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MacGregor Flooring: We’re at the top of the food chain but we can’t be complacent

Why the managing director of MacGregor Flooring believes that despite the challenges facing the industry, his company won’t only prevail but flourish.

Ask the managing director of MacGregor Flooring, Kenny Smith, what he sees in the company’s future and he doesn’t hesitate: ‘Over the next two years, small contractors who’ve relied on residential work, such as the ones doing the likes of herringbone in private homes and getting paid a fortune for it won’t have it as good as they’ve had it in the recent past. That’s cause for concern for them. Fortunately, we’ve not done domestic work over the past five years so I’m filled with confidence about the future.’

Also, says Kenny, the supply chains for all construction will diminish and ‘there’ll be fewer contractors out there which is unfortunate. However, from a personal point-of-view, we could come out of it stronger and the reason is that in times of uncertainty, such as now, main contractors are looking for certainty. That’s where we’ll benefit. So there’ll be less work but we may get more of it because the main contractors will want to ensure the work gets done on time and on budget’.

That’s precisely the positive outlook you’d expect from a company which proudly (but understatedly) describes itself as Scotland’s biggest independent flooring contractor. But Kenny isn’t naïve about the potential pitfalls ahead – he can’t afford to be.

‘The economy is my big worry. It depends what happens with government; if it cuts spending on infrastructure that’ll affect 95% of big contracts with NHS, schools, the ministry of defence etc – all paid for out of the public purse. So if there are cuts, there’ll be less work to go around and it’ll be survival of the fittest. I think we’re at the top of the food chain when it comes to it but we can’t be complacent. We’ve got to keep working. And we have the capacity to do even more than we’re doing now – if we had the people to back it up. So while I’m confident we’ll be okay, I’m fearful for the industry in general.’

Certainly, the man sitting opposite me in the meeting room at MacGregor Flooring HQ doesn’t look fearful. He may not be brash or swashbuckling but neither is he the ‘dour Scot’ of legend. Quietly confident and optimistic with an unassuming, open countenance, it quickly becomes obvious Kenny’s been immersed in flooring all his working life. Facts and opinions about flooring and the industry in general don’t come spilling out of him – they’re literally interwoven into everything he says. Early in the interview, I’m already thinking: if I was a big corporate, I’d want this man running my flooring installation.

I suggest to him that the world is made up of two types of people: the quiet, solid, consistent ones and then the rabblerousers, revolutionaries who sometimes go down in flames.

‘When you say ‘rabblerouser’, I see ‘entrepreneur’,’ says Kenny, without missing a beat. ‘The world needs both types. But I’d never be where I am if I was a rabblerouser.’

So, a serious guy for serious times then. That’s just as well considering the chronic issues facing contractors – such as labour shortages.

‘Our floorlayers are employed full-time by us, we rarely lose any of them, and that works for us,’ says Kenny. ‘But the problem is they’re getting older and I’m seriously concerned about the future. The average age of our floorlayers is frightening.’

Particularly concerning is the fact MacGregor has that high average age despite being a trailblazer at employing apprentices. ‘We usually get at least one apprentice a year and often more but all we’re doing is replacing the guys who are retiring which means no surplus is being built.’

So while Kenny would love to grow the business by 20-30%, he can’t because he doesn’t have the infrastructure, and he finds that ‘sad and frustrating’. ‘It’s expensive to take on an apprentice; we’ve calculated that over the past four years it’s cost us £50,000 per apprentice so taking on four, as we’ve done some years, is a huge investment.’

In fact, it’s also a costly gamble: ‘What if two of the four don’t make the grade by the end of the apprenticeship? Or if halfway through one or more decide that flooring isn’t for them and they want to do something else?’

As it happens, MacGregor took on four apprentices last year. Aged between 16-20, two are brothers and all of them, says Kenny, are ‘stars in the making’. This is progression but for one obstacle: MacGregor wanted to take on even more but was told it wasn’t able to which is ‘extremely frustrating’.

To find apprentices, MacGregor goes into schools and does roadshows with main contractors. ‘When these kids come in, I always feel their parents don’t actually want them in construction. There’s a misperception that it’s something you go into when all else fails.’

Nonetheless, Kenny admits he’s being hypocritical because ‘I feel the same about my kids going into construction. But the truth is it’s a great industry. It provides people a good standard of living. And drill down further, kids seem to know about joiners, electricians, plumbers, but not floorlayers, with the exception of carpet-fitters. You don’t get kids saying, ‘I want to be a floorlayer’ unless their dad or uncle is one’.

