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Monty Don’s Wildlife Quest: ‘If Everybody does Something Small, you end up with Big Action’

The Gardeners’ World presenter talks about appreciating wildlife during lockdown and how gardeners can do their bit for the planet.

Gardening guru Monty Don had plenty of time during lockdown to admire the wildlife in his garden at Longmeadow, in Herefordshire, while filming much of the latest Gardeners’ World series virtually.

“I’ve hardly left my garden since early March,” he reflects. “Lockdown hugely affected the filming of Gardeners’ World, but it hasn’t stopped it. We haven’t had a film crew here since the end of February.

“For about a month we filmed it ourselves and since then, the garden has been laid out with miles of cable and equipped with robot cameras. I mic myself up, so everything you see of me is just me alone in the garden speaking to robots.”

He’s also been able to finish two books – My Garden World, about his connection with wildlife, and American Gardens, written with Derry Moore, tied into his recent TV series.

My Garden World features many of his detailed observations about wildlife. “I’ve always been fascinated by birds, wild flowers and wild animals, but particularly birds,” he explains. “Throughout my adult life in the garden, the fellow travellers – the frogs, the beetles, the ladybirds, even the aphids and the worms, as well as the more spectacular birds like sparrowhawks – have been a rich part of my gardening experience.

“That also proved to be very true in lockdown. One of the things we’ve noticed on Gardeners’ World is that more and more people are showing an interest in the wildlife in their garden, not necessarily rare wildlife.

“It’s just as fascinating seeing a robin as it is seeing a peregrine falcon, in its own way,” he muses.

His favourites, he admits, are birds of prey. “I’ve always been completely fascinated by them. In my lifetime, almost all birds of prey have increased hugely, which is one of the success stories. There was a disastrous decline in the Fifties and Sixties, but they’ve recovered very well, with the exception of the kestrel.

“But I’m now seeing birds of prey that I dreamed of seeing when I was in my 20s. Three days ago a peregrine falcon circled around my garden. That was unimaginable 40 years ago.

“Above the farm (he also has a small farm 30 miles from Longmeadow in the Black Mountains of Wales) we watch hen harriers, and there are only [thought to be] 600 [nesting] pairs in [the UK], so I feel privileged, blessed.”

Of course, most of us may not be so lucky to see these majestic species, but we can take pleasure in the more common wildlife, and Don is now urging gardeners to do their bit to attract all creatures great and small to their gardens.

“Instead of trying to attract one type of animal, the secret is to have a rich and varied garden with lots of cover, plenty of shrubs, hedges and trees, seeds and pollen, so you have insects, birds that eat insects, and birds that eat birds – and you have a chain of life.

“One of the points of the book is that even the most humble back garden can do that,” he insists.

Don remains optimistic about the future of wildlife in our gardens, having seen the organic movement grow in the last 50 years, and a trend towards more naturalistic planting.

“We have an environmental crisis that is underway – it’s too late to stop it – but the garden is a way that ordinary people can connect with that crisis and do something about it.

“It’s fine for politicians and campaigners to have big talk about saving the planet – let’s plant trees, let’s all go vegan – but it’s pie in the sky. Most people can’t relate to that. But you can relate to having a little bit of long grass in your garden, or a little pond.

“If everybody does something small, you end up with big action.”

Here are Don’s top tips on how to attract more wildlife to your garden…

Provide water

“It can literally be a little half barrel,” he says, “but having some kind of pond will attract a range of wildlife, from frogs and dragonflies, but also insects which will in turn attract birds and bats. It will create a chain that you will help.”

Plant long grass

“Long grass provides fantastic cover. Not only can you grow wild flowers in it, which is great for pollinating insects, but also it’s good cover for insects and small mammals like voles and shrews, frogs and all kinds of smaller life.”

Be less tidy

“Have a few heaps of leaves around, or gather up some sticks and put them in a corner, which will provide cover. If your garden is big enough to grow hedges or shrubs or trees, so much the better.”

He continues: “A very simple little pond, a patch of long grass that you leave uncut, just cutting it once a year, and a little untidiness, is quite easy.”

Consider pollinators when planting a balcony garden

“Grow plants for pollinators in pots; types which bees and other insects will come to. Even with a window box you can be part of that.”

My Garden World by Monty Don is published by Two Roads, priced £20. American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore is published by Prestel, priced £35. Both available now.

3 Easy Upcycling Ideas Everyone can do at Home

Expert upcycler Max McMurdo tells Sam Wylie-Harris why savvy crafters will love beautifying these binned items.

The upcycling message is practical, powerful and pretty clever.

