I have a Pavlovian response whenever I hear the theme song to the show Grand Designs. As soon as the first chords start, I instantly go to my happy place – on the couch, eating junk food, binging a show about British people building designer houses. All while frothing for the ultimate zaddy, Kevin McCloud.
A zaddy is defined as “a sexually attractive man, especially an older one who is fashionable or charismatic.” Now before you disagree, let me explain why Kevin McCloud is not just a zaddy, but one of the most iconic zaddies of our generation.
Firstly, I know I’m not the target demographic for Grand Designs – this is a show made to appeal to boomers. Almost every episode features a middle class, middle aged, white, straight couple doing things like ‘remortgaging’ and ‘taking it to the council’. I should, hypothetically, hate it.
But then there’s Kevin.
In he strides. Tall. Handsome. Jeans with a tailored jacket. He shakes hands, he kisses cheeks, and before long he gives a saucy little smile and asks, “So what’s your budget for all this?”.
He’s charming. He’s confident. He’s charismatic. All key qualities for a zaddy.
Their budget is never enough. But that’s OK, because the homebuilders have a plan: “To save money we’re going to project manage the whole thing ourselves!”
Kevin’s face is the same every time – skeptical, judgemental and bemused.
And this is where the sex appeal of Kevin McCloud really starts to show. He doesn’t buy bullshit. He doesn’t kiss ass. He’s spicy without being rude, he can listen empathetically but think critically, and he’s in touch with his feelings. Hot, right?
Inevitably, by halfway through the episode the couple are battling. The budget is bloated, they’re a year behind schedule, and non-stop rain has turned the building site into a muddy swimming pool. Blue tarps flap sadly in the wind as couples raise toddlers in caravans.
Along comes Kevin in his cute fleece sweater, heavy-duty raincoat and yellow hardhat. He strides around the languishing building site looking practical, yet also sultry and sensual. He asks the couple unflinchingly personal questions about their money and their marriage.
Kevin’s directness does not come from a lack of social awareness. He’s just willing to make people uncomfortable to get to the truth. It’s in these moments we see the social wisdom of Kevin McCloud – he can read people like he reads floorplans. Emotional intelligence? Hot.
Kevin notices when the women on the show get delegated to ‘decorate the kitchen’. He asks wife after wife how she feels about her lack of input on the design, or the fact that her husband spent all their retirement money building his ego project, or whether she’d like some help raising the kids instead of watching her partner maniacally bake 20,000 mud bricks.
When her bottled-up rant peters out to end with “but I know it will be worth it in the end”, Kevin just raises one luscious eyebrow and says “hmm”.
What Kevin’s eyebrow is really saying is “your husband’s obsession with this build is masochistic narcissism and you deserve a partner who respects your ideas and works to balance both of your needs.”
If that’s not sexy I don’t know what is.
By the end of the show there’s (usually) a fancy house to show for all of the pain and suffering. Kevin stands outside it, and delivers a moving and thoughtful monologue to the camera about the nature of humanity and our need to create monuments to our dreams. I come for the personal drama and Kevin’s trademark sass, but I stay for this moment – perving on someone’s designer house.
Originally, I thought that my stan status for Kevin McCloud was just a ‘me’ thing. But lately I’ve realised that I’m not alone – more and more of my friends in their 20s are eager to bunker down on the couch with me for a binge session, or spend half an hour at the pub frothing on the way Kevin says ‘cantilevered roof’.
It’s a kind of escapism for young Australians. There’s no landlords here. These people aren’t begging to put a hook in the wall, they’re hiring wrecking balls to smash holes in old violin factories.
For younger people, it’s a world we’ll probably never know. Instead we’ll scrape and save for a decade to get a stupidly high mortgage on a scrappy two bedder. But maybe this is the reason Grand Designs and Kevin McCloud have a whole new generation of fans. For us, watching someone build a designer home isn’t a lifestyle show – it’s epic fantasy.
Sally Coleman is a radio personality, writer and musician. She was previously the host of triple j Breakfast and a member of hip hop duo Coda Conduct, and is currently working on several new projects whilst frothing on Kevin McCloud. You can find her on Instagram @thesallycoleman and Twitter @sally_coleman_.