AM talks to judge and interior designer, Anna Campbell-Jones
by Gill Sherry
At the last minute, my phone appointment with Anna Campbell-Jones is changed to a Zoom call. I quickly run a brush through my hair before straightening my shoulders and clicking on the link.
“I’ve just been putting blusher on like Aunt Sally!” says Anna, clearly as surprised by the change as I am. That said, she looks nothing like the red-cheeked, bonnet-wearing fictional character and everything like the successful businesswoman and professional TV presenter that she is.
Anna is, of course, a judge on the increasingly popular BBC Scotland TV series, Scotland’s Home of the Year, or SHOTY for short. First screened in 2019, Anna has worked on the programme since day one.
“I hadn’t done anything like that before. It was really good fun. We call it the SHOTY family, it’s a lovely show to work on.”
SHOTY was part of the original roster of programmes for the new BBC Scotland channel and Anna admits, she didn’t really have a sense of how many people were going to see it or how successful it was going to be.
“At that time, I just did it because I thought it would be a really fun experience. But it’s become a bit of a phenomenon, hasn’t it?”
It certainly has. The third series saw a significant growth in audiences from the previous series which secured over a million downloads on BBC iPlayer alone. Now screening series five, the programme remains a firm favourite with viewers who appear to have an insatiable curiosity for other people’s homes.
“Property shows are always popular, for that reason,” says Anna. “We’re always really grateful to the people who enter SHOTY… for the generosity of sharing their homes with the viewers and letting them steal their ideas and interior design tips.”
I can’t resist asking if Anna has ever stolen any ideas from the homes she has visited.
“Not specifically,” she says, after a slight hesitation and a very wide grin. “But I know that all three of us return home after weeks of filming… being very inspired. We come home to our own places and then get very itchy. What we get from it is the same thing that the viewers get. It makes us look at our own homes afresh and think about what we could do differently, even if it’s just little tweaks.”
She’s referring to her fellow judges, Michael Angus (lecturer and architect) and Banjo Beale (winner of BBC’s Interior Design Masters). Banjo is actually standing in for blogger, Kate Spiers, who is absent from series five having recently given birth to daughter, Dahlia.
“Kate and I have become incredibly good friends,” Anna tells me, when I ask if she missed her fellow judge during filming. “There were probably about 14 texts between me and her only yesterday, but almost an equal number of texts between me and Banjo. They’re both absolutely adorable and I’m great pals with both of them. I miss Kate but I absolutely love, love, love having Banjo on board.”
Which is probably another reason why the show works so well. The friendship and chemistry between the judges is obvious. Add their different areas of expertise and it’s a winning combination.
In the new series, Anna tells us that her focus is on ‘bags of personality, care for the planet and love’. She elaborates further: “It’s not necessarily about people making the right design choices. It’s about making choices that are personal to them. Has it got the magic ingredient, the thing that makes it home?”
She adds: “Home decoration and interiors is an area which I don’t think people realise can be so damaging to the environment. I think people are quite relaxed about the idea of getting a new kitchen… but the old kitchen is made of completely unrecyclable melamine-faced chipboard… and that’s landfill. Fast fashion in interiors… that’s something that I like to highlight, to look at ways of making your home interesting and beautiful that does take into consideration the impact of those decisions on the environment.”
The mention of ‘interesting and beautiful’ brings to mind the Old Train House from episode one of the new series.
“Oh, yes! It was amazing,” Anna enthuses. “Proper home envy with that one! I loved the idea of a train platform being your garden. It’s just magical, isn’t it?”
And who would’ve thought that old graffiti would look good on your garden walls? Certainly home owners, Christina and Ben, thought so. As did all three of the judges who each awarded the Old Train House the maximum score of 10.
Returning to Anna’s desire to see ‘bags of personality’ I ask about the winner of series four, New Tolsta, an early 20th century croft house on the Isle of Lewis, belonging to Tom.
“It really touched you,” she recalls. “It just felt like you were meeting him. It was the closest I think we’ve ever had to the home being the person and the person being the home. That typifies what we’re looking for.”
The winning home may have surprised a lot of people but, as Anna reiterates, it’s not just about style.
“It’s not about the best designed, most fancy-pants, most architectural thing. A lot of the homes, especially in the new series, are very much within the realms of the kind of homes that people watching would be living in, and that’s important.”
I suppose the clue is in the name. It is does, after all, have everything to do with the home and very little to do with the house. And while Michael seeks to find ‘the right building in the right place’ and Banjo looks for homes ‘packed full of character’, Anna looks for ‘that most important ingredient – love’.
It was actually her love of interior design that led to her moving from London to Glasgow in the late 1980s.
“I wanted to study interior design at degree level. At the time, there were only a couple of places in the UK where you could study it as a separate degree. I very much knew that that was what I wanted to do, and one of the best places was Glasgow School of Art. So I took my portfolio on the train and went for my interview at this relatively new course that was being run there.”
It was clearly a good decision. Not only does Anna run her own Interior Design business, she is now a judge on one of TV’s best-loved property shows. And although her stay in Glasgow hasn’t been continuous since attending art school, she has lived in the city for the last 24 years and does admit to having ‘a love affair with Scotland’.
As for the rest of us, well, we’re loving the new series of SHOTY.
Anna concludes: “The show is obviously brilliant. It’s very close to my heart and I’m so pleased that everybody has loved it as much as we’ve enjoyed making it. I think it’s a comforting programme to watch. I can’t think of a better television programme to be part of.”
SHOTY is shown on Monday evenings on BBC One Scotland and is also available to view on BBC iPlayer.