Nick Knowles says guilt over hero dad drives him to help on DIY SOS
For two decades, DIY SOS star Nick Knowles and his army of volunteers have been rebuilding joy amid the rubble of shattered lives.
They built a new community centre at the site of the Grenfell Tower fire and have renovated the houses of dozens of people with debilitating illnesses.
Nick’s work has touched so many people he’s even managed to recruit Princes William and Harry to help.
But as BBC’s DIY SOS prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary next week, Nick reveals a secret family heartache of his own that has driven his crusade.
Three years before he was chosen to present the show that would make him a household name, he lost his beloved dad Edwin.
His father was a hero Second World War fighter pilot and always the life and soul of street parties held on the Knowles’ family’s West London council estate.
But when Nick was 33, his dad suffered a stroke and died a year later.
The telly star could hardly bear to visit Edwin, 74, as his life ebbed away – and he has been tortured by guilt ever since. Nick, now 56, said: “DIY SOS has been a cathartic therapy to help me deal with my dad’s death. He was my hero.
“He had his stroke in his seventies, and wasn’t himself after that.
“I found that very difficult to deal with and I didn’t go and see him as much as I should have done. Then he passed away and I felt awful about the fact I hadn’t done enough.
“So I decided to take on the difficult areas of illness and disability and try to represent people. We often see the illness or disability and not the person. So if I’ve been on a crusade, it’s probably because I am trying to make up for my dad.
“He was a great lover of community, which is a driver for the show. He was always having street parties. He’d know everyone in a room within about half an hour. He basically told me we could do anything we set our mind to. So I decided to live a life less ordinary. I went after it, and it’s worked out.”
After the unexpected success of the first series of DIY SOS in 1999, Nick said: “We thought there wouldn’t be a second series but we got seven million viewers.
“We were astounded.”
He named his youngest son, now five, after his dad and has made a special effort over the years of the hit series to help viewers who suffered a similar fate to Edwin.
One of the stories that touched him most was that of police officer Richard Ford, left paralysed and unable to speak after a 2012 brain stem stroke.
The crew renovated his family home in Dalton, West Yorks, and Nick says the pair enjoyed lots of laughs.
“He struggled to talk but he could type messages and he was very intelligent and funny,” he said. “We were filming with his children at a local football club. Someone came up and said very loudly, ‘would he like a cup of tea?’
“He typed, ‘I’m not f*****g deaf’. There was great humour there.”
The show won more praise when the team replaced a boxing gym and community centre destroyed in the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire. Nick said: “We were there a few days after the fire and spent a year there.
“It was important for people in the community to know people cared a lot.”
Away from the cameras, twice divorced dad-of-four Nick – who also fronts BBC’s long-running game show Who Dares Wins – lives alone in the Cotswolds and says he enjoys the quiet life. But he’s regularly pictured out with younger women, and has had flings with TOWIE star Pascal Craymer and ex-Emmerdale actress Gemma Oaten. He was most recently linked to 26-year-old PR executive Emily Hallinan. Nick has four children – daughter Tuesday, 25, and son Charlie, 24 with first wife Gillian – and 21-year-old son Tyrian J with beauty therapist Paula Beckett-Vass after his first divorce
He had Edwin with Jessica Rose Moor, 30, in 2014 after their 2012 marriage.
They separated in 2016 and had a brief reconciliation as Nick supported her through a cervical cancer fight.
But he won’t be drawn into speaking about his love life. Nick said: “I need to protect my family, so a few months ago I made a decision I wouldn’t talk about my personal life. I don’t get lonely. I was never one for London parties. I can count on one hand the celebrity friends I have.
“My friends are still my old school friends.” But although he shuns the celebrity scene, the popularity of DIY SOS has given him the chance to rub shoulders with royalty.
In 2015, Princes William and Harry joined the crew to help transform a Manchester street into a village for forces veterans. Harry laid some paving stones while Will helped paint a kitchen. The royal family was also involved in Mind Over Marathon, a documentary Nick fronted in 2017 in which 10 people with mental health issues tackled the 26-mile London run.
Nick said: “For a lad from a council estate in West London, it’s all a bit weird. I was sat at the back of Buckingham Palace with Harry waiting to do an interview. Harry said to me, ‘Where have you drifted off to?’
“I said, ‘When I was about six years old, my dad brought me up here and I remember peering through the railings and drawing the soldiers with pencils and wondering about the Queen inside. Now, I’m sat in the back garden with her grandson, waiting to do an interview.’ Harry said, ‘I can understand that, what do you think it’s like for me?’”
“The lads are both really good lads. When they have been to the builds it’s obvious they really care and they know when they can have an effect.”
DIY SOS: Celebrating 20 Years, BBC1, September 5, 8pm.
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