Q&A with Karl Champley, Judge of “Grant’s Real Stories” DIY Contest

March 31, 2011

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Recently I was invited to help promote Grant’s Real Stories, a contest that’s right up my alley. Scotland-based whisky distillery William Grant & Sons is looking for DIYers of all stripes to share stories and photographs of projects that could stand the test of time. The prize is a $10,000 a home entertaining makeover (!).

They had me at “whisky.” And the DIY-narrative bit? Lordy. Talk about two great tastes that taste great together. Er, well, I’m of course not condoning drinking Scotch while you operate power tools, y’all. Friends don’t let friends DIY drunk.

The contest is open through June. The five entries with the most votes will make the finals, and from these, award-winning master builder Karl Champley of DIY Network and HGTV fame will pick the winner. What follows is a little Q&A that he was kind enough to agree to do with me. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I did. (Thanks again, Karl!)

DIY projects sometimes have a way of bringing families closer together.  Did you grow up in that kind of house? Any favorite stories along those lines?

My old man was a professional fighter back in the day so I didn’t learn many building skills from dear old dad. However growing up with little money, we all worked together at building a better lifestyle. From repairing the house to building a bicycle from scratch. My mother was the real innovator. Without her saying “Stan, fix those steps or we will fall through them,” nothing would have been completed. When I started my apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner I soon realized my father needed all the help he could get.

When you are young you don’t realize the importance of working together on DIY projects, but as you mature, you soon realize how important that time with your family really was. I am very fortunate to have my mum and dad with me today and still laugh about the projects we did.

I think it’s even more important today, as there seem to be too many excuses for us all to be doing different things. If you are reading this and your daughter is texting her friends while your boy is playing video game, grab them both and build something together. Even if they resist, they will appreciate it later on.

You’ve done a lot of Habitat for Humanity specials for the DIY Network and HGTV. How about favorite stories of projects bringing communities closer together?

I have many. This has to be my favorite and most passionate part of my career. If you stop to help people out, you are ultimately changing their life’s path. Really, this is huge when you think about it. Especially for children. Some don’t start of with much of a chance and by getting them involved, you give them hope to build a better life. I have been fortunate to have helped quite a few and hope to keep doing it.

Two quick stories:

1. When I first met the former president Jimmy Carter at a Habitat For Humanity build site, he was constructing an 8-foot wall. While he was nailing the studs to the plates I said “Hey, mate, if you don’t swing that hammer a little quicker we will never get this job done.” Within 3 seconds I had 4 plain-clothes secret service guys all over me. Mr Carter then realized who I was, gave his guys the wink, and then we all got busy. A great man.

2. I did a project with Dr Phil about fraudulent contractors scamming victims of hurricane Katrina. He and his team went after the contractors, and I, along with the DIY Network team, went to New Orleans to demolish and rebuild a house for a 78-year-old gal who otherwise would have had nowhere to live. She and her family experienced many conflicts over the years, and it was this building project that brought them all together. I remember looking into their eyes and seeing how saddened they were to have lost all of those years they were apart from each other.

It was 10pm one night when someone opened fire with 6 rounds on the same street. I was on the roof erecting the roof trusses under lights with our team as well as a few locals. We stopped for a minute and kept working as we had a heavy deadline to meet. When the project was finished we discovered that other homeowners in the surrounding streets were inspired about what we built and started themselves. We met some former gang members who thought what we did was very cool. They then started to rectify their own places, even though they didn’t have the skills to do it. Our perseverance brought this small community together.

What do you hope to teach your little boy about building a home he can be proud of?

We just finished building our modern green home. We demolished it when he was three. Lived in our garage that I set up like a studio where my wife, little boy, and I lived for 3 years until we finished it just three months ago. He just turned six. He is very lucky I think to experience this concept to creation. We sit by the wood-burning fireplace, and he still remembers when it was the only thing left standing from the original home. He has used every tool I have (except the circular saw). Under close supervision of course!

