.
"There was nothing else I ever wanted to do," he says. "When most of the kids were playing with building blocks and pieces of Lego, I was actually on building sites."
His mum Anne, a teacher at George’s old school, eventually re-married Allan and George became even more obsessed with architecture declaring it his future career at the age of just 12.
"Durham Cathedral was the building that made me want to be an architect," he says. I remember going to visit the building and it blew me away with its unbelievable beauty. I wish I could design a building that would last a thousand years."
In between reading builders’ manuals, George enjoyed the odd pint at Idols in Sunderland before becoming a student at Wearside College and then Newcastle University.
"I really miss the nightlife," says George. "I’m very biased but there’s probably no better night out than in Newcastle. And Northumberland for me is one of the best undiscovered landscapes in Britain."