“I really believe that waste can be beautifully upcycled,” says Max McMurdo, eco-designer and TV presenter. “Just because an item can no longer fulfil its original purpose, doesn’t mean it can’t work really well as something else.

“I started upcycling 18 years ago and people didn’t understand what I was doing, they thought I was a mad hippy!” Chatty and fun, McMurdo lives in a 40-foot upcycled shipping container, which he converted into a floating home – and admits it’s the most ambitious thing he’s ever upcycled.

“It’s fantastic and I love it. I had the bright idea that if I’m telling people what to do, I must do it on the biggest scale of all and upcycle a home. My lampshades are old jelly moulds and my table’s a washing machine drum.”

If you take a look on Pinterest, it seems a lot of people stick to one material (which they’re comfortable with) when upcycling. But for McMurdo, successful product design and upcycling is all about mixing materials, like wood and glass or metal and leather. “So with something like a wash drum table, I put a light bulb inside that streams out of the holes, with a piece of glass on top.”

Working with reclaimed materials takes creativity and a little bit of effort. But as McMurdo points out, just because you’re upcyling, doesn’t mean it should be any less beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. “You’ll be amazed how many things you can reuse in a really cool way!”

McMurdo has partnered with Heinz for their ‘Handmade with Heinz’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to upcycle household items and waste – like used tins, for example.

Wondering where to start? Here’s how to get a foot on the crafting ladder…

1. Upcycle old pallets into cool garden furniture

You’ll need: Some used wood pallets, castor wheels (available in sets of four), selection of ready-made cushions.

Steps: Pick up some free wood pallets from a local shop, farm or industrial estate – don’t be afraid to ask! Screw castor wheels to each corner of the bottoms of the pallets to make them manoeuvrable (they come with holes and are easy to affix). Double stack the pallets for the right height. Sand the pallets down lightly to avoid splinters, then wax to seal and make them weather resistant. Add some cushions.

Top Tip: Amazon sells Cuprnol Garden Furniture Stain Exterior Wood Care, priced £15, to seal your pallets from bad weather and keep them looking nicer for longer.

2. Upcycle a wooden ladder into a cool shelf

You’ll need: An old wooden ladder, some knick-knacks and anything you want to hang on it.

Steps: Find an old wood ladder – the more paint spattered the better. If you don’t have one, ask neighbours and friends. Prop it securely against a wall and use as a quirky shelf. You can hang it with anything you like, including clip-on lights or fairy lights. This also works as a towel rack in bathrooms.

Top tip: This one works especially well for rental properties, as you don’t need to attach anything to walls.

3. Upcycle some old books into a knife block

You’ll need: 4-5 old books (buy these from a charity shop if you don’t have any at home), strong string.

Steps: Prop your old books upright, next to each other. Wind an old piece of strong string around the books a couple of times and tie it tightly. Pop your knives in it and place on your kitchen top.

Top tip: You can also create some great artwork with old books, by folding the pages into a certain pattern, or into words like ‘love’ and ‘home’.

For more information on the #handmadewithheinz campaign, check out Heinz UK and Max McMurdo on Instagram.

Want to Tap into the Staycation Market? 5 Ways to Boost your Holiday Let Investment

Letting out a holiday home can be a great income source – but there are some key things to consider. By Vicky Shaw.

UK staycation holidays have been especially popular this year, with the pandemic making overseas travel so tricky.

This may have prompted those who already have a second home, or who are considering investing in one, to think about using them for holiday lets.

While the future impact of coronavirus on all businesses, including holiday rental properties, is uncertain, you may be considering investing in a holiday let as a long-term option right now, perhaps to supplement a retirement income in the years to come.

According to figures from Sykes Holiday Cottages (sykescottages.co.uk), owners earned £21,000 on average last year through their holiday lets.

But if you are thinking about a buy-to-let investment to tap into the staycation trend, there are certain things to consider before taking the plunge. Here, Bev Dumbleton, Sykes Holiday Cottages chief operating officer, shares five key tips…

1. Calculate your budget

First things first, take time to evaluate your finances to determine how much money you have to kick-start your investment in a holiday let. If you don’t already have a second home, you’ll have to weigh up the costs of buying one and paying the mortgage, while also factoring in budget for things like bills, maintenance and repairs.

To keep track of your budget for the project, look online for free templates and calculator tools or create your own document.

2. Location, location, location

Whether it’s the rugged moorland of the Peak District, seaside towns in South Wales, or stunning views in the Scottish Highlands, each region of the UK has its own unique character and something to offer holidaymakers.

