Jay Blades likes making TV shows that make people feel good. That much is evident from his CV. A former community worker who got into furniture restoration aged 40, he is best known for presenting The Repair Shop, which sees a team of craftsmen and women restore family heirlooms to their former glory.
Now the Londoner, 51, has another heartwarming series on the go; BBC Two’s Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop. Filmed in Bradford it follows a team of experts and trainees who have come together to make bespoke pieces of furniture for local heroes nominated to be part of the show by members of the public. “With this show, we are celebrating people who are not visible, so these are people in your community that are doing some outstanding community work, that are looking out for the most vulnerable in our society and they do it sometimes without any pay, or they just do it off their own back,” says Blades, who also fronts Money For Nothing, and Jay And Dom’s Home Fix.
In each of the six episodes, Blades meets the special people receiving the furniture and hears why they have been put forward to receive this recognition. Responsible for making the stunning designs in the workshop are three experts – Ciaran, Isabelle and Saf – along with six passionate woodworkers who hail from Yorkshire. Throughout the series we learn about the trainees’ experience learning on the job, plus their personal reasons for being part of the show.
All in all, it’s the sort of telly that restores your faith in humanity. Father-of-three Blades agrees, recalling how, while filming, he often found himself reflecting on how great the society we live in really is. “Often, on the news, you have a lot of depressing stories; there’s a lot of news that you’d rather not hear. But then when you are involved in a show such as this… And this was only one area, this was just in Yorkshire! Imagine the rest of the country.”
There are 18 local heroes featured in total, and the host suggests they are the “real celebrities”, rather than those we see on reality shows. “These are people that have not got a six-pack, a lovely set of white teeth, these are people that are just like us. These are normal people – and these normal people are doing some outstanding work. And I’m not knocking celebrities, because some of them do some really good community work. But when it comes to this, it’s like, how many people are out there doing community work? I hope it does come back for a second series because I want to celebrate even more people.”
There are many tear-jerking moments in the first episode alone – especially when we hear about Jack, who has been nominated by Connor. Connor explains to Blades that he had a life-threatening liver condition and, after posting on social media asking if anyone would be willing to donate half of their liver to try and save his life, Jack got in touch. Although they were complete strangers, following the operation they at first became friends, before becoming a couple – and they are now moving in together. So, Saf and his team take on the task of surprising Jack with a stunning mid-century sideboard for the new pad.
Discussing the couple’s incredible love story, Blades says: “When I heard it, first of all, I was like, ‘This isn’t real!’ It’s a beautiful fairy tale, and even Disney couldn’t write this story. Sometimes in life, you wish you could find love like that, and there you are right in front of it. That’s a love story beyond all love stories, as far as I’m concerned – this person saved your life and now you’re together.”
One of the UK’s most-loved TV personalities, Blades is keen to use his platform for good, raising awareness and speaking out about issues that affect him. And it would seem he has inspired others to do the same – most notable, perhaps, is Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne Pinnock They first met when, aged 14, she joined a youth club and choir that Blades ran.
The pop star recently asked him to be a trustee on her charity, The Black Fund, and you can tell just how proud he is of their relationship. “I communicate with Leigh-Anne almost every day really,” he says. “I send her a ‘thought of the day’ and keep her positive and focused. She’s very, very dear to me.”
Does he hope that watching Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop will encourage more people to be part of community-related initiatives? “Definitely. I know people will be inspired by this, to look on their doorstep and see charities, organisations, individuals that they can volunteer with.
“There might be something to do with cancer, mental health, might be to do with care homes, could be to do with anything. You can spend two hours there, but those two hours are absolutely necessary for that organisation [or] individual charity, to move forward.”
Another project recently announced by the BBC that Blades hopes will inspire viewers is his upcoming documentary about dyslexia. Titled Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51, it will be a one-off hour-long programme airing on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.
“When I went to university, and they diagnosed me as having the reading ability of an 11-year-old, and this is when I was 31,” says the star, “that gave me the stamp and seal of approval to tell people I’m dyslexic.”
Discussing his experience filming the documentary, he says: “I’ve never known anybody to be as open as I am about dyslexia and take that journey with a camera stuck in your face. What they’re teaching five-year-olds now is exactly what I’m learning. It’s a brave thing, but I know it’s going to inspire people.”
Jay’s Yorkshire Workshop starts on BBC Two on Wednesday, August 18.
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