I think what is the most important to teach our little ones is to not be afraid of creating anything. It’s confidence. If they have that, they have the world.

Building our house took three years due to my shooting schedule and the fact that I built it entirely on my own. All the plumbing, gas, electrical, framing, everything except the fire sprinklers, HVAC, and stucco. I used the family car the stand the 28 foot framed walls. The little bloke thought that was cool. I taped the entire process as well so he can have record of it one day.

Do you like whisky?  : )

I do. A little. The reason being is because when you have a glass you are quite often surrounded with good friends, in a good environment or simply retired from the day. It’s your time at this point. My two favorites are Laphroaig and Grant’s Whisky. I was really surprised with Grant’s as its not expensive, however tastes like it should be worth three times the amount it sells for.

What interested you in lending a hand with this contest?

I like to inspire people to do their own projects and thought this is the perfect fit. I take my hat off to a lot of people that fix up their homes or simply get out there and build things for themselves without having the skills. I think they have guts to do this! This contest is simply a great reward to the lucky winner.

When I started to host the show “Wasted Spaces” that currently airs on HGTV, my producer and I kept asking our production company to give us the green light to build some wine cellars,  They finally agreed and it turns out they were some of the best episodes. They were projects to be proud of–great places to share a glass of wine or whisky with friends and discuss all the mistakes you made. :) Just make sure you finish the project before you have a glass.

Okay, folks. Check out the Grant’s Whisky site. Raise your glass–and click your mouse–for your favorite entry, or submit a project yourself. Cheers, and good luck!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam April 2, 2011 at 2:34 pm

I didn’t find anything about this contest using the link to Grant’s.

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess April 2, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Hi Pam! You have to log into the site first–just to verify that you’re of legal drinking age.

Pam April 3, 2011 at 4:40 am

I did log on–3 times, but didn’t see anything related to that topic except stories warning about underage drinking, etc. I even tried a few searches because I still didn’t find a link about the contest.

Pam April 3, 2011 at 4:45 am

After logging onto the Grant’s page, I get the Century Council’s website.

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess April 4, 2011 at 11:25 am

Hi again, Pam. Sounds like you’re entering your date of birth the American way. Their site is global, so you have to enter it as day-month-year, eg, 19-03-1983. Then you should be able to enter….. Sorry for the confusion!

Pam April 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Might call that a “duh!” moment or a “blonde” moment, but I prefer to say it was an “Ah-ha!” moment. (Kinda’ embarrassing–my job actually involves LOTS of mm/dd/yyyy data entry, & I missed what should have been an obvious error–make that ERRORS! ;-) But I’m not sure if we’d be able to finish & post a project in time to get many votes.

Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess April 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

You can post a project you’ve already completed, or one you’re still working on. You should give it a shot, Pam. Your house has such a fascinating story!

Flooring Wholesaler Andy April 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm

This contest sounds like it’s right up my alley. I can’t wait to check it out. Thanks for passing this on.


Mike Swick August 5, 2011 at 5:08 am

Has the grand prize winner for the Grant’s Whisky DIY contest been chosen yet? I ended up wtth 221 votes, project #105, and realize that anyone in the top five are eleigible for the grand prize. It was a fun contest to be a part of and am just wondering how it all turned out. I did send in a self addressed envelope for a list of winners but have not recieved anything from Grant’s Whisky yet.


Elaine @ Bless This DIY Mess August 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Hi Mike! I’m not sure what’s the latest on the contest. I’ve put in an email to the Grant’s folks; will let you know what I hear back.

Good luck!

Mike Swick August 17, 2011 at 6:26 am

Hi Elaine, Thanks for the comment. I appreciate that. Have a good week.


Mike Swick September 6, 2011 at 4:43 am

I just recieved my self addressed envelope that contained the winner’s name of the Grant’s Whisky DIY contest that you were a judge of. Really? Did you think about the rules, requirements and effort put into the top five that you voted on?

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