Fashion designer Julien Macdonald returns to the judging panel searching for Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model on Sky Living. And the competition is going to be fierce, as Julien tells What’s On TV…

Being so busy, were you wary about taking part in the show?
“Well, it was a very difficult decision to make. But it was mainly because Elle Macpherson was involved in the show and I’d always dressed Elle, she was one of my clients. She said, oh please do it. But I said: ‘How am I going to do it, I already have a job – I’m a designer, I have my ranges for Debenham, my collections, I just don’t have the time!’ But she said most of it is going to be filmed at weekends, so I was OK with that.”

How did you find doing it?
“It was a lot of hard work but it was rewarding and I enjoyed it. I’ve been a fashion designer for 13 years, I’ve done incredible things in my life. At least this is something new, so I was prepared to give it a go. People thought I was mad for doing it, but I just enjoyed it so when I was asked to do another series I thought, why not? I’d get to travel to some interesting places, meet some great people. That is what life is about, taking opportunities.”

And the search has been extended to Ireland this time…
“Yes, myself and fellow judges – model Charley Speed and stylist Grace Woodward – actually picked the girls for the show so that meant going round to capital cities, it was just like The X Factor. We turned up at Birmingham and there were thousands of girls waiting outside by the barricades, they were all screaming!”

Sounds crazy!
“What was really nice was that you’re meeting people from all other places. I mean, we all live in our little bubbles, wherever we live, so it’s good to get out there and speak to different people. It’s great to see what girls are like in different parts of Britain. Some people’s lives are OK but a lot of people’s lives are really sad, really horrendous. You realise how lucky you are, of what you’ve achieved.”

Are there some inspiring stories?
“There were girls who were single parents, the most horrific stories. Modelling is something that could change their life and their family’s life and get them out of the rut they’re stuck in. It’s an emotional thing for anyone, especially when you’re constantly seeing it. In some cases it doesn’t get better. Obviously, it’s not all doom and gloom. When they get through it’s all, ‘Yeah! I’m through!’ Lots of screaming.”

Are there specific requirements?
“To be honest, what does come through the door sometimes, are the most refreshing and life-changing people. They might not fit the brief but what they do have is an incredible personality, a lust for life and just somebody who looks fabulous. I’ll say, you know what, she doesn’t fit the brief but she’s amazing, with a fantastic figure, let’s give somebody else a chance. On this show you will see a variety of girls from different backgrounds. For me, as a fashion designer, I have changed my perception of the fashion industry and I think there is a time for a change. You can be fabulous whatever you are. And that’s good coming from me!”

Does everyone need to be tall though?
“Not always, Kate Moss is not tall. I think it’s changing. Technology has changed everything. Designers know the customers want to see models that they can relate to. If the product – beauty or fashion – is not accessible to that person then they won’t buy it. You can buy fashion from your home on your computer. Fashion has changed, now you don’t have to buy a magazine.”

In the auditions – do they ever dress ‘regionally’?
“Oh yes! Either they wear the most fabulous thing or the most hideous thing! Or they wear next to nothing at all! I’ve said it before but people from Liverpool are the most glamorous people in Britain. They really dress up – make-up, hair, fabulous dresses – they really go for it. I actually enjoyed seeing girls and it was an incredible experience. I think viewers will love it as much as the four judges. Elle is a supermodel and yet she was travelling around with us. I’m sure she’d never have met those people. I’m from a working class background so I can relate to those people. But some of the others on the show, were thinking, ‘What have I let myself in for?'”

Did you get any ideas for your collection while travelling around?
“I get my ideas from seeing people so a lot of the time I was looking out. It’s interesting to see. They either dress up or they don’t dress up at all. A lot of girls just don’t bother – they turn up in jeans and a T-shirt. I say, well you have come along for a modelling competition.”

Do you regret any harsh words from last series?
“Oh, I made loads of harsh comments. I was the hard one because I was the one who’s living the dream for these girls. I’m a successful fashion designer. I’ve been doing this since I was 21. I started off at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Givenchy, and my own label, I’ve dressed an incredible range of women of all shapes, ages and sizes, and creating an incredibly successful business for Debenhams.”

Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model, hosted by Elle MacPherson, begins on Sky Living on Monday, July 4, at 9pm.