This perception of flooring being at the bottom of the construction hierarchy is damaging because the industry is missing out on ‘good kids with potential’, Kenny says, and so becomes a trade which many fall into just by chance.

To combat this problem, the industry should be more proactive and thoughtful about how it communicates its message. ‘When I see adverts to attract youngsters into the industry, and the ad says, ‘You could earn up to £XX being a floorlayer’, I shake my head. We’re not going to attract anyone by plucking figures out of thin air. And if you’re going to name a salary, then it needs to be communicated that for those who make floorlaying their living, there is limitless earning potential. The sky is the limit’.

When MacGregor floorlayers go into schools to speak to children about the benefits of flooring, and the potential earnings are mentioned, ‘you can see the kids’ eyes light up’.

In only a few years from now, Kenny reckons floorlayers could earn upwards of £60-70,000 a year, and even up to £90,000. ‘Earning that much will require lots of hard work and, yes, it will be physically demanding, but that’s good money. We want greedy people in our industry because the more they earn, the more we earn. Quite simply, if you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys.’

Fortunately that wasn’t something Kenny had to worry about when he joined Hamish MacGregor’s then five-year-old company in June 1989.

hen the history books are written (probably by AI) there’s no doubt they’ll recognise this era as one of the most turbulent in modern history outside a world war. Since June 2016, when a majority of British voters opted to leave the EU, it has been one thing after another.

Two days before Boris Johnson finally got the UK out of the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK’s first two patients tested positive for Covid-19 after two Chinese nationals in York fell ill. And when, after two nightmarish years, Johnson confirmed domestic legal restrictions would end on 24 February 2022 as we began to treat Covid-19 the same as other infectious diseases such as flu, Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, sparking the largest ground war in Europe since World War Two.
So, it’s interesting to hear what MacGregor made of the rolling crises – and how it responded to them, starting with Brexit.

Again, Kenny doesn’t hesitate. ‘If I’m honest, Brexit hasn’t had a great deal of impact on MacGregor.’
What? I’m momentarily stunned. After the endless scare stories about how Brexit would reduce the UK to a quivering basket-case akin to poverty-ridden Third World states, is Kenny really saying Brexit hasn’t brought MacGregor to its knees? What am I missing?

‘Personally, I was very concerned about what would happen,’ he explains. ‘I didn’t want Brexit and was quite happy to be part of the EU. At the time we never really expected it to happen – it was a shock. And we worried about the impact on our lives but I don’t think there has been. It hasn’t changed much from a business point-of-view. We don’t work abroad or export anything. I thought it would cause problems getting materials from the manufacturers in the EU but to be fair to them it looks like they’ve been able to manage their businesses and I can’t think of any major issue that’s affected us because of Brexit.’

That may not be the case the further south you go, Kenny concedes. ‘But even with regards to customs, such as Forbo for instance sending through a container of vinyl for us, I had visions of it being held in customs for weeks because of the scaremongering in Project Fear and it’s not happened. Fair play to these companies as it seems they got on top of the paperwork to get it to a point where it moves relatively seamlessly.’

But neither is Kenny suggesting it’s been a bed of roses for everyone. Manufacturers, for instance: ‘Don’t get me wrong, Brexit complications have probably given manufacturers a bigger workload and cost them a few extra quid. I remain convinced to a certain extent that Project Fear did a good job of leading us to believe everything would fall apart, a bit like Project Y2K at the turn of the millennium when we were told the world was going to implode because computers couldn’t figure out what day it was.

‘From our point-of-view we were fortunate because we don’t have to deal with customs but I’m sure for companies which had to it was a pain in the neck.’

Looking at the bigger picture, Kenny concedes the numbers of Eastern Europeans and other EU immigrants on large construction sites, particularly in London, have steadily diminished since Brexit. Whether that’s because they’ve returned to the EU out of choice or been told they don’t have the right to remain, Kenny says it’s helped create the perfect storm of labour shortages.

‘When you go onsite and it takes longer to do a job, it’s because these guys aren’t around anymore.’ He recalls that a couple of Poles who worked for MacGregor a few years ago were ‘superb, real grafters, superhuman. They would’ve worked 24 hours a day if we’d asked them to. I suppose it’s difficult to get labour now and if you don’t have enough labourers, you can’t get things moved and it has a knock-on effect. So, in summary, I’d say Brexit has impacted us indirectly’.