According to Sykes’ data, the Peak District takes the top spot as the highest-earning region for holiday lettings in the UK, with a two-bed cottage generating £14,000 a year, on average, increasing to £27,000 for a four-bed.

Booking data also shows North Wales has been popular with holidaymakers this summer. The average income there is £12,000 for a two-bed and £22,000 for a four-bed. Elsewhere in the UK, investors can potentially expect to make on average £13,000 for a two-bed and £19,000 for a four-bed in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

When choosing where to set up, also consider proximity to local amenities and the beach, as well as how parking is locally and whether a place has good transport links, as these will all affect revenue.

3. It’s in the detail

Furnishing your holiday let to a high standard will maximise the booking value and, therefore, potential earnings. As your property will be used by a lot of different guests, investing in good quality, durable furniture will also save you money in the long run. Be sure to choose your furnishings wisely – for example, leather sofas and hard floors may be far easier to keep clean than the fabric equivalents.

Remember that guests are looking for a ‘home away from home’ with added luxury, so you need to think carefully about who your target visitors are likely to be and kit your property out accordingly. For example, a two-person property in a rural location may be a base for a romantic couples’ break, so consider roll-top baths and hot tubs. A larger property on the Cornish coast is ideal for families, so invest in your outside space and a good selection of board games.

By making sure your guests have the best possible experience, you’ll also secure repeat customers, recommendations and five-star reviews, which all help to improve profitability.

4. Consider year-round appeal

This will ensure a steady flow of bookings. Properties with hot tubs, on average, earn more than 50% more than those that don’t. Other stand-out features, such as wood burning stoves and open fires, tend to be received very well by guests and encourage bookings all year round.

Making your holiday let pet-friendly will also help to drive bookings outside of the peak holiday season. Owners who accept short breaks in winter can also earn more, with people more likely to book long weekends away during this time.

5. Marketing is key

By contacting an agency as soon as you’re considering entering the market, you can get expert advice from the outset to avoid any potential pitfalls. Getting your pricing right is crucial, so research the competition and speak to experts to understand how to flex your pricing based on seasonal demand.

Photos are also key to showcasing your property and are incredibly important in driving bookings. Take photos year-round, if you’re planning to rent the property out throughout the year. Remember – the more images the better, but quality matters most. Also consider including images of local amenities to highlight what there is to do nearby.

11 of the Best Chandeliers, Pendant Lights and Lamps to Light up your World

Sam Wylie-Harris switches natural light for artificial, and reveals the best in statement lighting.

In the height of summer, lighting doesn’t have much opportunity to play a starring role. It’s more about window dressing to control the brightness.

But come early autumn, with dappled sunlight streaming through and a low sun casting shadows in our living space, a flick of a switch has the power to transform our interiors.

In many ways, luxe lighting offers the tools to illuminate, highlight and shine a spotlight on the things that make a difference in our lives, while setting the stage for a little bit of theatre.

Currently, sculptural forms and statement pieces are very on-trend, but neutrals and polished chrome are not forgotten. Here’s how to plug into the latest schemes…

1. Ribbon LED Ceiling Light by Heal’s, £479, other items from a selection, Heal’s

“Sculptural lighting can be a quick and easy way to create a focal point within a room, and is increasingly being used for decorative purposes,” says Claire Anstey, lighting buyer at Heal’s, “to the point where they can offer the same effect as a piece of art.”

As the evenings grow darker and we spend more time indoors, Anstey says lighting can be a great way to create drama in a space. Take their Ribbon pendant collection, “with its looping curves mimicking the movement of ribbons sweeping through the air.

“Suspended from a slim wire, the piece appears to be floating through the room and offers a touch of refined luxury – perfect for large living areas or poised above a dining table,” says Anstey.

2. Saber LED Multi Arm Chandelier, Gold, £399, Heal’s

In more contemporary schemes, linear designs work particularly well and can still offer the same level of impact with a crisp, clean glow. New for this season at Heal’s is the Saber multi-arm chandelier – a modern interpretation of the classic chandelier design. “Integrated LEDs offer an energy-saving alternative to traditional bulbs, and eight adjustable arms offer the flexibility to focus light within different areas of the room,” says Anstey.

3. Fin Pendant Grouping of 7, Natural White, £1,249, other items part of room set, Original BTC

Depending on the height of your ceilings, pendant lighting lends itself to spectacular dining settings, especially with the trend for tablescaping and entertaining at home.

As Peter Bowles, founder of Original BTC puts it: “When it comes to scale, dramatically proportioned lights are the most obvious way to create impact. A generously sized pendant will create a talking point, whether lit or not.”

