Coming from a small town in mid-Wales, where accents are subtle, everyone speaks English and your closest city is actually in England, means you really have to convince people of your Welshness. I usually do this by saying "Cool Cymru" was better than Britpop, or telling them about the time my whole school was called for a special assembly after Robert Earnshaw scored the winner against Germany on his debut for the Welsh national team.
But the one thing that always marked out I was in Wales, not England, was my inability to chat up Welsh girls. Over in England, I was cute and from the Valleys. But back home, man, I couldn't give it away. I think that's because the hierarchy of male attractiveness in Wales goes something like this: at the top you have big burly men who play lots and lots of rugby and look like they could bend a girder, and then you have everyone else.
This unusual standard of beauty manifests itself with aplomb in S4C's new reality TV show Ffasiwn Bildar.
I love Ffasiwn Bildar (which literally translates to "Fashion Builder"). It is maybe the greatest reality TV show about Welsh builders becoming fashion models I've ever seen. Three episodes in, I'm already fully invested in the dreams of the 14 contestants, all labourers by trade, competing to win a contract with workwear apparel brand Dickies, a place on the front cover of Professional Builder magazine (an actual magazine not made up specifically for the show) and £3,500 – not a life-changing amount of money, but y'know, a holiday plus change to re-paint the roof. Decent Weakest Link money.
The Tyra Banks of the show is plasterer-turned-model Dylan Garner, from Tregaron, just outside of Llanddewi-Brefi (an actual place, not just a made up name for the purposes of that Little Britain sketch). Dylan's mission is to find models who represent the building trade, because people aren't buying it when skinny catalogue models from London try to hold up a spirit level on the cover of Professional Builder.
Cue the opening montage of episode one, where Dylan just goes to building sites and asks people if they fancy doing a bit of modelling on the telly. One guy agrees early doors, before immediately disqualifying himself by doing that cunnilingus gesture with his fingers. One guy says no straight away and instead asks Dylan to pass him a bit of fascia roofing board.
The competitive element is split 50-50 between building tasks and modelling, and it's important to remember here that, unlike other modelling shows, where the contestants have some idea of how to model, these guys are absolutely flying by the seat of their pants.
An example: the first episode sees the boys build a catwalk, and then walk down it. The first half they do entirely competently, the second half feels like being a fly on the wall in a Swansea Topman changing room. Pretty much everyone either winked or did finger-guns. Here's a catwalk pose from contestant Lleu Hill from Penygroes – which, for obvious reasons, is my favourite – who has sailed through the opening three episodes:
I don't know this man personally, but I know exactly who he is from this picture. He goes to Magaluf every single year. His favourite drink is "shots". He loves "A Thousand Trees" by Stereophonics (every Welsh person loves "A Thousand Trees" by Stereophonics because it is Welsh life condensed into three perfect minutes with a killer chorus. English people want "Jerusalem" to be their national anthem. We want "A Thousand Trees".)
Once again, this man has got through all three episodes. He is, if anything, one of the current frontrunners. This is in spite of a commercial director describing him as looking like "a killer" in episode three, where the builders have to star in an advert for neon grout.
The process of elimination is actually pretty brutal. It starts off as you'd expect: Dylan, alongside building expert Adam Jones, sit with a guest judge and run through the day's activity, deciding who should get the boot based on their building and modelling acumen. Dylan then calls the contestants down the catwalk one-by one, where they are flanked by two signs – one saying "FFASIWN", one saying "BILDAR". Whichever sign flashes up signals their fate.
Builders tend to get a bad rep for their laddish behaviour and wolf whistling – a stereotype borne out by a recent survey from UCATT, the construction union, which found plenty of sexist attitudes within the building industry. Ffasiwn Bildar is open about its ambition to "transform the image of Welsh builders", and to me it does just that, by showing a building trade that isn't overrun with sexist neanderthals – just normal, hard-working lads with families and dogs and terrible, drunken tattoos, who are willing to strut up and down a catwalk in front of their mates.
For that reason, every second of this show stirs up pangs of national pride in me. I don't think any moment in popular culture has made me happier to be Welsh. Well, not since the Stereophonics released "A Thousand Trees".
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