Brilliant sunshine is streaming into the kitchen of Davina McCall’s house in Kent when she rockets into the room with effusive apologies for having kept us waiting. She is exactly how she appears on TV – a force of nature, hugely warm and with an enthusiasm that’s contagious. Fresh from the huge success of her Channel 4 documentary Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause, she flits from one subject to the next at huge speed before collapsing into a squishy sofa. She has such a refreshing honesty and lack of artifice, it’s easy to see why she’s so hugely popular.
She has just moved into the house in Kent and is knee-deep in builders. Only a couple of rooms are finished.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home,’ she says. “I can’t live without a kitchen. I have a kitchen and a bedroom. It’s all you need.”
The house is home to Davina, her three children who are 19, 17 and 14, and her boyfriend, Michael, although the eldest is at university now and Michael splits his time between here and his own in Hertfordshire.
“In normal times, when everyone’s at home, it’s very busy,” Davina says. “There are always people coming and going and we’ve got many pillows and single duvets in cupboards so people can sleep on any flat surface. There are always millions of kids everywhere and that’s one of the reasons I love the AGA. Cooking for numbers.”
Davina – who came to our screens as the presenter first on MTV and then Channel 4’s Big Brother reality show – has been totally hands-on in planning the kitchen. “I wanted it to be peaceful and sociable,” she says.
She chose a local company, Woodwork Kitchens in Tunbridge Wells. “They’re a small family business and were amazing and extremely affordable,” she says. “They were so helpful on guiding me through all the choices.”
Centre-stage in the gorgeous kitchen with vaulted ceilings and glorious views over the garden is Davina’s R7 150-i AGA cooker.
“It’s Pearl Ashes,” she says, “and it helped me decide on the colour of the kitchen. I wanted either Slate or Pearl Ashes and I couldn’t decide whether to do dark units on the outside and light on the island or the other way round. We definitely made the right decision – the AGA is perfect.”
Davina eventually went for Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Grey for the run of cabinetry around the AGA and Railings for the island unit. It’s a great balance between light and dark.
“I’ve gone for brass handles and taps,” Davina says.” I’ve got a central handle on the narrower drawers, but on the wider ones I had to have two handles. I couldn’t be happier with the kitchen. Woodwork were great to work with. Everything was on time and they always had a solution for everything. The details like the drawer inserts are amazing too.”
The choice of worktops was trickier. “I think they are always really difficult,” Davina says. “I rented a house with real marble and it was so difficult to live with. I have a wrought-iron recipe book holder and that left a rust stain. I had to get a special cleaning product. It’s very precious. Some people think it looks nice with stains, but I really don’t. I’ve gone with man-made kitchen worktops. The lighter colour is Quartz Verona and the darker on the island unit is Eternal Charcoal Soapstone.
“When it came to the floor, we’ve gone for a grown-up look. It’s by a great company called Olden Oak and is engineered. Richard, from the company, was a proper expert and he came and hand-treated it. I’m also very proud of my wicker pendants which I sourced online. I’d seen so many I liked, but all the big one were around £450 each and I managed to get these for £100.”
An unusual element of the kitchen design is a gas strut window which opens upwards into the garden and works as a serving hatch. “Michael is thinking beers,” Davina says, “but ice cream would work too and pizza from the AGA!”
Davina chose an AGA R7 150-i with three cast-iron ovens with four different temperature settings, as well as slow cooking and warming ovens, two hotplates that can be controlled independently and an induction hob.
“During lockdown I was desperate to get into the AGA shop and, when I finally did, I was just amazed by the versatility. You can have just about anything. I went for the induction hotplate, which means I’ve got the best of both worlds.
“The other thing I really like is that an AGA has personality. You have to get to know your AGA. It’s not like any old oven where you put it on and that’s that. It’s like getting to know a child. I think it’s so much better for cooking. It makes you check your food, makes you play around with it. It makes you an intuitive cook because you’re not looking at temperature gauges. You get to know it.
“I like one-pot cooking and slow cooking because I’m lazy and hate washing-up and, if I’m having a dinner party, I want chat. I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen when everyone is talking. I get such bad FOMO. I love cooking things that can be in the oven for ages, like Moroccan lamb, beef casserole, chicken casserole, pies. I’ll often cook a bolognaise or pork chilli mid-morning and then we’ll eat it for dinner.”