Scotsman property podcast: broadcaster Banjo Beale on the Inner Hebridean island life

Renovating a property in some of Scotland’s more remote corners brings its own challenges.In March’s Scotsman property podcast, Kirsty McLuckie speaks to Banjo Beale, interior designer and television presenter, about his work on the Isle of Mull, where resourcefulness is needed because you can’t just pop down to the local DIY megastore.

In a wide-ranging interview on the podcast, we find out about how Banjo, who was born in a Australian town famous for its car racing track, became interested in interior design and how, after leaving an advertising job in the city, he and his husband travelled the world and alighted in Tobermory.

There are some surprising twists and turns along the way as Banjo describes how each of the stages in his life have influenced his approach to interior design.

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Their journey took in working on a yak farm in Nepal which led to the pair setting up a charity link between Mull and the Himalayas which endures.

Banjo Beale. Image: Alex MacLeodBanjo Beale. Image: Alex MacLeod
Banjo Beale. Image: Alex MacLeod

Describing himself as an Antipodean Hebridean, Banjo first came to prominence in the UK when he competed and won the television challenge Interior Design Masters, hosted by Alan Carr, in 2022.

Banjo credits his win to his experience living on an island, and says that reusing, adapting, and working to a strict budget is his signature style.

The decision to enter the small-screen competition was on a whim. He remembers: “I didn’t tell anyone. I had watched it on TV and was a fan. Like everyone, I would scream at the TV and say: ‘I could do that’. And so I did.

“It is a kind of Great British Bake Off for interior designers, and every week we would be set a challenge – whether it was a pub, or a school, or a hotel room – and you’d have a very tiny budget, two days and Alan Carr, laughing at you over your shoulder, heckling you. So it was quite a baptism of fire for design.”

Image: Alex MacLeodImage: Alex MacLeod
Image: Alex MacLeod

He went on to present the Bafta-winning Designing the Hebrides in 2023. The series follows Banjo as he renovates some incredible properties in remote island locations, including a lighthouse, castle, and a bothy two hours walk from the nearest road.

The show will return this year with a new set of challenges. Banjo maintains the joy of filming is meeting the people who are carving out a living in sometimes harsh circumstances. He says: “I learn about their lives, their families and their history – and what it's like to live in remote places such as South Uist.

“And, to me, it’s really great to be able to use interior design to help with their lives and their livelihoods – not in a quick two-day makeover show – but not to glamorise this either.

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“In these places, you usually see glossy pictures of empty beaches, but actually, while there is an element of living here that is beautiful, it’s sometimes hard. You can’t get things delivered, it is harder to make a living, there’s certainly a problem with real estate and holiday cottages instead of local housing for key workers. So there’s all of these issues that I think are important to touch on.”

Image: Alex MacLeodImage: Alex MacLeod
Image: Alex MacLeod

Banjo is also working on another series of the popular BBC 1 programme, Scotland’s Home of the Year, which he describes as a dream come true: “I love to snoop round other people’s houses.”

Alongside presenters Anna Campbell-Jones and Michael Angus, the format of the programme sees a disparate range of properties, from bling to basic. Banjo says: “The ones that really stand out are the ones where you really get a sense of who the person is. And it might not be the one who can afford to buy the most beautiful things, or afford the best architects, but it’s that feeling you get inside the home.

“That’s the biggest thing to try and communicate to the viewer, because we’re in it and we can feel it.”

He says of the new series, which will hit our screens later this year: “There’s some quite honestly, magical homes that kind of just give you the same feeling as when you’re buying a home and you walk in and you know this is the one.”

He has also found time to write a book, Wild Isle Style, detailing his design approach and showcasing projects. With sustainability and budget in mind, he combines vintage finds with clever design and re-purposes the old.

Including interviews with collectors, sellers and makers, the book aims to encourage readers to have fun with interiors, to turn shopping into an adventure, and help reclaim homes and budgets.

Banjo explains why salvage yards can be a treasure trove for the imaginative renovator and why mudlarking – or in Scotland, loch larking – can sometimes throw up some unusual decorative objects for the home.