Drew Pritchard left school at 16 with no qualifications and is now one of the most respected fine antiques dealer, with clients including Ralph Lauren and chef Marco Pierre White. The star of Salvage Hunters decided this was what he wanted to be at just 11 – and 40 years later he is hailed as a ‘junkyard genius’.
Originally from Glan Conwy, a village in Wales, Drew and his friends would peak into the sheds in his home, not to steal, but for the thrill of seeing the antiques that were on display, reports North Wales Live. During the summer holidays, Drew and his best friend, Tee – who later joined him on Quest TV’s Salvage Hunters – salvaged oars, bicycles, and badges that they would later sell on the side of the road.
“I was just utterly fascinated with it, and it’s never left me,” he told Quest. “It’s not something I can explain why, I just had to be around this old stuff all the time.”
Drew added: “My parents are still digging up boxes of old rubbish I found when I was a kid – I’d drag it all home. They even built another shed for me as I’d filled all the sheds in the garden with junk.”
As the star of Salvage Hunters, pulling in 22 million viewers in 52 countries, he’s also a TV personality with legions of adoring fans around the world. It wasn’t all plain sailing. In 2017 he divorced wife Rebecca, his co-presenter on Quests’ long-running flagship show.
It came in the wake of a ban – since lifted – from every pub in his hometown of Conwy. Rebecca, now living in Chester with her own antiques business, still jointly fronts the show, analysing the provenance of items brought in by Drew and assessing the restoration work needed.
That same year, Drew opened an antiques emporium on Conwy’s High Street. It was an immediate hit, cementing the historic town’s position as a destination for independent stores.
The new shop also brought full circle a long-cherished dream. At the age of eight, his mother took him to buy shoes in Conwy, getting them from a double-fronted shop.
More than the shoes, young Drew was entranced by the look of the building and, almost four decades later, it was his. Yet the divorce brought about other changes.
For 21 years, Drew had lived in a former a Methodist chapel near Eglwysbach in the Conwy Valley. He’d converted it himself, having bought the rundown building at the age of 25.
From being a place with no water or drainage, he turned it into his own palatial emporium, stuffed full of quirky items. Slate flagstones came from a cattle shed in Corwen. His throne was Mick Jagger’s old loo.
“It’s so quiet here,” he said when placing it up for sale. “When I first moved I freaked out because of this strange noise which turned out to be the cows munching grass.
“As a family, we’ve had great times, it’s a great party house. No matter where I was on a buying trip, I’d travel four or five hours just to get home for the night.”
Befitting the setting, there were also scores of ecclesiastical items, from crosses to statues, pews and even an altar. The collection harked back to his origins as an apprentice restorer of stained glass – the trade that led him to the antiques business.
On his first day on the job, he was shown how to strip stained-glass windows from a church in Holyhead. Years later, a dealer pulled up in his van and offered him the same windows.
By then, he realised they were by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, much sought-after names. The dealer wanted £2,600 and Drew almost snapped his hand off. “It took every last penny I had,” he told Homes & Antiques.
Over the years, Drew reckons he’s cleared 500 churches. He has so many kneelers that, when his children were small, they’d stacked them up to reach the dining table.
His father was a sign writer who collected old bits and pieces to restore motorbikes and cars from spare parts. It fostered Drew’s interest in reclaimed antiques and vehicles. He had, he said, been brought up in a family where it was “normal to have a Manx Norton with its wheels off on the kitchen table and be taken to school in a XK120 with the exhaust held on with baling twine”.
At the age of 23, he launched his own business with £200 in his pocket and a tired old VW Beetle for transport. Basing himself next to his dad’s garage-office in the family garden, he began with an ad in a local newspaper: WANTED! Stained glass windows, fireplaces, doors, flooring, architectural salvage. He still winces at the “astronomical” cost – £15 a week.
Knowing about stained glass, this was his initial focus. He brought hundreds for next to nothing and selling them to dealers for a generous mark-up. Yet it was hard work, involved lots of travelling and Drew soon realised he was the bottom link in a long chain.
A visit to Newark antiques fair confirmed his suspicions: despite massively inflating his prices, his stock sold out within minutes. In those days, he believes, the antiques trade was like “the mafia”, a closed shop shrouded in secrecy to outsiders.
Drew’s success has done much to lift the veil: it’s also created a generation of amateur wheeler-dealers who scour car boots with trolleys. Never has other people’s junk been worth so much. Some people, remarked Drew modestly, are now doing “Drew Pritchard better than me”.
Following his divorce, he moved with son Tom to a smaller 1820s townhouse just outside Conwy’s walls. As he set about restoring his new home, a period of reflection followed.
Drew has retained his Conwy warehouse. Last year he made an on-the-spot offer to buy a second home 200 miles away in Bath, Somerset.
Since then he’s been working hard to transform the 1790 property from five flats back into a townhouse, furnishing it with reclaimed radiators and period bathroom features. In some respects, the move simply reflects his old mantra about antiques dealing – that items are worth nothing if left unsold in storerooms. Better to move on, get the deal done, progress to the next item.
Finding and selling antiques is in his blood, and he can’t imagine ever stopping. He only wishes he knew as a young man what he knows now.
For this reason, in May he published a book, “How Not to Be an Antiques Dealer: Everything I’ve Learnt, That Nobody Told Me”. In it he cautions that the trade may take over your life. Indeed, he let it take over his. From his own experience, he believes it was one of the best decisions he ever made.