- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
A cramped bed, angry car drivers and rain lashing noisily on the roof – nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of Paul Merton and his wife, Suki Webster, for their maiden holiday in a home on wheels.
The couple filmed six episodes of Motorhoming with Merton & Webster, which starts on Friday. They join tens of thousands of motorhome and campervan owners taking to the road this summer in a staycation boom sparked by the pandemic.
Despite a lack of sleep, bashing the door mirrors and at one point locking themselves in the bathroom, the pair can’t contain their excitement while staying at some of the country’s most beautiful campsites. In a year like no other, they travel from the Lake District to the Kent coast and from Norfolk to Wales in search of the UK’s finest sights.
Merton hopes the fly-on-the-wall documentary will resonate with motorhome owners and encourage others to try holidaying on wheels. “I don’t know what we expected, but we genuinely had a fantastic time – each trip was a new adventure,” he said. “The joy of a campervan is carrying home comforts with you. If the view isn’t good or the neighbours are noisy you just pack up and move on.”
The deadpan star of long-running TV series Have I Got News for You? and radio show Just A Minute says he was astonished by the equipment in their vehicle. The 24ft Roller Team 740 is powered by a 120bhp diesel engine and costs from £66,000.
Merton said: “I imagined the van would be cramped and Suki and I would be living on top of each other. Compared with my London bedsit in the 1980s, it was actually very spacious. Suki was amazed we had a proper cooker. I had imagined it would be pretty basic.”
In the first episode, the couple set off from Canterbury to tour the Kent coast. After they visit Margate, the trip is interrupted when a door mirror clips the hedge in a narrow country lane.
“It took Suki and I a while to get used to the size – neither of us had driven anything like that before,” said Merton. “Some drivers behind us were cross because they couldn’t overtake, but we were driving at the speed limit.”
Does he have any advice for fellow novices? “When we arrived at our first site, it took time reversing into our pitch, working out how to hook up for electricity and how to fire up the gas hob. I’d advise people to swot up on the owner’s manual before leaving home.”
Watch: How to move out of the city
Webster, who together with Merton is part of the improvisation troupe Improv Chums, said the biggest issue was sleep. “Paul is 6ft 2in and the bed was queen size, but she must have been a very small queen. Every time one of us rolled over, we would whack the other with a knee or elbow.
“The rain on the roof was quite loud and I needed a few days to get used to that, but I don’t sleep well away from home anyway. The upside was that when we woke up there was always a tremendous view from the window.”
The couple, who spent lockdown at their cottage in Kent, admitted they hadn’t visited a campsite since their childhoods, when each had stayed in a static caravan with their parents.
Webster said: “For the first programme, I packed very much for the British summer. In my luggage was a hot water bottle, electric blanket, ski trousers, hat, gloves and a warm jacket. The van had proper heating, so I didn’t need any of it.”
The most embarrassing moment was locking themselves in the bathroom, forcing them to call on the film crew. “They fitted six remote cameras in the motorhome, so we were able to be socially distanced. It also gave us more time to relax and discover the van on our own,” said Webster.
Sharing duties around the motorhome mirrored the couple’s domestic routine. “I’m afraid I try to keep Paul out of the kitchen at home and in the camper van,” said Webster. “He isn’t very tidy and if I go away for a few days I return to find a series of bombs have exploded. In a motor-home it’s even worse.”
Merton says the couple have since discussed buying a motorhome of their own. “We had such a fun time, but our problem is that we are so busy working that we couldn’t justify the expenditure. Our plan is to rent instead and plan some new locations.”
Business is booming. A survey by the National Caravan Council over a five-week, post-lockdown period reported that 37 per cent of new vehicle registrations were by people who had never owned a motorhome or caravan before. More than a third were aged under 44, and almost half had children living at home.
The increase in demand this July forced British Car Auctions to add an extra monthly sale for caravans and motorhomes – at the same time doubling the capacity of each auction event to meet demand.
The company held the UK’s first online auction of such leisure vehicles a year ago as foreign travel restrictions tightened. Spokesman Stuart Pearson said: “It is the staycationers driving this incredible increase in demand.”
About 100 vehicles are offered at the company’s sales. Last time around, desperate bidders paid from £14,000 for a basic van, right up to £140,000 for a luxurious, second-hand Carthago Chic E-Line – a BCA record for a leisure vehicle in an online auction.
Motorhoming with Merton & Webster starts on Friday at 8pm on Channel 5.