Then came the biggest global pandemic for a century and although theoretically it should’ve been far more damaging than Brexit, things didn’t work out that way. Owing in part to government’s financial help, many businesses survived.

On 20 March 2020 when Johnson told the nation ‘You must stay at home’, MacGregor staff were told that that’s where they’d be staying for at least a couple of months.

For MacGregor’s part, the firm was fortunate because it had so much work with the NHS, which it was allowed to continue. ‘Hamish, his son, Crawford, and I worked throughout the lockdowns but we furloughed everyone else because there wasn’t enough work to go round at that point. We topped up the guys’ salaries so they received the full amount. We were still busy and the guys mostly just wanted to get out to work although a couple didn’t want to risk it, and who can blame them? Those were strange times and I’ll never forget them.’

On a lighter note Kenny, who’d always been morbidly curious to know what he’d look like bald, used the first day of lockdown to shave off his hair. He immediately regretted it because ‘I made a mess of it and it looked terrible’, but at least he knew nobody other than family was going to see him for a while. It will certainly grow back by the time lockdown ends he reassured himself.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. The next morning – a Saturday – he was phoned by the director of Balfour Beatty. ‘Kenny, I’m at the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC) with the military and Scottish government ministers. Could you come over so we can discuss the flooring for the Louisa Jordan Hospital?’

Kenny panicked. ‘I had to meet very senior people and I looked like something that had just escaped Alcatraz.’ With an hour or so to regrow his hair or alternatively prepare for eternal mortification, he decided it would have to be the latter. His blushes were spared by a strategically placed hat, although he still had to sheepishly explain why it had to remain in place for the duration of the meeting.

The embarrassment was worth it in the end: 15 floorlayers worked onsite for seven days with a eight of them staying on longer. The MacGregor installation at Louisa Jordan went on to win the best use of flooring in the healthcare category at The CFJ Awards in 2021, and was also named the best flooring installation of the year.

Kenny particularly enjoyed it ‘not just because we were making money but because we were helping the Covid-19 effort. It was sobering seeing 1,000 beds being put in next to one another with the medical equipment visible. The uncertainty of it scared me but thankfully not one patient even entered it’.

Kenny believes MacGregor has emerged from Covid-19 mentally stronger. ‘Our resilience showed us that through these unknowns we could keep the business going and be successful. I’d say we came out of it mentally stronger. My kids will be talking about it to their grandchildren.’

And just when we all thought we were finally out of the woods, along came one Vladimir Putin.

he war in Ukraine shook the world, not only because of the naked brutality of one country invading another in the 21st century, but because we all knew such an act would have consequences far beyond Ukraine – and so it’s proved.

Just as the economy was recovering from the lockdowns and was being battered by a supply chain crisis, an energy catastrophe beckoned. Kenny says MacGregor was affected immediately: ‘Quite a lot of the world’s brass comes through Ukraine which nobody knew until the invasion. We were doing a job at a luxury hotel and we needed brass trims but couldn’t get them because they were stuck at a foundry in Ukraine.’

As it turned out, Ukraine also emerged as an important global producer of several primary raw materials (titanium minerals, kaolin, manganese, iron, uranium and zircon), a net exporter of upstream non-food, non-energy (NFNE) raw materials and a net importer for energy commodities.
Energy costs resulting from the war also affected MacGregor, but Kenny is wary of those who he suspects have exploited the situation for their own profit.

‘Manufacturers have taken advantage, if I’m being honest. It pains me to say that but prices going up owing to energy surcharges makes me think many businesses are profiteering off the back of it, which is disappointing. Fair enough, the cost of raw materials has increased, meaning companies have to procure them from somewhere else which is expensive, and at a personal level we know our household bills are up but I believe there are certain companies which have said: ‘Let’s use this to make some profit,’ although I won’t name names.’

And Kenny isn’t just talking about the flooring industry: on a global level, he sees indiscriminate increases as leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘If you put your prices up, your clients then put their prices up, and so it goes on. I suspect those companies which have profiteered will find that when things get back to normal that won’t be forgotten.’

Kenny isn’t just sounding off – he’s put his money where his mouth is. ‘I’ve had manufacturers here and I’ve said: ‘You’re playing a risky game. It’s about respect and if you do that to me once, you won’t get to do it again’.

