PAUL Martin’s first screen job was as a scenic painter on the set of Dudley Moore’s Santa Claus: The Movie. However, his talent for having the gift of the gab and his knowledge for all things antiques have combined to make him one of the BBC’s most popular presenters.
After developing parallel careers, as an antiques trader, owning a pitch on London’s Portobello Road, and as a session-musician drummer, Martin went on to work as an antiques props stylist and set builder for magazines and television shows such as The Clothes Show, before being discovered by a team from BBC Bristol, during an interview about oak furniture.
He was then signed up to present Flog It!, the popular daytime antiques show which sees him travelling the length and breadth of the UK meeting members of the public who have their antiques valued and are then given the option to sell their items at an auction.
Last October it was announced that after 18 years, the show would be axed. However, with 60 new shows still due to be broadcast, it will continue be screened throughout this year and longer.
And Martin certainly won’t be disappearing from the telly. This year he can be seen at the helm of four programmes on the BBC – Flog It, Countryfile Diaries, Make Me A Dealer and a new game show.
I caught up with the popular presenter in Belfast earlier this month, where he was opening the Holiday World Show and wearing his trademark scarf and smile. He is no stranger to our shores, having explored our heritage and unearthed some priceless gems over the years, though he does admit he has yet to holiday in Ireland, north or south.
“I want my children to see the Giant’s Causeway because it’s an area of outstanding beauty,” says the dad of Dylan (10) and Meredith, who’s seven.
“Over the years we found all sorts of lovely things here – wonderful Irish lace and lots of Belleek. It’s got a great heritage and I’ve been to the Belleek factory and made some pottery. I love Irish country furniture with traditional paint – how the paint has worn shows it’s had a useful life and been loved.
“I’ve also done all the Harland and Wolff and Titanic stuff and seen the DeLorean car and I also made a spade when I was over here once in Patterson’s Spade Mill in Templepatrick,” enthuses Martin, who is just as passionate and charistmatic off screen as he is on it.
Patterson’s Spade Mill is the last working water-driven spade mill in daily use in the British Isles and Martin is proud to say he regularly uses his spade and has even featured it on Countryfile Diaries, which often films at his 25-acre smallholding and home in Wiltshire, which is home to a wide range of animals and is also used as a release site for hedgehogs and owls from a rescue centre.
His favourite area is his barn, which contains all his antique “treasure”. Although his wife has warned him he will be “handcuffed if he brings home any more,” he isn’t heeding her warning. The self-confessed hoarder admits he’s always on the lookout for collectables.
“Antiques are my oxygen – I live and breathe them. I’m always hungry for knowledge and you learn something from everyone you talk to. I can’t stop buying, but in my defence the antiques I buy are mostly practical.
“I buy them because of their wonderful history of craftmanship, or as a document of social history, which has got a real identity and tells a story of that area. We are giving it a new lease of life by loving it and making it survive for another century. And hopefully my kids will love it and pass it on to their kids.
“There is nothing greener than antiques. They were made at a time there was no electricity, from sourced local materials. Everyone is on this drive to sustain the planet, but antique dealers have been doing it before anybody else.”
The most unusual item in his barn is a full-size complete skeleton of a horse.
“It’s an old equine vet Edwardian piece, which has been put back together and it’s an amazing sight.”
Martin may have turned 60 this month, but he’s certainly showing no signs of slowing down personally or professionally. And although he does confess to trying to visit “just one” antique shop everywhere he goes, he says his family are adventurers and enjoy active holidays kayaking, surfing and horseriding.
His new book, My World Of Antiques: Collect, Buy And Sell Everyday Antiques Like An Expert, is out now. A second series of his antique show Make Me A Dealer, which is filmed in Belfast, has been recommissioned and next month he opens a new art and antiques gallery in the historic Cotswolds town of Corsham.
But what puts the biggest smile on his face is his new quiz show Curiosity, which he and his BBC production co-ordinator wife Charlotte came up with and story boarded on a sheet of wallpaper in their kitchen. Currently in rehearsals, he hopes it will be broadcast in late spring.
“We took inspiration from [TV game show] The Crystal Maze. There are four room which span four centuries and a central area where the quiz takes place. Contestants who complete challenges win items which are curiously curated and added up in value, with the highest value collection winning the chance to swapping the their collection for an item in the curiosity shop, which could make or lose them money.
“The losers get a Curiosity mug – a piece of tat from a junk shop that we put a logo on -which could be priceless in years to come, if the show is a success,” enthuses Martin, whose co-presenter is his trusty Bassett hound Baxter.
I can’t resist finishing the interview without optimistically asking, is my grandmother’s Royal Albert tea collection going to make me rich?
“They are dust collectors”, he laughs.
On a more positive note, he is more hopeful for my pieces of Tyrone Crystal, following the factory’s closure almost 10 years ago.
“It is worth more because there are fewer of them.”
So what is his advice regarding inherited collections from our loved ones?
“If you like them cherish them, because there is a sentimentally there that will make you think of the person who gave you them. If you don’t like them, get them valued, sell them and put the money towards a holiday or pay some bills.
“Obviously if it’s a one-off, such as war medals, early photographs of family or a postcard collection they collected, you can’t put a price on it and I’d advise to guard that dearly. That’s your family providence and although you may not like it, your kids may grow up to want it.
“But if Aunt Edna has left you a couple of Royal Doulton jugs that just aren’t in fashion, just get rid of them.”