DIY SOS Baz Ashmawy: 'These volunteers are heroes in my eyes. They are the exact opposite to me. I'm an egomaniac'
Presented by the curly-headed silver fox Baz Ashmawy the hugely popular show DIY SOS is finally on Irish TV. Daragh Keany catches up with the radio and television personality.
He may have burst on to our screens as one-third of the madcap How Low Can You Go trio, and has become a household name by trying to kill his mum, but there is a softer, more serious side, to Baz Ashmawy.
Throughout lockdown, the 45-year-old has been spreading joy on his various social media channels; he's also been sifting through the lies and fake news surrounding Covid-19 by bringing his followers insightful and timely chats with Dr Paddy Mallon.
Now, he's taking that softer side to the first series of DIY SOS where three deserving families receive the gift of a gigantic home makeover. There is a young widow with three children whose life was turned upside down when her husband died of cancer in February 2019.
There is also Shay and Finn Guihen who are eight-year-old identical twin boys, born with Pfeiffer Syndrome Type III: a rare genetic disorder causing a number of very challenging and life limiting disabilities.
And then there is tonight's opening episode that features brave Amy Mulcahy, who was in a rowing accident.
"People think because she is in a wheelchair and has impaired speech that she is not a normal 14-year-old," Baz explained. "They are wrong. She could be one of my own. She is bright and funny and sarcastic and I am proud to call her a friend now after this process.
"Amy was left with a life-altering brain injury after a rowing accident in Limerick early last year. She was trapped under water for a few minutes, before being rescued by Limerick Fire Service. Since an early and grim prognosis, she has defied all the odds, endured months of hospitalisation in Dublin and was eventually moved back home.
"However, Amy's rehabilitation at home was severely hampered, as she was sleeping downstairs in the family sitting room and was unable to access the upstairs bathroom because she needs to use a wheelchair.
"She had cuts on her knuckles from banging off radiators because her wheelchair wouldn't fit through the house.
"So that is where the DIY SOS team stepped in by completely revamping the family home in nine days and giving Amy back some privacy and dignity within her own family home, which she shares with her wonderfully warm and positive mum Sharon, her brother Calum and energetic three-year-old twin nephews, Leo and Ashton."
So, we should expect to have the hankies at the ready for a real tear-jerker? "Yeah, it's emotional, but it is such incredibly positive TV. Trust me, it is the TV we all need right now.
"The tragedy that these people have experienced puts all of our problems in perspective. I had to hide behind a digger on one occasion, so that I could just cry my eyes out away from the cameras."
And did he get his hands dirty? "Did I help out? Ha. No. My toolbox at home consists of one Allen key and a butter knife. I am just the presenter, nothing else. I would have undone all their hard work if I had gotten my hands dirty. Trust me.
"These volunteers are heroes in my eyes. And the incredible thing is, they weren't even trying to get on camera to get some praise. They would run a mile if I came near them to chat.
"They are the exact opposite to me. I am an egomaniac; I would have been elbowing my way in past the others to get on camera. It just goes to show how amazing these volunteers are that they gave up so much time, they donate furniture, they catered for the volunteers… everything is free. And yet they didn't want any recognition for it.
"They just wanted to help. I find that remarkable.
"The atmosphere on site was like a music festival. The banter was amazing and it helped us all get through the tough time-limits we were operating under. It was a community spirit. Even the locals all came out and helped."
That sense of community was never more apparent than earlier this year when the whole country was flung into an unprecedented lockdown. Parents were immediately forced into becoming in-house pals, chefs and teachers for their kids, so spare a thought for Baz who has two children of his own, as well as four from his partner Tanya's previous relationship.
"It was tough all right. Tanya's eldest has moved out, but we still had five kids under one roof during lockdown. They were brilliant, but there were definitely pressure points.
"It was so stressful. I had to rethink a lot of the home-schooling because one of the girls just didn't find it easy at all. And I think I went rogue from the curriculum for the youngest kids a lot, but I tried to make it interesting at the same time as teaching them something. It was a huge test."
Did the stress result in Baz having a few drinks? The last time we spoke to him, he announced he was teetotal.
"I did not cave once during Covid. Despite all the stress, I never once grabbed a beer or a glass of wine. I didn't even crave it, to be honest.
"I did want a fag as few times throughout all of this, but I didn't pick one up at all, so I am really happy about that."
And before we let him go, we had to check in on the nation's second favourite mammy, Nancy...
"She is brilliant. No health issues. She is flying it. Sure, you can't keep her down. She found it hard not to see the kids earlier in the year, but she is on her phone from 9am to 10pm every single day. She is like a stockbroker. Her social circle is huge and they are all safe and well, so she feels very lucky.
"I know we have had some wild times through the years, but deep down she only wants for simple things in life. Sure, I brought her to 18 countries in three years and all she talks about is the Canaries."