Peter Maddison never wanted to be on telly. When the producers of Grand Designs Australia invited him to audition as host, his secretary sent off a CV and a 10-year-old mugshot and neither thought much more about it. Then came the screen tests. Then the job offer. "And I started to think, 'Am I nuts?'"
Maddison had spent the previous 25 years building a successful architecture practice. His contract with the LifeStyle Network stipulated 160 filming days a year. That was a hell of a lot of days off work. Not to mention the fact that he had (a) never heard of Grand Designs, and (b) never worked in front of a camera in his life. He admits it was confronting.
"I'm very comfortable talking to someone else,'' Maddison says, ''but when you have to turn around to a bit of glass and talk into a black hole as if you're talking to your mother, without being self-conscious, knowing there'll be hundreds of thousands of people on the other side of that piece of glass …"
Three seasons into Grand Designs Australia, he says he's finally starting to enjoy himself. "It has been a fantastic journey, I have to say. People always ask me, 'Is it fun?' It's only really now I'm able to say yes."
In an effort to improve his onscreen performance, he's been taking every public speaking engagement that comes his way, trying to relax into it. "The biggest thing in this game is being yourself," he says. "Being free enough with expressing yourself that if you make a bloop or slip-up, it's OK. That's been a big learning curve."
Getting to know the host of the original series, Kevin McCloud, has also been a godsend. At the recent Grand Designs Live in Melbourne, he and McCloud riffed in front of an audience of 2000 for the best part of an hour. "The more we clowned around, the better it was,'' Maddison says.
Maddison is much more involved these days in choosing the projects that go to air and that, too, has been a learning curve. "I'm very, very architecture-based. All about promoting really good-quality, sound design. But the show is not just about architecture. It's very much about the journey. And it took me a while to realise that. And that to show great architecture you have to show the full gamut. It's often the less-designed places that people really relate to."
Maddison is working on the show's fourth season and he echoes McCloud's belief that what has really evolved is not so much the format but architecture itself. "I think what's fantastic is being right at the cutting edge of what's going on. Of the 10 houses [in season three], nine of them are architects doing really important work, working with clients who are prepared to put their nuts on the line, doing really inventive stuff."
The other thing that continues to evolve, of course, is Maddison as host.
"I don't think the real me has come out yet," he says. "I don't think I'm the unbridled self I'd like to be. It's a work in progress."
Grand Designs Australia
Thursday, LifeStyle, 8.30pm