Country House Rescue is back for a third series - why do you think it's so popular?
"I think it really taps into the zeitgeist about Downton Abbey and history and how the other half live. I think we are very strongly attached to our heritage and the landscape is very much formed by the large houses, estates and parklands. I think it's just part of our DNA. Think about Antiques Roadshow - how long has that been going? I think we just like old things!"
You mentioned Downton Abbey - do you think the success of that show will mean more people tune in to Country House Rescue?
"I don't know, I hadn't thought about that. I had thought about Antiques Roadshow and Sunday night, because obviously we're very pleased with our spot. It seems to be a night of nostalgia when you think about Foyle's War and Lewis and all those sort of things that go on on a Sunday night. I think the other aspect of it is human beings behaving in what most people consider a fairly irrational way! We are eternally curious about how our fellow man behaves and what we get up to and why we do the things we do. I think the combination of gawping at something often very beautiful and grand and the people in it - it's a bit of a winning combination."
Why do you think it is important to maintain these country houses?
"There's no-one else to do it! It's never been more important. We know that government doesn't have any money, we know that councils don't have any money and quite honestly if there aren't individuals either rich enough or crackers enough or hard-working enough to keep these things going, they fall down. We had one in the last series that was falling down. It's just really, really difficult."
If someone had never seen the show, how would you describe it?
"I suppose like a real-life Downton Abbey! What would it be a cross between - I don't know. Antiques Roadshow and Big Brother! It's hard to say. Hopefully there aren't too many things like it. It's seeing all the difficulties there are in living in a house that's huge and often hasn't got its land - most of the problem is that the land was all sold away, and the land used to be the thing that supported the house. People have to be very inventive about other ways to bring money in to keep these buildings going. They're phenomenally costly, even without heating. Most of the places we go, people just live in one room that they heat, because they can't afford to heat the rest."
Can you tell us about the houses and the families in this series?
"In episode one there's a father and son and it really is young bull, old bull with the older man wanting to do things in a very conventional ways and just clamping his cigarette in his mouth and pulling down his hat and not wanting to really see what needs to be done. The young son has much more metropolitan ideas. That was about getting them to see each other's points of view because both of them have merit. It's always about family - in another one a son had inherited a house and his mother and her sisters all resented bitterly what he and his wife were doing to it. They had gone in a little heavy-handed, but they wanted everything that's best for the house. They're a couple of my favourites because they do work so hard. In another one, a mother would like to retire but her son doesn't want to take over all the responsibility. There's one person who's very eccentric and lives on his own and really wants a wife! That was really about finding him a wife and heir. Then Hector - he's a complete leftie, agitprop eco warrior and doesn't want to do anything that smacks of convention! That one's very interesting. Another one had a daughter living in London who was desperately worried because her father was f**king it up basically! He was a nice guy but completely not a businessman, so again it was about how much he could relinquish and let his daughter do it. And then another one has four sisters champing at the bit to do something about the house. Their mother didn't want them to so it was trying to get her to see that in old age and in poor health she should hand the reins over."
You mentioned people resisting change - is that the most frustrating part of the job?
"Not necessarily resisting change but resisting the notion of even thinking about doing things differently. I think people like the status quo. One person, Emma, wouldn't listen at all. Nothing, absolutely zilch. She rebutted every single idea. She didn't think anything would work, she wouldn't consider any of them and that was deeply frustrating. I'm not always going to be 100% right but at least give it a go or come back with a better suggestion, which is fine. It doesn't have to come from me, but something has to change. I think it's the inability to even consider that what you're doing is wrong - if they were doing it right, I wouldn't be there."
You mentioned Hector - didn't he get arrested dressed as a genetically modified potato during filming? Was he one of the most interesting people you met?
"For me, yes. I mean, they're all interesting in their own ways, but Hector is a huge personality. Trying to steer him with all his energy was the thing. It was seeing that if he's too extreme all the time it's very alienating for people who might want to help him and for people who might want to come and spend money there. I had to say to him, 'You don't have to abandon all your thoughts and beliefs' - I couldn't because they're so entrenched in him - 'but you can bring other people on board as well'. It doesn't have to be an either or."
What was the highlight of the series for you?
"I don't know, they all have their moments. Probably that we saw so many animals this time round! It sounds really weird but I adore animals, and we see so few of them. But this time we had everything. We saw lambs being born. Everywhere we turned there was something in nature. But I think actually most people achieved an awful lot and that is gratifying and also very good for them because you think, 'Maybe they do have a future now'."
What about low points?
"Emma was a considerable low point and continued to be a low point. I said she was my first failure and she said, 'That's good because you don't always have to be successful'. I said, 'You don't get the point. It's not my failure, it's your failure, because I walk away from all this - I have a business and a house and a life - and it's you who hasn't taken any advantage of what's been offered'. For her not to understand that it was in her own interests to do something and the fact she wouldn't do anything was very disappointing because it's such a golden opportunity missed."
Have you kept in touch with the families you've worked with?
"Some do, some don't. I'm sure at least three of these will stay in touch. We do a lot behind the scenes as well - we don't just do what's on television. My husband does a lot with business plans and so on. I don't want to take the moral high ground but I do genuinely believe that whatever I'm suggesting should be the same as if the cameras weren't there."
What other projects have you got coming up?
"In our hotel we're building a new suite and we're thinking of building a new restaurant! I keep trying to start writing a book. I don't know at the moment about television. We're waiting for this to go out and we're having a meeting next week, so I don't know what will transpire there. But life is certainly full of stuff!"
Country House Rescue returns on Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4.
Are you a fan of Country House Rescue? Have your say below!