Homes guru McKevitt set for £25m American TV deal

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The Independent Online

A former hairdresser's assistant who left school at 15 with no qualifications looks likely to become Britain's most highly-paid media export to the US.

Anne McKevitt, the interior designer whose unusual ideas have won her celebrity status at a time when home improvement programmes have become extremely popular, is poised to sign a reputed £25m contract to appear on American television.

Ms McKevitt – a self-taught makeover expert who originally became famous in 1996 through the BBC's Home Front programme – already owns a multi-million pound company, Anne McKevitt Ideas, which has a client list including Annie Lennox, Kate Moss and a host of corporations. It offers a range of her own products from bedding through to rugs and has offices in London, Sydney and New York.

But it is the success of her books and her British television appearances that have led to the possibility of fame in the US. The American press is already promoting Ms McKevitt as a successor to their best-known home-making queen, Martha Stewart, whose empire is worth $1bn (£700m).

But while Ms Stewart's image is "cosy apple pie", and the world she talks about is a place where wives polish their silver and make intricate hors d'oeuvres, Ms McKevitt takes a radically different approach.

She believes that many people may have neither the time nor the money to turn their home into a designer showcase. She believes that the vital ingredient needed for stylish interior design is not cash but imagination.

Ms McKevitt is hoping that the quick-fix, cheap and inventive solutions she offers will lead to merchandising sales of up to $500m (£350m). Though the profits would be shared with the media companies who help to market her ideas, her earnings would still make her extremely wealthy – and dwarf the reported £15m salary being paid over six years to The Weakest Link's presenter, Anne Robinson.

Ms McKevitt, who claims, like Margaret Thatcher, to survive on only four hours of sleep a night, appears to be determined to succeed. Her move into the United States is not merely an offshoot of her rise to prominence in Britain, but a plan formed at least 10 years ago when she founded her first design business.

Ms McKevitt said: "I used to work in fashion with [the hairdresser] John Frieda and saw him building a brand. I wanted to do the same with Anne McKevitt and take it global. I started to write my first book and during that, the BBC phoned me to do Home Front. Television fame was part of the master plan."

It still is. She wants to do another series in the UK, but she aims to make it radically different from the home improvement shows that are currently on offer, which she believes have become "tired".

"What I want here in the UK is a new, refreshing series because we need it," she said. "Home programmes were doing extremely well but producers kept on re-hashing the same formats."

Such programmes tend to give the impression that "perfection" is achievable. "But I think that's dated," she said. "People like reality. With cookery programmes they realised they were losing ground, so then we had Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. They have touched on the fact that everything isn't perfection."

Ms McKevitt is already confident of selling the new series to the US; she has spent the last year cultivating contacts and the last three making appearances designed to attract interest. But even then, she will not be satisfied.

"I'm on the verge of achieving America, but I've still got the rest of the world," she said. "The money isn't the thing that turns me on. There's only so much money one person can have. To me, it's just a challenge, to see whether I can crack the market."

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