Fans on McCloud 9 with grand designer Kevin

IN THE middle of Jeff's Shed, a man with a headset talks sustainable design to about 20 people, while fewer than 100 metres away a man with a perfect tan and sparkling white teeth talks Grand Designs to a crowd 50 times the size.

''I love coming to Australia, feeling the love in Melbourne,'' says Kevin McCloud, the 53-year-old presenter of the UK series in its 12th year on television. And if it were possible to bottle the love in the large room that is Grand Designs Live, Kevin McCloud could have a nice little sideline in aphrodisiacs.

Not that he needs anything else to keep him busy. His foray into green housing, HAB (for Happiness Architecture Beauty) is onto its seventh development (''none of them has made any money though''). The latest series of Grand Designs is airing in the UK. Tomorrow night, Man Made Home, in which Kevin builds a shed, begins on Channel 4 in the UK. Later this month the 100th episode of Grand Designs goes to air, and on October 11 his book, The 100 Best Grand Designs, is released.

Tomorrow he will fly home to Britain, straight into another Grand Designs Live showcase in Birmingham, where he expects a crowd of 50,000 or so. ''We get 100,000 in London. It's always a blast and quite intense.''

He likes to get out on the floor and mingle, he says.

''Being on telly you don't meet your customers. Meeting them is a cool thing.''

The only downside is that everyone wants a photo, ''and at 8 in the morning or 11 at night you might not be up for it''.

I've seen this side of his popularity firsthand; on Wednesday night I was at a small dinner at Maha at which McCloud was guest of honour. On the way to the bathroom, he was cornered by a diner seeking a photo; on the way back, he was approached by another wanting an autograph. McCloud - on the go since flying in at 5am that day - smilingly obliged.

He eats sparingly, and neither dairy nor gluten pass his lips. ''Asthma,'' he explains. ''Really severe. I couldn't drink alcohol for 15 years because it would trigger it. Now I'm on a wonderful drug that keeps it under control. It's literally saved my life.''

We talk about skiing - one of his greatest delights is to take his kids off-piste and see the awe in their faces as they prepare to ski down a hill they've just climbed - and about the fact that he could have been Australian.

''My parents were about to move here, they had the visas and everything, when my mother discovered she was pregnant. They said they'd have the baby first and then move, but they never quite managed it.''

He has a brother here, though, and cousins, which perhaps explains why he tells the audience at the live show that after a few days in the country, ''I feel like an honorary Australian.''

More likely, though, it's that the success of the show - which owes much to the enormous appeal of its host - means he's at least a little bit at home wherever he finds himself.

At dinner, he tells me a story about wandering around a decrepit housing estate in Sheffield with a camera crew, and suddenly noticing heavily tattooed skinheads closing in menacingly. ''I really thought we were in trouble - these guys looked seriously tough - and then the leader of the gang said to me, 'You're Kevin McCloud off that Grand Designs, aren't you? Ah fookin' love that show'.''

Millions of others know exactly how he feels.

Grand Designs Live is at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre until tomorrow.

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