Despite his continual insistence that he is, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is not really an old man.
"I am old," he cries at TV WEEK's photo shoot. "I'm a grandfather now!"
Perhaps, in TV years, 53-year-old Laurence has indeed enjoyed a long life. The British interior-design guru burst onto television in the late 1990s as part of the Changing Rooms phenomenon, eventually becoming the most dapper man on the box.
These days, he's bringing his unique style to Channel Seven's House Rules, where he's a judge alongside Wendy Moore and Drew Heath. It's the latest chapter in an impressive career.
Here, Laurence, who's married and has two adult daughters as well as a young grandson, talks candidly about family and fame. He also explains why he's so tough on the House Rules contestants.
You're back on House Rules. Was it an easy decision to do a second season?
It took a lot of consideration, because not being around my family [who live in the UK] is an enormous commitment. But I love doing this. And, after 25 years of these reality makeover shows – having been involved with Changing Rooms way back in the '90s – I love that House Rules does it properly. It's not fly-by-night building. This has a real tremendous reality because of the fact these contestants are using their homes.
It seems real – there's always a lot of emotion. You get cross with the contestants…
I do get angry when I get the sense they're renovating in a way that doesn't reflect their abilities. I'd like to think I'm tough, but honest. And most of that [his remarks to contestants] is encouragement, because I want these guys to be as good as possible. You don't enter into House Rules lightly. It takes a very long time and it's a big life upheaval. So you want them to get the most out of it.
A story came out earlier this year that two of last year's contestants, Kate and Harry, have split up. Can you understand the pressure the competition puts on couples?
I'm sure it wasn't us who split them. I felt they got on well during production.
But it's an intense environment for a couple...
Absolutely – but experiences like this can often bring people together. I've been married a long time, so it's not news to me that you can go through bad patches. And sometimes, you don't get on for days, weeks or months.
How long have you been married to Jackie?
Thirty years next year.
Thirty years is an impressive run these days. What's the secret to a successful marriage?
Top of the list is gin – never underestimate it! [Laughs] But we're lucky to have met each other so long ago. We met when we were 19 and it's been successful and solid since. But, as with any relationship, it's still been tough. With fame, we've had weird pressures.
Plus, you spend so much time travelling and working. That must be difficult for Jackie.
We've always been very conscious of how much time we spend away from each other. It's a different situation if one partner is on television and the other stays at home. Even with House Rules, we looked at it very carefully. The idea is that Jackie will spend more time in Australia as my commitments increase here. The only problem is it's impossible to drag her away from her grandson, Albion. She's a doting grandmother.
And how exciting is it that you're a grandfather now!
It's great. We're very much a family and I love that. Albion was born two years ago, [my daughter] Cecile is getting married this year and I've been married for 30 years. Like I said earlier, I'm realising I am, in fact, a very old man.
Your House Rules co-star, Johanna Griggs, is now a grandparent too. Did you offer her any tips?
I've been giving her all sorts of tips, but most importantly: "Enjoy [the child] and hand it back." I was king of the roost last year, parading my grandson around. I think Joh is copying me; she's riding the success of being a grandmother. She loves it.
You've been open about the fact many people thought you were gay when you first started on Changing Rooms in the '90s. Was that a weird thing to try to process?
It never bothered me, but it bothered Jackie; she used to get quite upset. I'm pleased it's no longer an issue these days. It means young men and women growing up can be relaxed about how they present themselves, because the stereotypes no longer mean anything.
Why do you think people were so convinced about your sexuality?
I was well-dressed, well-spoken and over-the-top, which was confusing for some people. People on TV fitted into certain boxes, and I didn't. Back then, the idea of a bloke using conditioner in their hair was a big red flag, whereas now, it doesn't matter. I think I was quite an extreme example, but people like [British footballer] David Beckham also helped signify the change as well.
You could be nominated for a TV WEEK Logie Award this year. How does that feel?
Here's a fun fact: My mother's great-aunt – my great-great-aunty – married the brother of John Logie Baird [the inventor of television, who the TV WEEK Logie Awards are named for]. So, to me, a Logie Award just brings it back into the family! But honestly, I love the idea that a 53-year-old grandfather could be up for Best New Talent. That's fantastic.
You might be the oldest nominee in the category.
I should hope so! Seriously, though, no disrespect to those lovely young men and women who look so great in their swimming costumes in Home And Away, but let a dapper old man win this award.
And if you are nominated and win, where will the Logie live?
I would convert it into a lamp base – I like things to be useful. If I win the award, it will be well loved, but practical too.
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Australian Women's WeeklyJan 23, 2020