While scale is one way to make a statement, it’s not always feasible to fit a grandly proportioned pendant in lower ceilinged rooms, so it’s worth exploring alternative approaches. “Often referred to as jewellery for the home, the right light fittings can complete or transform your interior scheme.” says Bowles. “Just like jewellery, a flash of brass, copper or gold can lift your room, bringing a touch of opulence.”

4. Cranton Hexagonal Pendant, Natural White, £2,969, Original BTC

Another scene stealer, if you’re looking for a central lighting source, this Instaworthy investment piece can be hung from a ceiling rose to contrast with traditional plasterwork.

5. Walter Pendant Size 2, Anthracite Glass & Brass, £459 each, Original BTC

When it comes to multiple light fittings, Bowles says three is the magic number. “Over a kitchen island or dining table, a row of three pendants will always create a strong visual impact and do all the hard work for you.”

6. Kartell Limited Edition Space Lamp, £183, Amara

Sam Hood, creative director and head of buying at Amara, says there’s a general move towards the use of lighting as a statement piece in a room – and we love this fabulously futuristic new arrival from Kartell. Depending on your budget, a pair would look stunning styled either side of a black leather sofa.

7. Humble One Table Light, White Marble, £129, Amara

Perhaps linked to increased environmental awareness, Hood says raw and natural looking colourways are also making an impact in decorative lighting. “Marble and wood patterns, seen in Humble’s new lighting range, add earthy accents to a room, particularly when placed next to indoor plants and other raw material features,” says Hood.

8. Brigantia Lighting Grey, £695 (£715 with bulb), other items from a selection, OKA

Elsewhere, basket style hanging lanterns have the power to please. “Lighting should be the star of the show in every space,” says Sue Jones, creative director for OKA. “If your ceiling height will allow it, dial up the drama with a hanging lamp that will act as a bold focal point. A style like the Brigantia is perfect to hang over a dining table as it will diffuse light and cast a soft glow.”

9. Perisphere Table Lamp – Natural, £175 (base only), Lamp & Black Drum Cotton Shade, £225, other items from a selection, OKA

Jones point out: “Remember lamps don’t have to be purely functional. A sculptural base like our new Perisphere table lamp will display just as much character when the lights are off, and can be paired with a patterned shade for an extra dash of colour.”

10. Grosvenor Floor Lamp, £115 (r), Grosvenor Table Lamp, £50 (m), Richmond Table Lamp, £90 (l), other items from a selection, Next

For a polished pool of light, this new Grosvenor collection from Next ticks all the right (light)boxes, with its chrome base complemented by a glamorous velvet shade with geometric design.

11. Jonathan Adler Constantine Table Lamp, £595, Jonathan Adler

This designer lamp is super stylish and chic. With its antiqued brass pyramid framework and lustrous piano black finish, it’s a fabulous edition to any side table.

How to Bring the Calming Principles of Feng Shui into your Home

It’s all about encouraging positive energy flow. Regardless of whether you’re back to school or not, this is a good time of year to stop, take stock and make some positive changes.

For Gen Z in particular, there’s been an increased focus on making bedrooms a calm and soothing space. Pinterest has found the age group (born between the mid-Nineties and early 2010s) is looking for serenity, with searches for ‘Zen bedroom ideas’ up five times on average, and ‘feng shui bedroom layout’ up two and a half times.

Thinking about how to bring this feeling of calmness into your home as a whole? The Chinese practice of feng shui could help. “Translated as ‘wind-water’ in English, feng shui practises the belief that by bringing positive energy into the home, good health, wealth and luck are set to follow,” explains Rebecca Snowden, interior style advisor at FurnitureChoice.co.uk.

Here are Snowden’s top tips for welcoming positive energy into your home…

Declutter

Many of us see September as a second new year, meaning it’s the ideal time to declutter. “A neat home works wonders for our mental clarity and overall health,” explains Snowden.

“In feng shui, each space is connected to each other and allows positive energy to flow throughout the house. Add a decorative mirror to the living room to make the space feel larger, and multiply the positive energy flow. Meanwhile, closets or drawers overloaded with old items block the chi (energy) so it’s best to discard any clutter.”

Balance yin and yang

Snowden recommends incorporating yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) elements into your decor. “Apply this concept by mixing different shapes together,” she says. “For example, contrast the sharp edges of wall hangings with the soft curves of a sofa or mirror in the living room. This will balance out the room and give it a more relaxing feel.”

Bring calm into your bedroom

It’s no surprise Gen Z are keen to feng shui their bedrooms: after all, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to overall wellbeing, and the right environment can play a big part.

