The Repair Shop’s Jay Blades on how he mended his own life
- Credit: Amy Brathwaite/PA
TV presenter Jay Blades chuckles at the notion that he could so easily have been drawn into a life of crime had he not found his true calling – to help others turn their lives around.
“The reason I ended up on the right side of the law is because I’m destined for something, to do something, to achieve something, to then inspire people to go out there and do it themselves," he said.
His earlier foray with his (now ex) wife Jade into buying old furniture and teaching youngsters from poor communities how to do it up and sell it on, stood him in good stead for his presenting job in the BBC series The Repair Shop, where experts pool their talents to restore family heirlooms.
But reading his memoir, Making It, in which he charts his childhood in Hackney and Islington, and the bullying and racism that he was subjected to during his teenage years, it’s clear that his road to success could have so easily forked in a very different direction, as he developed a notorious reputation for fighting.
The pent-up anger of his youth may in some way be explained by the racist taunts he was bombarded with while at secondary school.
Blades, 51, is also dyslexic, which made him more of a target, and even now confesses that he still has the reading ability of an 11-year-old.
“I don’t read scripts and the beauty of doing shows like Money For Nothing and The Repair Shop is that there is no script,” he reveals.
- 1 5 films you may not know where shot in Hackney
- 2 Man loses sight in eye after "attack" outside Hackney chip shop
- 3 Owner of UK's first vegan Indian takeaway: 'I have shaken the entire industry'
- 4 Chatsworth Road trader told to pay up to £455 for licence to sell on land he says is his
- 5 Hackney boxing champion Kirkland Laing dies aged 66
- 6 Woman accused of murdering man in Hackney appears in court
- 7 Phone snatcher admits guilt after robberies in Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets
- 8 Hackney flat block damaged as 25 firefighters respond to barbecue blaze
- 9 Delta Covid strain spreads in Hackney with high rates in neighbouring boroughs
- 10 5 great places in north London to watch England's Euro 2020 campaign
“It’s just two people having a conversation, which has been a joy for me, because if they put a script in front of me I’d probably get the tin tack [Cockney rhyming slang for sack].
Born in Brent to single mother Barbara, he was happy as a young child on a Hackney council estate but when his mother sent him to a secondary school closer to Islington, where she’d heard the teaching was good, the troubles began.
Gangs of older white boys would call him racist names, and would kick and punch him.
He says: “It was weird to experience racism when you’ve never experienced it before. I never knew the racist names they were calling me were racist names, until I brought them back to my community. Then the elders told me.”
He turned to violence to beat the bullies, and would fight at any opportunity.
He once whacked someone with a rounders bat in a scuffle and became involved in the youth gang culture, he reveals in the book.
He left school at 15 with no qualifications and the family later moved to Luton for a fresh start, but by the age of 21 he was living in a Salvation Army hostel for the homeless.
The cycle of violence only subsided when, through a trustee at the hostel, he got an opportunity to work as a volunteer at a homeless centre in Oxford, which opened his eyes to human tragedy.
"So many residents had sunk to the bottom of the barrel, yet were still able to laugh, he recalls.
“I had a beautiful awakening of people who have every right to be angry at society – and they were happy. They turned my life around and made me realise that I didn’t need to be angry. I looked after people who had all their possessions in a plastic bag – and the plastic bag wasn’t full."
He went on to work on a community scheme to help people with mental health issues reintegrate into society, and later joined Youth At Risk, helping troubled delinquents.
After completing further community enterprise projects, he and his then wife, Jade, a textiles graduate, ventured into furniture restoration by setting up a charitable social enterprise restoring salvaged furniture as a means of training young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Media interest at a trade fair kick-started his TV career, leading to shows Money For Nothing and The Repair Shop.
Blades wants to do more shows based around community and bringing people together. The next show is Jay’s Workshop on BBC2, which will see him and a group of volunteers build beautiful furniture for deserving local people.
“I’m a glorified community worker who they put in front of the camera. Now I have the opportunity to make shows that celebrate the unsung heroes in our society.”
Making It by Jay Blades with Ian Gittins is published by Bluebird, priced £16.99.