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raise the roof Dermot Bannon talks accidental fame and work/life balance as RTÉ's Room to Improve returns

The popular presenter returns in high-definition for a 13th season of Room to Improve on RTÉ One tonight

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Dermot Bannon says Irish people fell back in love with their living spaces during lockdown

Dermot Bannon says Irish people fell back in love with their living spaces during lockdown

Dermot Bannon says Irish people fell back in love with their living spaces during lockdown

Dermot Bannon already has a morning workout, school dash and virtual mound of work emails crossed off his Tuesday 'to do' list when a drowsy Magazine+ calls for a 9am catch-up.

"The pandemic wasn't kind to me and my belly, I think like the rest of the country," explains the TV architect of his energetic morning routine.

"I was down to the last notch on my belt - and I only own one belt. So I've started getting up and going to the gym in the morning. It's as much for the mind as it is for the body; I've stopped caring really how I look."

The popular presenter returns in high-definition for a 13th season of Room to Improve on RTÉ One tonight. Following a two year hiatus, as ever, fans are sure to be glued to Twitter as much as the renovations on the semi-detached South Dublin home featured in new episode.

"They used to have Room to Improve bingo," laughs Dermot. "There was loads of stuff going on within the Twitter community, which was lovely.

"Every year I say, 'Right, this year I'm not going to do it, I'm not going to get involved', but I do, and some of the memes are really funny. Thank God I've seen the episode already, otherwise you'd just be sitting there looking at your phone."

Far more than just viral fame, the Dubliner has, over the past decade and a half, become one of the faces of fast-changing Ireland with his irrepressible love of floor-to-ceiling windows and polar opposite feeling towards 80s-favourite, the 'good room'.

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Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

 

But not even the 49-year-old could have foreseen just how pivotal his 'functionality first' ethos would become as home across the country doubled as schools, offices, restaurants and gyms during the pandemic.

"Like, I'm sitting in our front living room, which is also a home office so there's a desk, a computer, printer," he begins of how lockdown after lockdown impacted our relationship with our living spaces.

"We kind of fell back in love with our homes and how they work, and the colours of cushions and the style of the house I think became less important.

"Clutter, functionality, they were the things people were crying down the phone to me about. Like, 'I can't live in this house anymore, there's a clothes horse everywhere I look', it got down on people. We've learned that we can live with less, and I think that's coming back into our homes as well."

Less may be more, but not - it seems - when it comes to home improvement shows, with Dermot now competing with everyone from Love It or List It veterans Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer to Katie Price with her Mucky Mansion and Tinie Tempah and his Extraordinary Extensions.

Not to mention homegrown property porn running the gamut from Cheap Irish Homes to Selling Ireland's Most Exclusive Homes.

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"There's a rake of home improvement shows on RTÉ and Channel 4 and even on Netflix now," agrees the star, who runs an architecture firm in the capital.

"So we're now going to be one amongst many, whereas years ago I was the only show on RTÉ. It's kind of nerve-racking because it's been two years. It feels like the first time it went out on air.

"Will it still be fresh?" he ponders aloud. "I think it is. It feels a little bit rawer this year. It does feel like a new show. We've worked so hard at it and a lot of that for me is out of nerves that the audience just won't like it."

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Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

Household name Dermot says he still can’t wrap his head around the recognition that hit shows including Room to Improve have brought him. Pictures: Evan Doherty

 

It's at this point that the conversation cannot but acknowledge, to use a Bannon-ism you might find on one of those Room to Improve bingo cards, 'the elephant in the room'.

Amid Ireland's worsening housing crisis, stay tuned to the state broadcaster and you're just as likely to see Primetime document the struggle of tens of thousands to put a roof of any kind over their heads.

"We do not have enough houses in this country, it is really that simple," says Dermot. "We need to deliver numbers.

"I think for a long time government only wanted to do things within four years for obvious reason. Like we've handled the pandemic, we need to put politics aside. The government plans need to be long-term - and not about when the next election is - because anything significant in housing can't be done in four years.

"It needs 10, 15 years to do something properly, and that's what needs to happen."

Despite being stopped in the street as far afield as Australia, just one of the countries where Room to Improve airs, the dad-of-three says he has no intention of leaving the recently revamped Drumcondra home, which he showcased to viewers in a two-part special in 2020.

"Oh God, I don't think you ever wrap your head around it," he addresses his 'celebrity architect' status. "And I don't think it's healthy to try.

"I haven't been approached to do it abroad yet, and I don't know what I'd do if I was. I have a job here, I love my job, do I really need to make it in America and make it in the UK? Probably not.

"What I need to do is make sure my kids get through school unscathed and that, at the moment, is more of a priority."

Two years ago, the self-confessed workaholic admits he may have given a different answer.

"I worked the whole way through the pandemic, but I worked at home and with that I got to be involved in family life and have the random chats, and part of me maybe realised I had missed out on quite a bit," continues the father of Sarah (16), James (13) and Tom (9).

"I realised that I need to spend time with them and I need to get to know them and they need to get to know me.

"Now that things have hopefully got back to a bit more normal, I don't think I'll fall back into the same patterns. Whereas before maybe work might have come first, 'I really need to get this done, we'll go bowling later on', now whatever commitments I've made to them, I make them a priority and then work will have to slot in around that.

"Work will always be there but they won't always be there."

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Dermot with wife, Louise

Dermot with wife, Louise

Dermot with wife, Louise

Not that the trio are rushing to tune into their famous dad on shows also including Incredible Homes and Super Small Spaces.

"They're not the slightest bit interested," jokes Dermot, who celebrates 20 years of marriage with wife and financial director, Louise, this year. "I'm just an embarrassment, full stop.

"My son has started secondary school this year and I'm not allowed drop him to school, or anywhere near the vicinity, in case anybody sees me. I dropped him to something during summer and somebody spotted me and they said it to him - and that was it."

As well as toasting his china wedding anniversary, the presenter will celebrate a big birthday in May. "Do we have to talk about that?" he laughs.

"To be honest with you, I'm going to have a party and celebrate it because what else are you going to do? Sometimes I look back and think, 'God, wouldn't it be great to be 40'. When you're 60 you'll think 'wouldn't it be great to be 50', and I am that so let's enjoy it."

Room to Improve returns to RTÉ One tonight at 9.30pm

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