New niche for Bachelorette

Given the very public upheavals in Jillian Harris’s personal life these past couple of years, moving out of her condo may not rank as one of the more traumatic events she has endured.

But the fact that the native of Peace River, Alta., finally decided to sell her chic Vancouver pad appeared to have had her in a reflective and somewhat melancholic mood during an interview with Postmedia News a few months ago.

The one-time star of The Bachelor and its spinoff, The Bachelorette, was chatting about her gig on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and as host of HGTV’s upcoming Canada’s Handyman Challenge.

But the interview happened to fall on the same day she was fretfully preparing an open house for her beloved condo, a smartly decorated abode that has been featured in the Globe and Mail, House and Home, InStyle and OK magazines.

“The carpet is going in, the place is still a mess,” Harris said. “I love my place so much. It’s my baby and I’d love to hang onto it. But my friends and family are either in Kelowna or in Alberta. It’s really, really hard to let go. But eventually, you have to move on.”

And move on she did. More than a year after she made tabloid headlines by ending her engagement to Bachelorette winner Ed Swiderski, Harris headed to Kelowna and into a realm of reality TV that is decidedly less salacious, and less likely to attract the probing attention of People magazine.

In 2009, when the then29-year-old decided to try out for the Bachelor’s 13th season on a whim, she already had six years of experience in interior design under her tool belt, and, she claims, no real expectation or desire to become a reality-TV star. That strange year-long odyssey, it turns out, was simply a detour.

“Anybody who was close to me always encouraged me to speak publicly and give it a shot,” she says. “But unless it was my mom and dad filming me, I had major camera anxiety. I would freeze when I had to speak publicly. I would be immobilized and I would feel I was going to faint.

“Even though people said I was outgoing and bubbly and should be on TV, the thought of it made me want to throw up.”

Obviously, she overcame the fear. And her bubbly personality is on display on HGTV’s Canada’s Handyman Challenge (Tuesdays at 7 and 10 p.m.).

Harris oversees a show that finds 10 Canadians being put through the paces by a reality-TV dream panel of home-reno judges that includes Mike Holmes, Bryan Baeumler and Scott McGillivray.

On the surface, it seems a natural for Harris, an opportunity to blend the design acumen she showcases on Extreme Makeover with the camera-ready charm she put to work in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

But she insists that hosting requires a whole new skill set that neither of her past TV experiences prepared her for.

“It’s very difficult, despite what people may think of hosting and that it might be easy,” she says. “It’s not. It’s nerve-racking; you have all these people relying on you.

“My job is really to lead the show and be the face of the show, to a certain extent, along with the judges. There’s a script, there’s a method to the madness, as opposed to saying whatever you feel like saying and hoping it gets edited well.”

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