FOR 23 years, 31 series and some 240 episodes, Nick Knowles has been putting on his purple shirt and hard hat and entertaining DIY: SOS viewers in their millions.
But after breaking the BBC’s strict commercial guidelines by fronting an advert for cereal brand Shreddies, he was replaced by comic Rhod Gilbert for the Children In Need special.
Fast forward almost a year from his very public dressing down, and the 59-year-old is back on the building site fronting a new series of the popular show.
Speaking about the incident for the first time, the twice-wed father of four admits his regret but says he only did the ad — which saw him play a hardhat-wearing builder — to put food on the table for his family.
He says: “You know, you’ve gotta earn and there was a period during the pandemic where shows just weren’t being made. That work wasn’t there and I’ve got to provide for my family and an opportunity came up.
“Obviously what I regret is the confusion that arose around it. I certainly would not have chosen to have upset the BBC or upset the programme in any way.
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“You’ve seen how I feel about the programme. It’s more important than just a job for me. I live and breathe it and have done for 23 years. It’s really, really important to me.
“I’m just glad we were all able to sit down and work a way through it.”
Asked if he has any more breakfast cereal commercials planned, he adds with a chuckle: “I certainly won’t be looking to upset anybody at the BBC in the near future.”
The row started after Nick played a builder in a commercial for Shreddies — filling a hardhat with the cereal for a family.
The big-money deal was at odds with Beeb rules, prompting a major dispute in which he was threatened with the axe if he did not pull out of the campaign.
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But because the ad was already airing, Beeb top brass decided he would just have to miss the Children In Need Big Build charity special, with former Never Mind the Buzzcocks man Rhod, 53, stepping in for it.
So how was it watching someone else front the show that has been your baby for more than two decades? Was it like seeing an ex-girlfriend with a new fella?
He says: “It was odd, but it wasn’t tough. My great concern was whoever stepped in, understood that it wasn’t about being like, ‘Look at me!’ but about being empathetic and carrying on that thread.
“It was odd but I wasn’t upset once I saw he was doing a great job and he was genuinely caring.
“Stepping in is a tough task, to step into something that’s been going on for all those years. I thought he did a great job. I genuinely mean that. He was heartfelt and empathetic and that is what you need on this job.
“Plus he was great with the team and the boys really loved him. They told me that they wanted him to stay on and hoped I’d get the permanent sack!”
Nick and his trusty sidekicks — including builder Julian Perryman and electrician Billy Byrne — are back for six weekly episodes starting on Tuesday, May 10 with a project in Kettering, Northants.
And while some in the world of telly may balk at a slot on a midweek evening, Nick is delighted.
He says: “We’re very excited as it’s the first time in about seven or eight years that we’ve had a run of programmes.
“SOS has always done a job for the BBC. They tended to put it out opposite the football, if (a match) was on ITV. We’d get the other audience.
“So often we’ve been put out as just one programme. But many of the audience didn’t know it was on until it had been on. We can find out exactly how much of an audience we’ve still got.”
Nick kindly invited The Sun on set at one of the show’s builds in Southmead, Bristol, where the team are tackling a huge outdoor adventure playground that has fallen into disrepair and suffered from vandalism.
When I arrive on site, I expect to be ushered into a quiet backstage production area where Nick is being fed grapes and brought cups of tea in a china mug.
But to my surprise, while he isn’t exactly hammer in hand, he’s very much the life and soul of the project.
He says: “On some programmes the presenter might be sitting in an office or a Winnebago reading magazines, waiting for their piece to camera then go back again. But I’ve never really understood that as it’s an incredibly dull life.
“When I am on site, from 8.30am or whatever it is, until 6 or 7, or if we’re running late until 10 or 11 at night, actually spending time with all those people with all these stories to tell, you end up making loads and loads of friends and you stay in contact with them. I work with amazing people, for amazing people.”
And to his credit, he’s telling the truth. As we walk around the site, he introduces me to nearly 100 volunteers, and he knows everyone’s names, stories, where they’re from and the specific skills they’re giving up for free for the project in hand.
He adds: “We’ve sort of become guilty of creating that image ourselves as it’s been a joke for some time, you know, Billy is a dangerous electrician and I won’t do any work if I can possbily avoid it.
“But to make it happen, and to make the people who are there feel special, I say to them right at the beginning, ‘People say nice things to us about DIY SOS and the work we do, but actually all of the jobs over the last 23 years haven’t been built by the show, but by everyone who has turned up. ‘So by the end of this week you will own this job and it will be your job, not ours’.
“Now that only happens if you then value the people so you’re out there talking to them. You’re having a laugh with them. You know, a cigarette and a cup of tea with them. Or deliver their teas, or run up the catering van for them.
“It’s that time you spend with them that makes them feel valued. That then makes them own that job.
“So when they are then faced with the people they built it for, that emotion is very real for them because they feel they personally have done it.”
'EMOTION IS VERY REAL'
His everyman personality has made him a hit nationwide with men, women, families, you name it.
It has also made him something of a housewives’ favourite, which has often meant his dating life playing out in the public eye, given his BBC platform.
Just this week, Nick was left furious when social media trolls took aim at his new girlfriend Katie Dadzie, a 31-year-old mum-of-two and successful business owner.
After they were pictured having a lovely time on an evening out, trolls accused her of being with him for the wrong reasons.
He raged back that she runs three businesses and has two degrees, adding: “She is wealthier & more successful than me and is intelligent and independent, unlike the abusive trolls attacking her. ‘What happened to #bekind?’”
Asked what prompted the outburst, Nick — who has three grown-up children, plus a seven-year-old son Eddie — explains: “I choose to be on TV. As a result, I expect the whole nine yards.
“I am up there as an object. I’ve chosen to be on TV but my children, or my family, or people I date, for them I feel it’s unfair to have a go at them.
“What upset was the judgment of her without knowing anything about her. Or what her motivations might be. I found that upsetting and unfair and felt I needed to say something about it.
“By all means have a go at me, I’m there to be shot at verbally on social media and the rest of it because of what I’ve chosen to do as a living.
“But it feels a bit unfair to have a go at people I care about.”
He adds: “People have a view of celebrities. I consider what I do very much a job. It’s an unusual job and it’s in the public eye.
"A lot of people who do what I do actually start believing in their own press releases — they are special and important. I always assume when people meet me, I must be that arrogant TV presenter.
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“A lot of people in our industry start from the idea that people actually must be impressed to meet them. I start from the idea that actually everybody thinks the worst of me until I can prove otherwise.”
- DIY SOS returns to BBC1 on Tuesday May, 10 at 8pm.
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