Sunday 15 December 2019

Dermot Bannon: 'At school, nobody ever saw me as a serious contender for a boyfriend. I wasn't popular and I was quite overweight'

TV architect Dermot Bannon. Photo: Mark Condren.
TV architect Dermot Bannon. Photo: Mark Condren.
At work: Dermot with homeowners Darragh Egan, Sarah Lovett and Mary Egan on Room to Improve

Meadhbh McGrath

Born in Malahide, Dermot Bannon (43) is the eldest of three siblings.

When he was seven, the family moved to Egypt for two years where his father had taken a job in Cairo. At 18, Bannon decided to pursue his love of building at Hull School of Architecture in the UK. After graduating, he joined Moloney O'Beirne Architects in Dublin. While working there, he spotted an advert for a presenter on a new property show called House Hunters, and jumped at the opportunity, landing his first TV hosting job in 2006. A year later, Dermot began work on RTÉ's beloved Room to Improve, now about to enter its ninth series.

In 2008, he set up his own practice, Dermot Bannon Architects, and last year he published his first book, Love Your Home. He lives in Drumcondra, Dublin, with his wife Louise and their three children, Sarah (11), James (7) and Tom (3).

Growing up, there were two things I wanted to be in my life: an architect or an airline pilot. My two passions in life were buildings and planes. I was always building something, making models with Lego and building houses out of cardboard boxes.

Moving to Cairo was a culture shock, but I was young enough that I didn't find it completely alien. I became used to that life quite quickly. I remember everything really vividly, coming from the suburbs in Malahide to this really urban space. I had never been above the third floor, and suddenly we were living in an apartment block on the 11th floor.

My siblings and I were very close, probably closer than most brothers and sisters growing up. When we moved away, we only had each other to start off with. We had friends in school, but we still spent a lot of time together and played mostly with each other. We have remained very close as we've grown up.

As a teenager, I struggled to fit in. I wasn't sporty, I was quite creative, and all the things that I really loved were solitary: drawing, making models. Even with sports I liked cycling and swimming, not team sports. I tried to develop a sense of humour to disarm people.

At school, nobody ever saw me as a serious contender for a boyfriend. I struggled with not being popular and I was quite overweight. It wasn't until I went to college that I really found myself. I was surrounded by like-minded people, and I adored it. I was 18 and, for the first time, I could truly be myself.

I led very sheltered teenage years. I didn't experiment as much as I probably should have. I was the good kid, focused on studying. A lot of my growing up happened when I went to college.

I even went on Blind Date! I wasn't looking for a date at the time, it was just about having a bit of craic. That was a new experience, going on TV - who could have known where I would end up?

The TV work can be alien and a bit unnerving. It puts me on a bit of a pedestal. Because I live my life a little bit in the public, it's the private triumphs that mean the most to me now.

I find it uncomfortable watching myself. I'll watch the show once, and never again. But I was at my in-laws a couple of months ago and my father-in-law wanted to watch the repeats. I think I felt ill until Wednesday.

I adore designing and the creative process. All I need is sketch roll, a pen and a problem. When I'm working on a difficult project, there comes a point when something clicks, and I know I can finish it.

I never find it hard to get on the same page as my clients - I find it hard to get them on to the same page as me! I do get frustrated, but I keep going. If I think that they're making a mistake, I won't give up until it's too late.

My dad never saw Room to Improve, he died just before it started. That moment was a big epiphany for me. I was 35 when he died, and I felt like I was just starting out. I realised that if I were to die at the same age as my dad, I was more than halfway through already.

Now, I try to appreciate my time more. I'm learning to slow down and live in the moment. I used to live an awful lot in the future, always planning and thinking, "What's going to happen?" When you're always doing that, life can pass you by.

The important things in life are your health and your relationships. A new car or a new watch won't make you as happy as a belly laugh with a friend or spending time with your children.

Sometimes in a relationship, complacency can set in. My wife and I are together 21 years now, but you have to work on it, you have to spend time on it, otherwise things fester.

We tend to form habits with how we deal with problems in a relationship. I tend to go into a sulk, and that doesn't resolve anything.

Fatherhood has changed me profoundly. I never realised how much you question what you're doing as a parent. It's the responsibility of having three little creatures who hang on to your every word. You have to instil manners and respect into them but you want to have fun with them at the same time.

Being a parent means a lot of worry, a lot of stress and a lot of joy all rolled into one. It is tough, but it's very rewarding. You never notice the two hours you spend playing the tickle monster on a Saturday morning.

The new series of 'Room To Improve' begins tomorrow, Sunday, at 9.30pm on RTÉ One

Irish Independent

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