I’d forgotten how much I missed Debbie Travis until I lucked into a one-on-one interview with the décor diva Wednesday at Toronto’s SOHO Metropolitan Hotel where Canadian Tire had arranged a press day to promote its Christmas 2010 product line. That’s right, Christmas! It was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk but never mind, upstairs in the penthouse a small army of publicists and product demonstrators (below) was taking turns steering junketeers across three floors of ho-ho-holiday vignettes. Talk about surreal.
My audience with Travis happened by fluke and I jumped at the chance to question the star about her Christmas line and about her new TV show, launching September 26 on CBC TV. Called All for One, the show concept is reminiscent of Extreme Makeover, a confusion Travis tried hard to dispel.
“Extreme Makeover benefits a victim or someone who’s down on their luck,” she explains. “Our show is built around a hero, a person who is the glue of a community, the one who people run to when they need a hand. And the twist is that we don’t do the renovation, the community does — it’s modern-day barn raising. I just design it, the community builds it.”
“It’s real reality TV,” stresses Travis. “If we can’t find plasterers we go on local radio and put out a call for plasterers. In Montreal, we had to have the nuns come in and paint. On the show we just did in Nova Scotia, the priest of the church called in the Canadian Army because they weren’t going to be done in time. The army got the job finished in two hours. We had no idea they were coming, they just showed up.”
Travis is clearly pumped about All for One, which has landed a prime Sunday night time slot following Battle of the Blades. “There’s a social message that comes out organically where we see the cracks in the community,” notes the star. “In one case, the only plasterer wouldn’t come because he hadn’t spoken to the people in 40 years. And I said, ‘Well, he bloody well will come and I went and dragged him out.’ ”
“In another show, we wanted to do a project with skateboards but it turned out skateboarding is banned in the community. The story was that the skate park was torn down and the kids were promised $60,000 to build a new one but it went to a sewage plant instead. So I go see the mayor and he tells me his side of the story. You’ll cry like a baby when you hear the kids plead their case in front of the local council. It’s really, really good.”
As for her Christmas line, Debbie says her team worked for two years developing the trinkets and baubles that divide neatly into six Christmas tree themes dubbed Once Upon a Time, A Canadian Christmas, Masquerade Ball, Winter Forest, Pistachio (above) and Peppermint. Debbie’s even worked out a formula so that our trees at home will look just as great as hers: “You need 10 decorations per foot of tree,” she explains, “five core items like the balls, three decorative pieces and two of the really special ornaments. And the best part is that none of the decorations, even the real glass ones, are more than $5 apiece,” she adds.
After the tour the publicists were unwinding upstairs discussing the launch and why Travis is such an ideal spokesperson for the line. “People love her,” said one. “She has real credibility with the public,” said another.
True to form Travis was casual and possibly a little too candid with me, traits that made me love her even more. Describing the Peppermint theme she said, “This is what I call my Drunken Brit line, there’s martini glasses and shakers and champagne bottles. And these tassles are so gorgeous I would wear these, ” she says holding them by her ears.
I reminisce with Travis about her most popular decorating show, Debbie Travis’ Facelift; every episode seemed to include a scene before the final reveal where the camera would catch her with curlers in her hair. I always assumed it was staged, the way Sarah Richardson always included a scene with a dog in each episode of Design Inc., but Travis swats my suggestion aside. “The curlers were in because it was genuine reality,” she insists. “I’d say, ‘But I’m not ready,’ and the director would say, ‘Too late.’ It was never staged . . . really, do you think I want to be seen in my rollers?”
I’ve missed you Debbie. It will be great to see you back on the air next month.