Kevin McCloud: ‘We thought Grand Designs was going to be watched by one surveyor and his dog’

I grew up in a tight-knit family without much money. Once a year we’d go camping in Snowdonia or Scotland or France or Austria in the Vauxhall Victor. The rest of the year we’d be eating kidneys.

My dad, who was an inventor and a maker and an engineer, bought a house from a developer and finished building it. I remember going for a wee on the first floor of the house above the kitchen and being able to see through the floorboards into the pantry below.

My first bike was a girl’s bike, but my dad made a crossbar for it with a piece of aluminium door trim. It was safe, but humiliating. Mum also made all our clothes. There’s a photograph of me in a school uniform where the only item that isn’t made by my mother is the school tie. Nicknames were hurled, but I’m not telling you what – I use them as passwords now.

Cambridge in the 80s in an all-male college was completely alien for me. I’d travelled to Italy the year before and thought I was some Italian man about town, speaking the language, reading Italian newspapers, smoking Italian cigarettes. Then, all of a sudden, it was like being at a boarding school – and I rebelled.

I was a member of Footlights, and it did feel like I was witnessing the birth of a movement. I knew Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie to say hello to, Tony Slattery, Paul Shearer… I dated Jan Ravens for a while. I ended up designing the set for a show directed by Jan, with all of them in, including Emma Thompson. But I was never a performer.

Television was quite exploitative when Grand Designs started, but our idea was celebratory. We thought the first series was going to be watched by one surveyor and his dog, but enough viewers watched to gain a recommission, even though the industry feedback was caustic. Insiders were suspicious that we were on the side of the viewers, but the key to the show’s longevity is choosing human, original, exciting stories. We just have to keep finding the right mix.

Lying in my hammock is one of the great experiences of my life. I only got a hammock as a birthday present this year. Such a stupid thing to have delayed.

The world of selfies has made life much less pleasant. It’s our human right to be able to take a selfie, regardless of what the other individual is doing, regardless of what they engage with or who they’re with and who else might be captured on camera. I find that intrusion quite tricky. A 15-year-old lad came up to me on the street in north London recently and said, “Do you mind if I have an autograph?” It was such a rarity. I said yes.

I always leave the pub or a party before 9pm. Alcohol turns people into different animals. If I left at 11pm you’d be seeing me pinned against the wall by some hairy-arsed bloke with his head three inches from mine telling me about his roof conversion or what I need to do with my life that I’m currently not doing. The only place you’ll find me these days at nine o’clock is on telly.

Grand Designs continues on Wednesdays at 9pm on Channel 4