To boost feelings of calm and relaxation particularly in your bedroom, Snowden has two top tips: first, get rid of mirrors to help avoid an energy overload. And second, make the bed the central focus. “In feng shui, this symbolises a commanding position that allows you to take charge and handle life’s many challenges,” says Snowden. “The bed is best positioned diagonally away from your door as you will still be able to see it clearly, while not being in a direct line to it.

“Placing your bed against the wall will also give you a sense of security and ground you when you sleep. And for extra strength and stability, a bed with a headboard will represent this, with its solid support and build.”

If you have a home office, apply the same logic to your desk to bring the focus onto productivity.

Freshen up the place with plants

Snowden says plants can “bring positive energy” into a room, adding: “In feng shui, they are commonly associated as a life force and bring in growth, prosperity and luck. Common indoor plants said to attract these good elements include pothos, lucky bamboo and peace lily.”

What Kids can do to Help Save the Planet

As its new report reveals a “catastrophic decline” in the natural world, the WWF and Sir David Attenborough say change is needed and kids can help. Saving the planet and everything that lives on it is more important to children than anyone, because they’ll have to live with any losses much longer than their parents.

With that in mind, the World Wildlife Fund (wwf.org.uk) (WWF), which has just published its flagship Living Planet Report revealing nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before, has issued separate information to help children and young people understand what they can do to help stop this “catastrophic decline” – which includes, for example, African elephant populations in the Central African Republic declining by up to 98%.

The Living Planet Index, which tracks what’s happening in around 21,000 groups of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, shows wildlife populations around the world have, on average, declined by 68% since 1970, and the trend isn’t slowing down.

WWF ambassador Sir David Attenborough says the world needs to alter its perspective on nature, pointing out there has to be: “A change from viewing nature as something that’s optional or ‘nice to have’ to the single greatest ally we have in restoring balance to our world.”

The WWF says intensive agriculture, deforestation and the conversion of wild spaces into farmland are among the main causes of nature loss, while overfishing is “wreaking havoc” with marine life.

It says 75% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface has been significantly altered, most of the oceans are polluted, and 90% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants, and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction over the next 100 years.

The conservation charity says many of these extinctions are preventable, but warns that without urgent global action, life on Earth will be pushed to the brink, stressing: “Saving the environment is vital if we want to save ourselves.”

Matt Larsen-Daw, education manager at WWF-UK, says: “Young people will face a future very different from today’s world, and will be living with the consequences of decisions made by previous generations. It’s essential they understand environmental issues, so they’re equipped to make the best choices for the future of people and the planet.

“As the Living Planet Report 2020 launches, we’ve condensed the findings to communicate the science specifically to younger audiences. Young people will be one of the strongest forces behind real-world change for the planet.”

Here’s what WWF says young people can do to help save the planet…

1. Rethink the way you eat

About a third of the food produced around the world is never eaten – it might be wasted at the point it’s produced, or during transportation, packaging and sale. WWF says food waste is responsible for roughly 8% of global greenhouse gases, so it’s one of the biggest problems to tackle in the fight against the climate and nature crisis.

To do this, says Larsen-Daw, the type of food, and the way food is produced, needs transforming, so it’s more environmentally-friendly. That means farming that uses less space (so wildlife habitats aren’t destroyed), less water and fewer chemicals that harm the environment.

Try at home: “An easy place to start is to try eating and cooking with more plant-based foods, sourcing local produce and choosing food that hasn’t been produced in a way that causes deforestation,” suggests Larsen-Daw.

The WWF says the free mobile app Giki (giki.earth) provides ethical and sustainability information on more than 250,000 products, including whether the packaging is recyclable and if ingredients, including palm oil, are responsibly sourced.

2. Use your voice to tackle deforestation

“In the time it takes to say ‘deforestation’, another chunk of forest the size of a football pitch is destroyed. That’s every two seconds, every single day,” says Larsen-Daw.

The main cause of this deforestation is food production, he says, including the food we eat in the UK. “The truth is, most people simply don’t realise the food we eat can be causing deforestation,” he points out. “If we’re going to change things, first we need everyone to know about the problem.”

Try at home: Talk to your family, friends, teachers and even your local MP to make sure everyone knows about the issue and that it matters. Find out more about deforestation, the root causes and what you can do to help by reading ‘5 Things You Can Do To Help The Amazon Rainforest‘ on the WWF’s website.

3. Help restore biodiversity

There’s a huge variety of plant and animal life on Earth and this biodiversity is vital for a healthy planet, says the WWF, as we rely on living things for clean air, fresh water and the conditions needed to grow food.

