Neil Ruddock: My Secret Vice

“I suppose you could say I was a closet designer. It all started years ago when I bought an old farmhouse and, because of the state it was in, we had to gut it completely.

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We had everyone in – builders, surveyors, architects – and eventually the only thing left standing was the shell. I stood in it one day and realised what we had was a blank canvas on which to work. A bit of stippling here, the odd stencil there and – bingo! – character. It was like a blinding flash of light – or maybe that was the hole in the roof.

I have always had a creative side. When I was at school, art was the only exam I took. I got a grade two. For the rest of my exams, I went on holiday with my brothers because I already had an apprenticeship lined up at Millwall, so all my design knowledge comes from being self-taught.

I’d like to say my mind is full of original ideas, but I cannot tell a lie. I absorb ideas from all over. I go to show homes and all the big shops and glean ideas from them. We also have a lot of wealthy friends who have some fantastic houses, and I get a lot of inspiration from there. I don’t copy, but sometimes give a little tweak here and there until I am satisfied. It’s a bit like football, really, when you pick a little up from each manager you work under before formulating your own particular way of working.

I guess many people, those who don’t really know me, will be surprised at this aspect of my character. I suppose, to them, Neil Ruddock is an in-your-face footballer with less outside the game than between the ears, but you have to have something away from football. It’s good to put the game away and go home and relax in a house that’s your creation. I’m away all week in Swindon, so it’s great to go back to my main house at the weekend and chill out in an environment I created and something I am very proud of. A sort of therapy, I suppose.

As far as trying to classify my design philosophy – I don’t. I look at all the categories – modernist, minimalist, traditional etc. – and when people ask me where I slot in, I just say I like what I like. If I had to pin my bent down in any particular direction, I would have to say there’s more traditionalist in me than anything else. I like wood – I am a wooden person, as many who have seen me play might comment. I love wooden floors, the odd beam, wooden staircases and suchlike. I do like character and wood, whether it be a Victorian doorknob or a massively ornate wooden fire surround.

My only regret about my passion for design is that I am no good at DIY. I must confess that me and DIY do not fit in the same space. I don’t have the confidence to carry out design concepts because what I do has to be perfect. I am fortunate to be in a position where I can afford to get the best craftsmen in to give substance to my ideas.

My two biggest disasters convinced me of that, if I needed any convincing. I bought a chest of drawers for my little boy from IKEA, and I got halfway with the flat-pack before it became an aeroplane. I threw it out of the window and ended up paying my gardener to finish it off. My biggest design cock-up came when I created this superb kitchen only to discover that I put the sink in the wrong place in the island, directly adjacent to the oven. So, when I was taking a hot dish out of the Aga, there was nowhere to put it. Just picture the scene, straight out of Peter Sellers, of me juggling a red-hot Pyrex dish as I try to swerve around the island to put it down safely.

I should have paid more attention when watching my hero, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen. There are such a lot of design and ‘makeover’ programmes these days and I love ‘em. I never miss one, especially when old Loz is on. I would love to be a guest designer on Changing Rooms or Home Front, especially if me and Laurence could get our creative juices going together.

Now and again, in a quiet moment, I wonder what it would be like to have the dream commission, to have carte blanche on a grand scale. I must confess it’s a close run thing between getting my hands on Battersea Power Station and turning it into a theatre or designing the next house for Big Brother. Maybe there’s more chance of the latter being as I present Big Breakfast on Channel 4.

Maybe one day I will go into design on a proper business level as a professional, but for now my focus is on my day job at Swindon. But I suppose I could add a few drapes to my office at the ground, and maybe a bit of discreet uplighting in the dugout… what do you reckon, Roy?