That said, Kenny isn’t unsympathetic to the challenges faced by manufacturers. At one point the screed and DPM manufacturer which MacGregor uses wasn’t getting screed from Italy, where it’s made, so for a couple of weeks Kenny used another manufacturer’s product.

‘The key to ordering raw materials is not to leave it to the last minute. Order with plenty of time to spare and you won’t run into trouble. I know of many contractors who don’t do that and instead leave it until the last minute. I like planning ahead, which is why I have an electric car.’

But even the best-laid plans have pitfalls, and so it is with early orders, at least more recently.
‘Whether it’s linked to Brexit or the war in Ukraine, manufacturers are becoming increasingly reluctant to take long orders. So, for instance, if I know I need 1,000 metres worth of carpet tiles in November – and there’s no guarantee in the current environment that that date won’t be delayed until, say, February – I’d order them in July. But now manufacturers are saying that because they’ve made the product long before my collection date, I need to take it now. And if I don’t, they say they’re going to charge me for storage, which puts me in a Catch-22. I want to say to them: ‘Do you want us to order the carpet tiles in time and have control over them? Or do you want us to order them last minute and give you the order before we need it, but then take the risk that you can’t supply them, meaning I’ve got to change the job specs because you can’t supply what I need?’ They want their cake and they want to eat it. It means MacGregor is being punished for being efficient and that’s very frustrating.’

Again, Kenny emphasises that he sees the other side of the argument as well.

‘Manufacturers have produced the product they’ve been paid to produce so they want to clear it so they can get on with new orders. But a bit more flexibility wouldn’t go amiss. The whole seller-client relationship has gone out the window over the past few years and now the client is increasingly seen as a number. Even worse, they’re treating the guy who pays £100 for their product the same as the guy who pays £100,000, and that’s unwise.’

It’s not just him saying that, says Kenny – the manufacturers he’s talking about it have openly admitted it. ‘My biggest hope is that this behaviour doesn’t become entrenched in our business culture but it probably will.’

Does he think prices will come back down when inflation subsides, as it inevitably must? On that question, he’s unequivocal. ‘No, they won’t. This is what we’re going to pay going forward, which is why I’m not optimistic about our relationship with some manufacturers. Don’t get me wrong, we have solid relationships with many manufacturers such as Forbo, Altro, Polyflor and Gerflor and that’s because people buy from people, and we have someone we can directly deal with in their big sales offices. What you don’t want is to be palmed off onto a sales adviser who doesn’t know much about MacGregor and who needs to ask us for our account number. At Forbo, for instance, we have a dedicated salesperson who’s good, knows how we work, knows what we need and she pulls out all the stops to make things happen for us. That certainty is crucial in this industry. Many businesses recognise that but putting it into practice is a different kettle of fish.’

I press Kenny on which companies he’s referring to but he’s too canny to get into the weeds with a journalist. ‘The problematic ones are the carpet tile manufacturers,’ is all he’s prepared to offer. ‘To be fair, maybe some components they need to manufacture their products have taken a hit, or maybe it’s the vacuum that’s been created by the supply chain crisis.’

But haven’t times been tough for carpet tiles because of the working-from-home culture spreading through big corporates, meaning offices are less used than they were before the pandemic? Kenny isn’t convinced. ‘Offices that were worked in daily have simply changed form, not disappeared. So instead of having rows of desks with people at them, you now have more hot-desks, smaller meeting rooms and quiet pods. In any event, those premises that have been vacated won’t stay empty permanently; they’ll be repurposed as housing developments or flats to rent and that will provide more work for us down the line.’

On that subject, Kenny refers to MacGregor’s offices which had just been refurbed and were ready to welcome back the small team when Covid-19 struck.

p until just before the first lockdown, in December 2019 to be exact, MacGregor HQ in Hamilton was split into individual offices. But a decision was taken to transform it into an open-plan space and ‘quite a bit of money’ was put aside to make it happen. Just as the finishing touches were being put on the new office, however, Covid-19 struck.

Once the lockdowns were over, Kenny who’d had his own office for 30 years, suddenly had to adapt to an open-plan scenario, which wasn’t as easy as he’d expected. ‘I’d be working away, hearing the work conversations going on around me. I do feel I need to work from home to get peace and quiet especially because in the office if I overhear something my control freakery comes to the fore and that’s not right.’