There are plenty of ways to support biodiversity while helping to slow climate change and protect people and wildlife from its effects, it says. For example, carefully choosing places to plant more forests can improve landscapes and soil quality, and capture carbon dioxide to help fight climate change. In towns and cities, trees improve air quality, prevent floods and keep residential areas cool.

Try at home: Learn about the nature around you, how different species benefit the environment and how you can help them. Make small changes in your garden and local communities to welcome wildlife – plant native flowers, build a variety of habitats to attract insects, birds, mammals and reptiles, and let things grow wild.

4. Measure your environmental footprint

Our current lifestyles – including the way we eat and travel – mean we need 1.6 times more resources than our planet can generate. When we add up everyone’s environmental footprint, it’s too big for the planet to support forever. If we can lower the amount of resources that each of us use, our overall impact can start to go down.

Try at home: Start by measuring your own environmental footprint with the WWF’s online calculator (https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/) – it may give you tips you’ve never thought about before. Then, get family and friends to measure their footprints too. Once you know your environmental footprint, it will be easier to find the things you can change at home.

5. Pass on single-use plastic

Single-use plastics have infiltrated our natural world and even our diets. Around eight million tonnes of plastic are thought to end up in our oceans every year, causing serious harm to wildlife.

Try at home: Make sure you have a reusable bag with you when you go to a shop and try to find loose fruit and vegetables where possible that aren’t wrapped in plastic. If you spot a brand or supermarket continuing to use lots of single-use plastic, call them out.

Craig Phillips: ‘DIY can be Really Therapeutic’

DIY may be his trade – but as original Big Brother winner Craig Phillips tells Gabrielle Fagan, it brings a host of wellbeing benefits too.

Being trapped at home during lockdown certainly wasn’t unfamiliar to Craig Phillips.

As the winner of TV’s first ever Big Brother – which marks its 20th anniversary this year – he experienced weeks of housebound isolation, along with the pressure of being under constant surveillance.

“It certainly gave me an early taste of lockdown all those years ago,” says the 48-year-old, as he recalls being part of what was arguably the first proper reality TV show back in 2000.

“We were completely isolated from the outside world, with no phones, internet, newspapers – social media wasn’t even born then – and the house didn’t even have windows. The garden was walled, with floodlights and live TV cameras beaming down on us. We were basically imprisoned,” he remembers. “By comparison, being in my house and garden with my family throughout lockdown definitely felt far easier!”

Now a regular on DIY shows – like 60 Minute Makeover, Housecall and Craig’s Trade Trips – Liverpudlian Phillips was just 28 when he won over viewers on Big Brother, as the straight-talking builder with a passion for body-building. Cheeky and charming, he touched the nation’s hearts with his selfless aim to give the prize money to family friend Joanne Harris, who had Down’s syndrome and needed a heart and lung transplant (Harris sadly passed away in 2008).

“I had no idea how big the show would be and just thought it was worth a try,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, I don’t suppose anyone will watch the show, and really how hard can it be to live with 10 other people?’ Actually, it was really tough – you could never switch off with all those cameras on you, and it was hard to deal with all the different personalities,” he reflects.

Big Brother didn’t just propel Phillips to nationwide stardom, but changed the TV landscape and helped spawn the ‘fame game’, where ‘ordinary’ people could suddenly become celebrities overnight.

“My life exploded after I came out, and at times I found the reaction overwhelming,” Phillips admits. “I went into the house very naive, not expecting anything to come from it, as we all did. I don’t think anyone was [expecting anything], because reality TV wasn’t born until then,” he adds. “I think people got so excited about it, because it was the first time the public got an opportunity to vote and keep people in or kick them out.”

Re-entering the real world was “really, really crazy” he says. “I don’t think I went home for 97 days. I changed hotel every night and I had bodyguards chaperoning me around. It was life-changing overnight, and I was the last person to realise it.”

Phillips, who is talking from his home on the outskirts of Liverpool – which he shares with his wife Laura Sherriff, 33, and their 18-month-old daughter, Nelly (they’re currently expecting their second child) – doesn’t believe he’d even have been considered for the show in its later years, let alone won it.

“I think I’m a bit too normal, boring, and not extreme enough compared to the characters that were there as it went on,” he says with a grin. “As the years went on, increasingly scenarios were concocted to deliberately make people clash and cause friction, and get people conniving and calculating. That wouldn’t have been for me.”

Phillips’ story is an inspiring one. Just 13 when his father was killed by a drink-driver, by age 15, he was working to help support his mother and sister. Despite leaving school with no qualifications (he had un-diagnosed dyslexia), by his early-20s, he’d built a successful building company, with a turnover of more than £1 million and a team of 30.

