Meet Tibby Singh - the latest star of TV's Changing Rooms

Tibby Singh’s passion for carpentry started at a young age.
From left, Jordan Cluroe, Russell Whitehead, Tibby Singh, Anna Richardson and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. (Picture: Channel 4).From left, Jordan Cluroe, Russell Whitehead, Tibby Singh, Anna Richardson and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. (Picture: Channel 4).
From left, Jordan Cluroe, Russell Whitehead, Tibby Singh, Anna Richardson and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. (Picture: Channel 4).

“When I was in primary school I used to mess around with off-cuts of wood and I’d make all sorts of things, I made my own pencil case,” he says. “I realised you can make almost anything from a piece of scrap timber and it just went from there.”

Leeds-born Tibby’s joinery and carpentry skills have come a long way since his school days and he’s now joined the team of one of the country’s most popular TV makeover shows, Changing Rooms, which is back on our TV screens after a 17-year hiatus, this time on Channel 4.

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This new version of the hugely popular 90s home-DIY series, which started last week, features old boy Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (who still manages to squeeze into his leather trousers), alongside a new team featuring Anna Richardson, designers Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead of 2LG Studio, as well as 32-year-old Tibby.

Tibby, in the green shirt, during filming. (Picture: Channel 4).Tibby, in the green shirt, during filming. (Picture: Channel 4).
Tibby, in the green shirt, during filming. (Picture: Channel 4).

The show’s format sees two sets of homeowners from the same neighbourhood work against the clock to renovate a room in each other’s houses.

Tibby was just a youngster the last time the show was on. “I think it’s going to be 25 years old this September, so I was seven when it first started,” he says. “I don’t remember any of the original shows but my parents do and they’re really pleased that I’m involved.”

He comes from a Sikh family with his parents moving from Africa to Yorkshire in the 1970s. Tibby’s grandfather ran a corner shop in Armley, and it was here in Leeds where he grew up.

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He did well at woodwork at GCSE “it was the only A grade I got” – so perhaps not surprisingly he was drawn towards a career in carpentry and joinery. “My great, great grandfather was a carpenter so I’m following in his footsteps,” he adds.

Tibby did an apprenticeship at the highly respected Leeds College of Building and it was while there that he began entering (and winning) various competitions and awards, including the Institute of Carpenters’ Craft Competition and Federation of Master Builders Apprentice of the Year.

In 2012, he was also named as the BBC’s Young Carpenter of the Year which led to him being inundated with requests for work.

He set up his own business and alongside family members branched out into property development. “Being self-employed, when you’re doing projects sometimes you’re not just doing carpentry, you end up doing a bit of plastering or something, so it reached the point where I was picking up other tools and teaching myself things like bricklaying.”

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His work caught the eye of the Changing Rooms production team and when they contacted him to see if he’d be interested in joining the team, he jumped at the chance.

Filming was done this year once the covid restrictions allowed them to move around a bit more freely. “It was pretty full on. We’d finish at one location and go straight on to the next,” he says.

“Working on two projects at the same time is challenging in the timescale, but I’ve enjoyed every single minute. And usually, as a tradesperson, I would go to site in advance and do a full recce but we haven’t been able to do this here, so we’ve been going in almost blind.

“I’ve missed my mum’s curries while I’ve being away from home, but it’s been great to be part of the team. Everyone pulled together so well and it has been great to be a part of.”

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Tibby says being on the show is a big moment not only for him but also his family. “Coming from a Sikh background, you’re normally encouraged to become a doctor or lawyer but I’ve gone against the grain and gone into construction.”

On the TV show he is the on-screen carpenter and joiner, which involves working with both Laurence and Russell and Jordan on their designs.

“Laurence definitely gets priority,” he says, when asked who he found the most demanding. “He’s basically the face of Changing Rooms, isn’t he?

“If Laurence wants something, he gets it. But I always make sure both projects get the work completed.”

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And he says he enjoyed watching Laurence working. “He’s very hands on which you might not think. He’ll paint ceilings and do his fantastic artwork and it was mesmerising seeing some of his work as he does it.”

The original series was famous for its extravagant designs and its mishaps, so what can we expect to see this series?

“Well, Laurence is involved so it’s definitely extravagant and there is lots of colour. There might be some accidents but there aren’t any teapots involved – though there are things hanging from the ceiling.

“It’s definitely not monochromatic and some of the designs are unbelievable, the transformations are definitely something to look out for.”

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Tibby feels he’s learned a few things from watching the way the designers work.

“When we were doing the builds and seeing the designs coming to life, I thought some were crazy and would never work. But once they’re complete and all furnished, they look amazing.”

The pandemic has meant that more of us have been working from home which, in turn, has put greater focus on the spaces where we live and work and the ways they might be improved. Plus, people have been turning to makeover shows like this for a bit of respite and comfort viewing.

“After the first lockdown people did spend more time at home looking at the same four walls and I think more people have started to do more DIY,” says Tibby.

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“Hopefully they will watch the show and it might encourage them to try and do things differently.”

He says he’s had lots of messages of support. “I’ve had people telling me that I’ve inspired them to get into carpentry or construction. These days you don’t see many Sikhs going into the construction industry but in India they are renowned for being the best carpenters.

“I remember my tutor when I started my apprenticeship asking me, ‘where have all the Sikhs gone? There used to be loads of Sikh carpenters?’ I said they’d all gone into computers or they want to become doctors, and things like that.”

His family, and in particular his mum, are his biggest fans. “My mum’s really excited, I have to tell her to calm down. The whole family’s excited.”

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He also feels a sense of responsibility to fly the flag for fellow Sikhs up and down the country.

“I’ve had messages from people saying things like ‘it’s great to see a turban-wearing Sikh on TV’. There aren’t many Sikhs on TV so it’s great that I can represent the Sikh community and hopefully it might inspire the younger generation.”

Changing Rooms is on Channel 4, on Wednesdays at 8pm.