Talking of working from home, how does MacGregor deal with that? ‘I was always dubious about it because I thought it would be about people sitting watching TV, but we’ve actually found people do the exact opposite – they work more, and they work harder. There’ll always be people who cheat the system by, for example, buying gadgets to keep their computer mouse active but I find if you trust people they’ll do the job. I don’t care if they go for a walk mid-morning or do their shopping – as long as the work’s done at the end of the day. Most of our guys actually enjoy working from the office but if they want to work from home, they’re welcome to.

The MacGregor management hierarchy changed in 2015 when founder Hamish became chairman and Kenny was promoted to managing director. ‘I don’t look forward to the day Hamish goes because he does many things I don’t want to do,’ says Kenny. ‘We’re a perfect foil for each other in that respect. He no longer does much of the day-to-day running of the company but his longevity in the industry and his reputation helps me to troubleshoot, so it’ll be a sad day when he calls timeout.’ (CFJ will publish an in-depth interview with Hamish, who has also twice been president of the CFA, in our July edition).

Kenny describes MacGregor as ‘a tight-knit team’. Hamish’s son, Crawford, who’s worked at MacGregor for 12 years, is the contract director. Then there’s contract manager, Kyle Smart, who was employed a year ago and is ‘a breath of fresh air’.

Says Kenny: ‘As MD, I feel like I should be going out, meeting people and drumming up business and going onsite and speaking to the guys and it’s difficult. Twenty years ago it was dead easy but now I spend so much time writing and responding to emails. In that regard I’m hoping Kyle can take some slack off me. The biggest thing when looking for an employee is to choose someone who’s going to fit into the team; you can mould someone into what you think they should be but they need to be capable in the first place. It’s a family business but I’ve been here as long as the family and it must be difficult for an outsider to come into this environment because of the tight-knit group already in place.

But what helped in Kyle’s case was that he’d known Kenny for years – in fact, Kenny was manager of his football team when Kyle was aged between 11-16. After that, Kyle got into flooring through his stepfather who was a carpet-fitter and that’s when he crossed Kenny’s path again.

Another member of the team is Andy McFarlane, the estimator, who does everything around pricing tenders such as getting in touch with manufacturers. He’s been with the company for five years.
‘Andy is another breath of fresh air and he also helps Hamish out with IT. We’re all IT literate here but Hamish is old school, which is totally understandable. Everything going digital has been a steep learning curve for me too, but now it all goes to the Cloud. We generate very little paper now.’

Only five years ago, piles of paper populated the office and Kenny is quick to admit he was the worst offender. ‘Even when I just wanted to read something, I’d print it, then read it and file it away, then 10 years later it would go straight to the shredder. Now I print virtually nothing. We’ve got to save the environment. I had to teach myself that printing is terribly wasteful. I’m more methodical with paperwork and it’s been amazing because stuff is easier to find, it’s cost effective and I’m doing my bit for the environment.’

Jim Hart, a floorlayer-turned-client manager for MacGregor, wasn’t at the office the day I visited because as Kenny points out he spends the vast majority of his time onsite. ‘Jim has been at MacGregor even longer than me, and he’s been doing client managing for the past 12 years,’ says Kenny. ‘The transition was really painful because we missed his experience and we’d never had someone make that role switch before. The relationship he has with the fitters and the main contractor site management is key.’

Last but not least is Laura, Crawford’s wife, who took over the role of business manager from Hamish’s ex-wife and who is, according to Kenny, the vital cog in the wheel. ‘She previously worked as a risk manager for 3, the mobile network, and has brought so much dynamism. I’ll go as far as saying she’s transformed the business. We’ve always done things efficiently but Laura has taken it to another level.’

Not to be forgotten are van drivers Campbell and Billy who are responsible for delivering to sites and, of course, the 35 dedicated floorlayers who are at the sharp end of MacGregor’s formidable reputation.

‘All our floorlayers are time served,’ says Kenny. ‘They’ve all been apprentices and have their papers – there’s nobody who hasn’t been trained to be a floorlayer. In addition, working with tier 1 contractors means we have to have a continuous training programme for our guys, who are all CSCS qualified. About 60% of them have done the site supervisor training course (SSSTS), which means they can be a black hat onsite. That’s a significant percentage and it’s because we encourage them to train to as high a training certificate as they can get. There are a lot of site managers and training managers who don’t have SSSTS. About 20% of them have the five-day site management safety training (SMSTS). Again, many site managers and training managers don’t have that but we have floorlayers who do it. So we do try to constantly maintain a high level of training. We qualify for many training grants through the CITB which we take full advantage of.’