While many fall by the wayside after five minutes of fame, Phillips thinks his down-to-earth background and business and building skills allowed him to capitalise on his success after Big Brother, rather than be derailed by it.

“In my book, being famous isn’t a job. I’ve never regarded myself as famous, although I am well recognised. I think the secret to surviving a reality show is to stay true to yourself and not believe the hype,” he says.

“The show was a spring-board for me, giving me so many opportunities to work on TV. I’ve appeared on thousands of DIY and makeover shows over the years. I’ve also been able to help raise millions for charities, which makes me feel really proud.”

Marriage and becoming a father has given him personal contentment. He and Laura work together as ‘Mr & Mrs DIY’ on TV and YouTube. They also have a property portfolio and recently built their “dream” home, complete with eight bedrooms, a gym and film studio.

“I knew Laura was ‘the one’ the first time I met her, at a TV studio,” Phillips confides. “Although there is a 14-year age difference – Laura jokes she was still at school when I won Big Brother – we never notice it. We’ve so much in common, and being able to work and live together 24/7 so happily, to me means it’s a really special relationship.

“It was wonderful teaching Laura DIY skills and discovering she was a complete natural,” he adds, happily. “We make such a good team.

“Being parents together is brilliant, and we’re looking forward to welcoming our son soon. I treasure my time with Nelly and I’m perhaps even more aware of the responsibility of caring and providing for her, because I lost my own father so young.”

He’s open-minded about whether he’d allow his daughter to take part in reality TV when she’s older. “It would be hard to say no, wouldn’t it, after my experience?” he reflects. “If her heart was set on it, I’d support her, but just hope to guide her a little and help her keep her feet on the ground.

“Nelly actually already loves her painting play sessions, so I reckon we could give her a little brush in a few years and get her on our team,” he adds, laughing. “It would be nice to say, ‘Mr & Mrs DIY and Daughter!’”

He believes DIY can be far more beneficial than simply home improvements, as it can be beneficial to people’s mental wellbeing too.

“We were overwhelmed by the huge and positive reaction to our online DIY videos during lockdown,” says Phillips. “It’s really therapeutic for people, if they can learn to work on their own homes and improve them, because that can really give a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Also, there’s so much loneliness around, but we really noticed people loved being able to connect by sharing their DIY experiences and tips.”

He downs tools to look after his own wellbeing: “This is a stressful time business-wise, as it is for everybody, but I try not to panic and just keep the faith that things will bounce back.

“Chilling out with Nelly is a wonderful way of de-stressing,” he adds. “Laura and I share parenting 50/50, and I’ll take Nelly off for a couple of hours to play and that time literally flies by.

“I’m a bit of a workaholic, but it’s the ultimate switch off from work and any problems. I feel like a different man by the end of it.”

Craig Phillips is a celebrity builder and mental health speaker. To find out more, see craigphillips.co.uk

How garden trends are changing post-lockdown

Experts predict a resurgence of lawns, an increase in growing edibles, and new admiration for subtle sculptures.

As working from home has become the norm for so many of us, our garden needs are set to change.

So says award-winning garden designer Andrew Duff, managing director of Inchbald School Of Design, who won a bronze medal for his first show garden at Chelsea last year.

“For me, garden design has changed more in the last six months than it has in the last 60 years,” he reflects. “It’s no longer the space people come home to for a gin and tonic and to watch the sun go down. They want somewhere to have coffee in the morning, somewhere to have lunch, a green calm space just to be.”

The aesthetics of gardens are changing dramatically, transforming into functional working spaces, somewhere slightly more overgrown, floppy and more attractive to wildlife, he adds. Seating may have to accommodate both a laptop working space for the warmer months, and comfortable seating with plenty of cushions when work is over.

So, how will the extra time we have in the garden affect future trends?

Keen on green

“Green is the colour the eye recognises first, so inherently we relax with that. A good green selection of plants with a balance of different leaf textures gives us that feeling of freshness and growth, which is what people are looking for as we move through the seasons,” says Duff.

“It may mean dark green backgrounds with acid greens and yellows to create a fresh and verdant look. A taxus background, with large-leaved textures of angelica and persicaria. It’s not about a riot of colour.

“In among the green palette, people will want things that give them the joy of scents, such as rosemary and sage.”

Lawn comeback

Duff has found that hard landscaping is being replaced by lawn. “I think lawns are making a comeback. The lawn has been a really usable space, particularly if you have children, and people now have more time to maintain their lawn and are finding it therapeutic to mow.”

