Growing up, Drew Pritchard and his friends would often peak into sheds in his home village of Glan Conwy. They wouldn’t steal anything, but simply take interest with the old curiosities that were inside.
In nearby woods, Drew would find more oddities and cast-offs in old cars that had been casually discarded there. During his summer holidays, he would scour local fields and beaches with his best friend, Tee, who would later join him on the TV channel Quest’s Salvage Hunters.
Anything that would grab their attention – salvaged oars, bicycles and car badges, they would later sell by the side of the road, with the proceeds going to sweets and magazines. “I was just utterly fascinated with it, and it’s never left me,” he told Quest.
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“It’s not something that I can explain why, I just had to be around this old stuff all the time.” He 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.”
North Wales Live reports that over the years, Drew has become a familiar face on our TV screens, presenting Quest’s Salvage Hunters, in which he travels the length and breadth of the UK in search of elusive gems and other magnificent objects. By the time Drew was 11, he had decided he wanted to be an antiques dealer.
Four decades later, having taken an unconventional route to the top, he’s one of the rock stars of the antiques business. Hailed a “junkyard genius”, he had the Midas touch when it came to finding treasures in other people’s scrap. Drew, who left Ysgol Dyffryn Conwy at the age of 16 with no qualifications, is now a respected international dealer in fine antiques, art and furniture.
Clients include American fashion designer, Ralph Lauren, and the chef Marco Pierre White. As the star of Salvage Hunters, which pulls in 22 million viewers in 52 countries, he’s also a TV personality with legions of adoring fans around the world. His trusty sidekick Jack Russell, Enzo Pritchard, had his own Instagram page. When he died, in August 2019, 4,300 people mourned his passing on Facebook.
But it hasn’t been plain sailing for Drew. In 2017, he divorced his wife Rebecca, who was also his co-presenter on the long-running flagship show. It came in the wake of the star’s ban from every pub in his hometown of Conwy, but the restriction has since been lifted. Despite the fact that Rebecca then moved to Chester and now runs her own antiques business, she 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. The business became 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.
When he was eight years old, Drew’s mother took him to buy shoes in Conwy from a double-fronted shop. Young Drew was not only entranced by his new shoes but also the look of the building. Almost four decades later, the shop was his.
The divorce also brought another change to Drew’s life. For 21 years, he had lived in a former Methodist chapel near Eglwysbach in Dyffryn Conwy. Having bought the rundown building at the age of 25, he converted it himself and turned it into his own palatial emporium, filled with all kinds of quirky items, including his throne being Mick Jagger’s old loo.
He decided to place the house for sale. “It’s so quiet here,” he said. “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.”
Over the years, Drew reckons he had cleared 500 churches. He had so many kneelers that, when his children were small, they’d stacked them up to reach the dining table. Befitting the setting, the house also had scores of ecclesiastical items, from crosses to statues, pews and even an altar, as well as stained glass.
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 on Anglesey.
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 later told Homes & Antiques.
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.
His initial focus was stained glass and he bought hundreds for next to nothing and would later sell them to dealers for generous mark-up. Yet it was hard work, it 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. But Drew’s work and subsequent success has done much to life 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.
His collection of classic cars was jettisoned – he had 13 at one time. He stopped drinking two years ago. This summer he told the Telegraph: “I’ve had a blip in the middle where everything just got too much for me, which I’m over now and working on. I’ve started again from scratch. I’ve completely binned my old life and started afresh.”
Having cherished old things since a child, making a fresh start is the one new thing he relishes. His Conwy shop closed in May 2022 and it was snapped up by Dylan’s as a Baked Goods and General Store premises. Last weekend, Dylan’s opened a restaurant at the site too.
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 the book, 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.