Changing Rooms was like a slow-motion car crash you can't stop watching, says host Carol Smillie
IT was famous for statement walls, MDF monstrosities and the priceless reactions of homeowners when they saw how their neighbours had “improved” their houses.
Now Changing Rooms could be returning to our screens with its bold — and sometimes disastrous — decorating transformations.
As The Sun exclusively revealed this week, Channel 4 bosses hope to recreate the classic makeover show which was axed in 2004.
And original host Carol Smillie would love to see it return.
She said: “It was definitely the favourite show of my career, without a doubt. It would be the only show I’d come back to telly for.”
The programme, which made flamboyant designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen a celebrity, began in 1996 on BBC2 and quickly drew so many viewers that it was moved to BBC1.
At its peak, an audience of 11million tuned in to see what would happen when two friends redecorated a room in each other’s homes, under the guidance of interior designers, within two days for a £500 budget.
Carol, 58, who hosted the programme until 2003, said: “It was the first time we’d had car-crash telly, when you would be sitting there with a cushion in front of your eyes, saying, ‘Oh no!’ It was sometimes like watching a disaster in slow motion.
“As a nation, we like to snoop around other people’s houses and that had never been done on TV before.”
The most famous catastrophe was when a shelf full of antique teapots went tumbling to the floor — a lifetime’s collection smashed in moments.
Carol recalled: “We made a freestanding shelving unit with tensile wire from floor to ceiling to display the teapots. When a runner put a pile of books on the shelves, the whole lot came crashing to the floor.
“Designer Linda Barker said she would take responsibility but when she went to tell the owner something awful had happened, the owner’s response was, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve killed my cat, haven’t you?’
“Who knows if she ever started collecting teapots again.”
And there were plenty of other blunders behind the scenes.
At one of their first homes, designer Graham Wynne painted a floor black, but when the crew returned on day two it still hadn’t dried.
Carol said: “There was a blind panic to get the black paint off the floor, otherwise we couldn’t do anything else to the room.
“We resorted to using paint stripper with paper towels. I’ve never seen such a mess in all my days.”
The homeowners had actually applied to be on Ready Steady Cook and had never seen Changing Rooms.
Carol said: “The first thing the wife said when we did the big reveal was, ‘Where’s my curtains? Where’s my carpet? I feel like I’m in Ikea.’
“I felt slightly guilty because they genuinely didn’t know what they were getting into.”
And it wasn’t just the contestants who had surprises in store.
Often the crew happened upon some interesting items in the rooms.
Carol said: “You would see all kinds of horrors under the beds — adult materials, kinky outfits — things you wish you hadn’t seen.
“We found chocolate condoms in one bedroom and it was the son who was doing up his parents’ room. The poor lad nearly gagged.”
It was Carol’s job to guide the homeowners into their newly finished rooms, their eyes shut until she allowed them to take their first look.
And she delighted in any awkward pauses as the stunned couple silently gawped at their new room. She said: “I just kept my mouth shut and let it hang in the air like a bad smell.”
And one memorable time, there really was a bad smell, after a sound man trod dog poo over the carpet before the big reveal.
Carol said: “It was absolutely disgusting. Everyone could smell it but we had to carry on filming.”
She continued: “Mostly people were very polite, even if they didn’t like a room. I could never understand those who got really upset about the result.
“They had wanted to change the room and they could always paint over it.
"The one that sticks in my mind was a woman who was so upset she growled like an animal.
“She hated it with a passion — it was an extreme reaction.”
The most memorable makeovers were the most dramatic and colourful.
Carol, who now works as a humanist wedding celebrant, said: “The designers were so talented, but we were making a TV show, so the wackier the better, really.
“Linda and Laurence became the biggest names because they understood that. They were never precious, they didn’t mind being teased.”
After leaving school, Carol had studied art, design and fashion, and on the programme she was always ready to run up cushion covers or upholster an old sofa.
She said: “On the first few shows, we would just put a throw over a scabby old sofa, which just looked like a cheap student trick.
“So I thought whatever I could do had to be an improvement.”
Carol, who is mum to Christie, 25, Robbie, 22, and 20-year-old Jodie, added: “I’m so grateful for all the things I got to do because of that crazy programme.
“I was invited to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, and we won a NTA award all because of people basically watching paint dry.”
Most memorable makeovers
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Carol says: “I remember this – it’s got an MDF surround and the hooks are what you might use to hang something from the ceiling.
"I remember having to screw those in – so basically, absolutely lethal.
"You’d have to take a running jump on to that bed, otherwise you would end up in A&E.
"Look at the tie-backs on the nasty nets – they’re made out of champagne buckets!”
Fine and dandy
Carol says: “That’s a Laurence – he draws those cherubs freehand.
"People think his dandy 18th-century thing is an act, but it’s not. He is so talented.
"He’d knock up something you could hang in a gallery in the time the rest of us had a cuppa.
"I fear the candles were real and the whole place could have gone up.”
Could do bedder
Carol says: “I bet this was Linda Barker’s – she used to like to put inspirational quotes on the wall.
“The bed looks deeply uncomfortable and there’s some nasty fabric on it.
“What’s that thing at the back?
“It looks like something you might use in the Army to camouflage a tent . . . although I don’t remember them doing that.”
Carol says: “I felt that for a family with two children – this was quite ridiculous.
"I mean, ‘Ditch the sofa. What do you want that for? We’ll sit the children on MDF shelving.’
"It’s horrific! And look at the nasty blind that’s too long and too narrow for the window.”
Trunk and disorderly
Carol says: “That blue carpet doesn’t go, does it?
"And I’m not sure about the chair at the back which looks like it has three backs stuck together.
"I’m thinking this was Linda Barker, because she loved bringing the outside in and we’ve got half a tree trunk in here.”
Two rings don't make a right
Carol says: “They seem to have kept the original sofa and taken the colour theme from that.
“It has carpet, which is unusual, because we tended to chuck the carpet out straight away.
“I’m pretty sure there was no swimming pool outside for those silver rubber rings!”
Carol says: “Very decadent, a Turkish delight theme with a wooden door they didn’t bother to paint.
"I imagine they wanted to go for a four-poster bed but didn’t have the height so they ended up with these odd posts on each corner.
"I definitely sewed the throw and maybe the cushions.”
Has he got nudes for you
Carol says: “That was totally Laurence – Rubenesque nudes painted on MDF at the end of a bed – and it was pretty spectacular.
"That was a bit of a triumph. If you can’t seduce your partner in a room like that, don’t bother.
"I do remember the owners were quite blown away by that, and rightly so.”
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