Subtle sculpture

“We’ve had a lot of enquiries for more reflective and contemplative pieces of sculpture,” says award-winning sculptor David Harber (davidharber.co.uk), whose work has been exhibited at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. “People are seeking calm and sophistication, perhaps represented in a Zen-like water feature. People want unfussy, serene and beguiling.

“So many people have taken up yoga and meditation, they want a place where they can stand and be, where they are back in touch with nature.”

Rich shades

“People are after really subtle, deep colours that are quite jewel-like. If you’ve been stuck at your computer screen all day, this subdued rich palette that’s gentle on the eye is becoming important,” says Duff.

“We are talking deep red persicarias and the deeper blues of catmint, but overall a much more natural feeling in planting. As people are in the garden a lot more, everything is more ongoing. People are going out every day and picking off dead leaves and deadheading, rather than that being a job for the weekend. It’s less of a chore and more of an enjoyment.”

More balcony food

“We are going to see less containers filled with annual colour – petunias and geraniums are on their way out. We are going to see balconies overloaded with tomatoes and runner beans, with nasturtiums running through them,” Duff predicts.

Container changes

“Seasonality is really important, which is where growing vegetables in containers is really going to take off, along with the rotation of vegetable crops,” says Duff. “Heritage vegetables are coming back – the purple beans, the purple carrots – and for people who’ve got children, that’s exciting.”

There will be a return to terracotta and timber planters, rather than mass produced plastic tubs which are less eco-friendly, he predicts.

Sustainable landscaping

“People are much more aware of the sustainability of products and their provenance. There’s a great drive to buy British. They want to buy locally and are into supporting local businesses and nurseries,” says Duff. “People want a richness in material. Machine-cut stone is slowly moving away and the Ripon Yorkstone feeling is coming back, along with the joy of gravel.”

Working for wildlife

“Wildlife has become very important and people have become surprised how much wildlife there is in their garden,” says Duff. “People won’t be sweeping everything up to within an inch of its life, but will leave things informal and relaxed to encourage wildlife. It’s the overall eclectic, slightly overgrown look that people are adopting.”

Moving forwards

Join a webinar panel discussion event, Changing Landscapes: The Future Of Nature And Our Homes: Design, the second in a series, on September 10 at 2pm, featuring David Harber on the panel. For details visit davidharber.com/news/webinar.htm.

How to Avoid a Staycation Scam

Nearly a third of us are planning a UK-based staycation before the end of the year – but watch out for bogus breaks, writes Vicky Shaw.

With many people’s 2020 holiday plans in disarray due to the pandemic, a significant number of us are planning to take a break much closer to home, instead of jetting overseas this year.

Nearly a third (32%) are planning a UK-based staycation this year, according to Nationwide Building Society, as travelling abroad to our usual holiday hotspots has become so much trickier.

But while this should help give some local economies a much-needed boost, those planning to sample what the UK holiday scene has to offer should beware of ‘staycation scammers’.

So what do you need to know about staycation scams? Here are some important points to keep in mind…

What staycation scams should you watch out for?

Among the many coronavirus-related frauds which have emerged, Action Fraud has been urging consumers to be on the lookout for fake caravan and motorhome listings.

These may be advertised on auction websites and the prices are often low to attracted people in. Criminals will come up with excuses for why the vehicles cannot be viewed in person. The goods don’t exist, or will never arrive.

And if you’re looking for a holiday cottage or apartment, beware of bogus websites offering places for rent, often at discounted prices. These websites may appear professional and convincing, using images of properties that are not really available. Scammers may require a deposit, which is never returned.

Even if you think you are on a trusted website, check the URL for subtle changes, which can indicate it is imitating a genuine firm.

How to avoid staycation scams

Action Fraud says people should always follow the advice of the ‘Take Five to Stop Fraud’ campaign, and take a moment to stop and think before parting with their money or personal information, in case what appears to be a bargain getaway turns out to be a scam. If something is advertised at a rock bottom price, ask yourself is it really a bargain, or could it be a scam?

If you’re considering buying a motorhome or caravan, do some research, and if you’re dealing with someone online, ask if they can send you a video of the vehicle.

Don’t let online sellers persuade you to pay by bank transfer, as you may never see your cash again. Also, read online reviews to see what other people say about sellers.

How you pay could also give you added protections

You could consider using payment methods such as PayPal, which has added buyer protections, or pay by credit card.

Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card purchases of goods costing between £100 and £30,000 have added protections if something goes wrong and items or services purchased never materialise.

Under Section 75, the credit card company is held jointly liable with the trader or retailer, so you can put in a claim to them.

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