With respect to training offered by manufacturers, Kenny points out that Scotland’s remote location on the British Isles means it doesn’t get as much as it otherwise could have. A notable exception is FITA at Kirkcaldy which ‘is going to be good – we’ve already sent some of our guys there’.

‘Anytime an employee comes to us and says they’re not happy and would like to do a specialist LVT course, we’ll put them on it because ultimately we benefit from it. It’s a continuous thing. From a contractor point-of-view we have to demonstrate to the main contractors we’re maintaining our guys’ knowledge. It’s been a struggle over the past couple of years because training courses were disrupted owing to Covid-19 and trying to do a floorlaying course online doesn’t cut it.’

MacGregor has progressed hugely in the 35 years since Kenny joined. ‘We’re now the biggest independent contractor in Scotland, and I’d like to think the most respected as well,’ says Kenny. ‘We do a lot of work for the tier one main contractors with a significant amount of repeat business.
That’s down to our reputation, which in turn is down to our people. Considering our turnover, we have a really small team – I’ve seen other businesses who do a similar turnover but with loads more staff. I often wonder how they make any money. So, we run a tight ship with a very high retention rate and we treat our people with respect which fits into my whole thought process: treat people the way you’d like to be treated. And if you extend that line of thought to main contractors, it’s a recipe for success

ith the interview drawing to a close, I ask Kenny about his background. What makes him tick?
Born in Glasgow in November 1969, he came from what he describes as ‘a not bad area’.
Because his father was 50 and his mother was 40 when he was born, he was, he jokes, always slightly self-conscious at parents’ evenings. ‘People thought my parents were my grandparents because all my friends’ parents were so much younger.’

Part of his success in business, and more specifically in the flooring industry, is, he says, down to his meticulousness. ‘I’m a great believer in a tidy mind and a tidy desk and I’m diligent.’

So how did the son of a crane driver find himself in flooring? He describes his route into the industry as ‘fortuitous’. ‘I left school at 16, not being overly fond of the academic side of things, but I didn’t know what to do with my life. I fancied working in a car component shop because I liked cars despite the fact I couldn’t drive but nothing came of that.’

Then he got two job offers in one day: one was a behind-the-counter role at the post office and the other was in a government youth training scheme that guaranteed every school-leaver a job. In Kenny’s case, the promised job was in flooring. He didn’t know which one to take.

‘It was a sliding door moment. What if I’d chosen the post office? Would I be postmaster-general by now? But I’m eternally grateful I chose flooring because it’s given me a good life. The deal was that I’d do the job with Dunlop Semtex, a flooring contractor, for six months, then they’d decide whether to keep me on. And they did, making me a trainee estimator.’

Four years later, Kenny was headhunted by Hamish, starting a long and fruitful association.
‘I’ve been in flooring since day one which is unusual for young people today as very few make a career in the same industry and with the same employer. But my life is about certainty. I’ve been with my wife since I was 16. I’ve also stayed in the same area since I was born.’

Does he have regrets that he didn’t travel the world instead of going straight into work? ‘Sure. But my personality likes certainty and consistency.’

In 2001, after 13 years together, Kenny finally got married (‘You’ve got to make sure before you commit,’ he chortles). He now has two children – a girl, 18, and a boy, 16 – both of whom have been ‘heavily’ into drama since they were eight or nine.

‘That’s the path they’ve chosen and will go to college instead of university to study musical theatre and drama.’ Kenny lets slip a smile. ‘It’s fine, I’ve come to terms with it, as long as they’re happy. It’s tough for kids today with everything they have to deal with – social media; Brexit; property prices; war; climate change. Many take their own lives because of the pressure so as much as I would’ve liked my kids to be doctors, ultimately all I want is their happiness, so I’m very supportive.’

Completing the Smith family is Ella, a German shepherd. ‘In my spare time I take long walks with Ella, play golf – not very well, mind you – and recently I had my first midlife crisis and took motorcycle lessons.’ And then, to prove that the English don’t have a monopoly on a dry sense of humour, Kenny adds: ‘I could’ve gone for a sportscar and a mistress, but I just can’t be bothered with the hassle.’

Sportscars and mistresses aside, Kenny usually has more pressing issues closer to home: making sure he gets to see his children onstage which ‘is almost a full-time job in itself’.

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