TV: Kirstie Allsopp: ‘Telly can be a bit of a blood-sucking user’

As Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas returns to our screens, Danielle de Wolfe speaks to presenter Kirstie Allsopp about food, festivities and… fairies...

Kirstie's Handmade Christmas is on Channel 5 on Friday December 9
Kirstie's Handmade Christmas is on Channel 5 on Friday December 9

AS A child, Kirstie Allsopp could often be found sitting alone, at the bottom of her family’s garden, playing with twigs. Far from partaking in imaginary sword battles or using them as makeshift wands, the school-aged Allsopp was instead meticulously constructing houses. Fairy houses.

“You go under a tree or into a corner of the garden and you sweep away the leaves,” says the 51-year-old presenter, matter-of-factly.

Rooms were built from mottled sticks. Leaves were used as carpets and wall coverings, with stones doubling as miniature tables and chairs. It was, for all intents and purposes, a sure sign of things to come where the property expert, presenter and craft aficionado’s future career was concerned.

A joyously sentimental pastime, the recollection causes a smile to become audible in Allsopp’s voice.

“I had totally forgotten about it,” admits 51-year-old Allsopp.

The presenter of Channel 4 show Location, Location, Location describes how she would build these “little rooms” for hours on end.

“Then you imagine that the fairies come and sit in the rooms when you’re not there,” says Allsopp.

“Weirdly, what I do now is I see through walls… In my work, I look at floor plans all the time – and I can see through walls.”

Creativity is the clear thread connecting Allsopp’s on and off-screen endeavours. Transitioning from property to crafting, the telly star’s returning festive foray, Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, sees Allsopp tackle a range of seasonal challenges. From rug making to pavlova baking, the at-home craft challenges offer something for everyone.

“There’s a process that we go through in the office, when we pick things,” explains Allsopp of the crafts featured.

“One thing must be something that you did in childhood – so the thing with pulping the paper. I mean, really? Making paper out of paper isn’t very sensible, is it? But everybody did it as a kid.

“So, that’s one of the emotions we want in every show.”

Describing how every episode requires a “wow” moment, the list also includes a festive cocktail and a project “no one would ever be able to do at home”. In this instance, carving an outlandish ice sculpture.

“The process is fascinating,” explains Allsopp. “You’re never going to do that at home, you’re never going to buy a huge block of ice and get your chainsaw out, right?”

With Allsopp picking up the power tools, it’s a series that aims to inspire, invoke nostalgia and get the creative juices flowing. A source of merriment amidst an onslaught of negative news and pessimistic forecasts, the presenter says at its core, the show serves up a hearty helping of positivity.

“It’s my job to entertain, first and foremost,” says Allsopp.

“I think it’s really important not to take the whole thing too seriously – to be serious in your enthusiasm for what’s happening, but not to take it too seriously in any other respect.

“I think we’re all a bit sick of people who are paid a lot of money to do a job which is much easier than most people’s job, taking themselves too seriously.

“I mean, if I see one more earnest interview with an actor or an actress I’m going to scream. It’s like – you’re paid a fortune, you’ve got a great job, stop it. You don’t have to be so, you know, earnest about everything.”

It’s a conversation that leads Allsopp to explain the origins of the show’s production company, Raise the Roof Productions. Founded by the presenter and her Location, Location, Location co-star Phil Spencer, the property duo have spent the past 22 years creating television shows – including Love It Or Leave It and Relocation Relocation – that she hopes have been “helpful” to viewers.

“I think telly can be a bit of a blood-sucking user,” says Allsopp.

“So, part of that is how can we make sure that [participants] have a good day?”

Setting out to create programmes that make you feel “warm”, the presenter explains the increasing need for television content that’s “fun” and inoffensive.

“The world is becoming increasingly polarised and critical and loads of different people are being misunderstood on many different levels.”

“A lot of people feel that nobody gets them, whichever part of the political spectrum they’re on. And our shows should never leave you with an uncomfortable feeling. They should never leave anyone with an uncomfortable feeling.”

Feeding into that sense of judgment and polarity, it becomes increasingly clear that Allsopp is not a fan of labels – particularly where class and privilege are concerned.

“The thing that makes me most cross – in this context, not globally – is people who say craft is for the middle-class housewife,” asserts Allsopp.

“For a start, to use housewife pejoratively pisses me off. Secondly, you know, the idea that craft is somehow a middle-class thing.”

It’s a creative pastime Allsopp believes is accessible to all – whatever your class or level of income. She is, however, realistic about the show’s place, set against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis.

“I don’t really believe for a single second [crafting] saves you money,” confesses Allsopp. “Because if you work in a job where every hour is an hour of wage – or not, if [you’re] not at work, then making your own stuff doesn’t save you money.

“The way it saves you money is if you batch-make things,” she says, citing “homemade Baileys” as an example.

“If you do that, it saves you a fortune.”

The presenter goes on to describe how crafting, whatever time of the year it’s undertaken, assists with fine motor skills and has a positive impact on mental health. Noting the programme’s work with carers and those suffering with anxiety, the presenter says there are only positives to be taken from the humble pastime.

“There’s a lot of evidence around crafting and dementia and Alzheimer’s. There’s so much breadth within the crafting community for helping people in all sorts of respects,” says Allsopp.

“Really, it’s not a Christmas show,” she smiles.

“It’s a ‘How can you do something fun with your hands and calm your mind’ show – but I don’t think if we put that on the title of the show people would watch it.”

Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas is on Channel 4 on Friday December 9.