Keeping it simple on DIY favourite

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 11:34 25/06/2013
Simon Barnett

BIT OF A BOOST: Simon Barnett masters a fork-hoist

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It's been a whole Olympiad since we last saw Mitre 10 Dream Home or Simon Barnett on our screens.

But while the latter no longer has Stars in His Eyes, he's excited about fronting a new version of the perennially popular home renovation competition, especially as it has been set in his home province of Canterbury.

We caught up with Barnett as he rushed from home from his day job as a breakfast host at More FM Canterbury.

It's been a while since you were last on screen. What tempted you back this time?

I'm a Canterbury guy, and with the earthquakes I did gain a sense of community, and even though it's a reasonably large city, I felt there were no degrees of separation any more - everybody is connected in one way or another. So then when TVNZ rang and wanted me to be involved in a Canterbury version of Dream Home with some families who have been really badly affected by the quakes, I really wanted to get involved. And it turns out they've all got incredible stores and my heart just immediately went out to them. With a lot of reality television its pretty rubbish, but here there's a payoff that's huge.

So what changes from the old Dream Home format can viewers expect?

There is a lot more at stake, and not only because people have been through so much here. I can't say too much, but there's one particular change which is jaw-dropping and means the stakes and pressure are that much higher. The contestants are full of angst, but they're desperate to win like never before.

What about on the technical side?

In the past I think they only used two cameras, but this time there was something like 10 to 12. It's massive, they've got literally hundreds of hours of footage. Where in the past you might have missed some of the exciting moments, where somebody puts a hammer through a wall or a sheet of glass gets broken, now it's all on camera and you won't miss a trick.

Did you seek out (former host) Jane Kiely for any advice?

No, but Jane and I did Celebrity Treasure Island a few years ago, and while stuck on the island together for three weeks, she unwittingly shared notes with me, and had no idea she was doing it.

And were DIY skills a pre-requisite for the job?

Thankfully they weren't, because my nickname at home is Tim the Toolman. Honestly, I'm the worst home-handyman in the world, to the point where, without a word of a lie, I was going to fix a gap between our bath and our shower and my wife said "why don't we get a man in?"

So has working on Dream Home seen any improvement?

I now know how to use a nail gun, a plumb bob and a skillsaw. There's a guy called Stan [Scott] who does the Easy As campaign for Mitre 10, and he's this wicked builder. He taught me how to fix a hole in a wall and stop it with plaster, so that was exciting. I'm starting to feel like quite a man.

And how does it compare to the work you've done on other shows?

On everything else I've done, you go in there, knock out six shows, go home and that's it. But with this I've become very connected with the families and children. I've got some of the kids texting me wanting me to come and watch them play rugby. We've worked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three and a half months and sometimes the families won't have a wink of sleep the whole weekend. I'm sitting in an armchair from a distance, watching them work, and honestly, mate, they are so focused, and it means so much to them. And the work they've put in is quite staggering and stunning. I felt a lot of empathy for them and found that I didn't have to manufacture any emotion at all.

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So you're probably not looking forward to the end of the show then?

In a way, yeah. It sounds awful, but one family is going to win and one isn't. That will be gruelling. When we whittled it down from the six finalists to the two who appear on the show, I had to walk up their driveways and knock on the door with the cameras rolling. In a funny kind of a way, I'm the worst presenter in the world, because I get so embroiled in the situation. There was this one particular family who missed out and I just burst into tears - the guy was looking at me like "this guy's a nut job". I just felt so sorry for him, his wife was sobbing - it was hard and as real as it gets.

That's when I realised, there's "reality television" and then there's "reality" television.

Mitre 10 Dream Home, Tuesdays from July 2, 7.30pm, TV2.

- Wellington

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