Jay Blades: from macho man to make a difference | Celebrity News | Showbiz and television
Jay Blades talks about his new dyslexia documentary
For 45 years, Jay Blades says he tried his best “to be a macho man”. Raised on a council estate in east London by his mother Barbara, the friendly host of BBC show The Repair Shop developed an uncompromising exterior meant to shield him from the taunts of others. “I was the badass who showed no emotion and didn’t deal with anything,” admits Jay, now 52.
“I can’t say what she did was wrong, because she tried her best, but mum’s contribution was more about survival and I didn’t really receive any affection. , I never wanted to show my vulnerability because I was told that would make you a victim.”
Late in the evening of April 2015, everything changed.
Faced with the breakdown of his marriage and following a collapse in funding for his charity restoring furniture for disadvantaged young people, Jay left his home in High Wycombe, Bucks, and drifted into obscurity , looking for a way out.
“I was ready to cross a bridge, but every bridge on the M40 was surrounded by a security barrier. I was so naive,” he told me.
In the throes of a nervous breakdown and unable to make rational decisions, he ended up randomly stopping on an on-ramp a hundred miles from his home and parked in a nearly deserted parking lot in a small industrial area. . It was there, for the next week, numb and confused, that Jay remained inside the safety of his car.
“I don’t remember what I did, but I think I just sat in my car. Doing nothing. Feeling nothing. Days and nights came and went.”
Looking in the rear view mirror about five days later, he saw clear evidence that he needed to check into a hotel for a shower and a square meal. “I had lost a stone since I fled HighWycombe,” he recalled. Meanwhile, his wife Jade, who is the mother of his daughter Zola, had reported Jay as a missing person. As he drove through the city center, license plate recognition technology picked up details of his car. A policeman and a psychiatric nurse went to the hotel for a possible medical intervention.
WAITING FOR THE NEXT LEGACY: Jay Blades outside The Repair Shop
“They wanted to cut me off, as a danger to myself,” says Jay.
It was then that Gerald Bailey, a businessman who had purchased a number of restored pieces of furniture from Jay’s charity, knocked on the door of the hotel where Jay was being assessed.
He had been contacted by Jade as soon as the police told him that Jay had been found. He was the only person she knew in Wolverhampton, and Bailey, the owner of clothing brands Diffusion and G-Star, was about to give Jay the second chance that would change his own life. “When Gerald found me and told the police he would take care of me, I broke down in his car and cried in front of him,” Jay said.
“I had never cried in front of a man before – and certainly not another black man. This was my rebirth. He’s a tough business man, and I cry and smell and haven’t washed since. a week, and I look at him through my snot and my tears, and he says, “We’re going to my office.”
“I say, ‘Can’t you see I’m crying?’ and he was very simple. He got me a job, sent me to live with his mother and his stepfather, and that’s why he is classified as my brother. The love he has for me is incredible.
In his inspiring new memoir Making It, Jay recounts how his fortunes turned a few months later when BBC TV producers saw a short film about his charity and offered him a job presenting Money For Nothing. , in 2017, then The Repair Shop. .
Despite his success, Jay still lives in a two-bedroom hostel behind Gerald’s Georgian house. Last December he got engaged to his girlfriend Lisa-Marie Zbozen, and last week he received the MBE from Prince Charles for services to craftsmanship.
Jay insists: “What people like me need is not a father figure, but a role model. I was 45, not a teenager, but I never had that – I Never had this level of silent support and it’s almost like I didn’t realize I needed it until I found it.”
He seems particularly impressed that his savior never capitalized on seeing him at such a low level. You sense his surprise that he was not exploited.
“Gerald never took the mickey away from me,” says Jay, who didn’t know his father but thinks he may have at least 26 children in different countries. “And he’s never had to this day. Now I can see there’s strength in being vulnerable, and now I’m more vocal about showing my vulnerability.
“And that’s why women are always stronger than men. You have to go through something to come out the other side, and we have to learn a lot more from women.” At this point, Jay interrupts the proceedings and happily calls me “the Big Mac of the investigators”.
“These are three questions that come to me at once,” he enthused about our conversation.
We also talked about his dyslexia, which means that at the age of 31 – when he started a degree in criminology – Jay turned out to have a reading age of just 11.
He says, “My reading skills are improving, but I’m still using coping strategies. I can read the signs and I can fix things.”
Jay received his MBE from Prince Charles last week
He is halfway through a course to learn to read better, a journey that was the subject of a recent BBC documentary watched by 3.7 million people.
Jay says: “It had a huge impact, but I hadn’t realized dyslexia affected eight million people in the UK until I made the film.
It’s easy to hide it in the real world – if I had to fill out a form, I’d ask someone to help me.”
Before discovering the creativity of furniture restoration,
Jay worked on construction sites in his late twenties. It was then that he began volunteering with a charity working with at-risk youth, found he had an affinity with the participants, and began mentoring them.
“Many of the other mentors were white, middle-class and from privileged backgrounds,” he says. “I was different. I knew the hard life they were talking about because I had lived it.” That gleam of recognition in their eyes, he says, helped him connect naturally with them.
“The only thing I really had going for me was my ability to speak and relate to underprivileged children,” he adds.
While studying for his degree at Buckinghamshire New University – with the support of an exam scribe and voice recognition software – he began working with the Police’s Independent Race Relations Advisory Board of Oxfordshire.
Soon this had crystallized into the Street Dreams project, the youth workshops he ran with Jade with the aim of reducing racial tension on the streets. They have created football and boxing clubs in inner-city neighborhoods with the aim of bringing together different communities; even an amateur radio station.
“And it worked,” he says. “As the understanding between the two communities grew, tensions dissipated and conflicts disappeared.
“We didn’t wave a magic wand. We just went out there and did what no one had ever done to these people before. We listened to them.”
He says Street Dreams showed him some of the worst aspects of modern society every day. But he continued to believe he could make a difference.
Then, shortly after her 40th birthday in February 2010, it all started to fall apart. Council funding for the youth clubs they ran began to dry up.
It was Jade, who has a textile background, who came up with the couple’s plan B: teaching young people how to renovate old furniture.
Jay says, “I stuck four fence posts into our backyard lawn and threw a tarp over them to create a primitive workspace.”
Their new project was named Out Of The Dark – a reference to the light they brought into people’s lives, as well as old furniture being refurbished.
When the first kids came to their tarp workshop, Jay said, “I’m going to show you how to make money out of nothing.” Restorers were on hand to teach the kind of restoration techniques now familiar from The Repair Shop.
“I realized that restoring furniture was a metaphor for the lives of the young people we were helping,” he says.
And it’s the same, he suggests, with his much-loved TV show, where people bring in treasured heirlooms for restoration.
As he recently told Prince Charles at Windsor Castle: “It’s all about sustainability, it’s about teaching the next generation.”
Jay Blades’ Making It (Pan Macmillan, £9.99) is out now. For free UK postage and delivery on orders over £12.99 go to www.expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832.