How Jay Blades escaped a deprived childhood to become one of Britain's favourite TV stars

13 mins read


When Jay Blades welcomes King Charles to The Repair Workshop late this month – as part of a special episode to mark the BBC’s centenary celebrations – he’ll get to inspect pottery made for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and an 18th century clock before handing the regal items over to his colleagues for repair. 

The 52-year-old star, a furniture maker by trade, has seen his career – and love life – flourish since BBC producers put him at the helm of the hit craft show, which restores family heirlooms to their former glory, in 2017. 

Such success relatively late in his career – including an MBE in May this year – is in sharp contrast to Blades’ troubled early life in Hackney, where he grew up in poverty after his father abandoned his much-loved mother Barbara. 

By his twenties, Blades ended up homeless and wondering ‘Is this what my life has come to?’, he told Channel 5 documentary makers earlier this year. 

The father-of-three, who’s now engaged to fitness trainer Lisa-Marie Zbozen, said he could fit all his belongings in one carrier bag when he lived in a hostel before he was given social housing on the Victorian Peabody estate. 

Scroll down for video 

A very special guest in The Repair Shop: King Charles is to guest star in a special episode of show as part of the BBC's centenary celebrations - the programme will air on October 26th

A very special guest in The Repair Shop: King Charles is to guest star in a special episode of show as part of the BBC’s centenary celebrations – the programme will air on October 26th

Furniture maker Blades, 52, has seen his career flourish in recent years after he took on the main presenting role on the hugely successful BBC craft show; marking a stark contrast to a tough childhood growing up in North London with his mother Barbara (pictured)

Furniture maker Blades, 52, has seen his career flourish in recent years after he took on the main presenting role on the hugely successful BBC craft show; marking a stark contrast to a tough childhood growing up in North London with his mother Barbara (pictured)

Dyslexic and unable to read, it wasn't until the star reached 51 that he began to tackle to illiteracy problem that had haunted him all of his adult life

Dyslexic and unable to read, it wasn’t until the star reached 51 that he began to tackle to illiteracy problem that had haunted him all of his adult life

The father-of-three is now happily engaged to fitness trainer Lisa-Marie Zbozen

The father-of-three is now happily engaged to fitness trainer Lisa-Marie Zbozen

The team will also mend two precious items chosen by the monarch - a piece of pottery made for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and a 18th century clock. Charles met with Jay and his team in 2021

The team will also mend two precious items chosen by the monarch – a piece of pottery made for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and a 18th century clock. Charles met with Jay and his team in 2021

Dyslexic and unable to read, it wasn’t until the star reached 51 that he began to tackle to illiteracy problem that had haunted him all of his adult life – after he’d found fame on the show that tapped into the nation’s obsession with heritage crafting. 

Speaking about when he was homeless, Blades said: ‘At 21 I was all over the place, I had no direction, I left London because I was getting into loads of fights and there were people after me.

‘My mum moved to Luton and I lived up there with her for a bit.

‘I had my first child, and then split up with the missus, and moved back to London, then I ended up homeless and went into a hostel.’

‘I had a supermarket carrier bag with all of my stuff in there and it wasn’t a lot. I remember thinking, “is this what my life has come to, is this the end for me?”‘

But the TV star was helped out of the hostel and was given social housing on the Peabody estate, which was built in 1910, along with three other young men.

When Jay lived on the estate, it had a strict list of 17 rules for tenants which banned dogs and wallpaper and said everyone had to be vaccinated against smallpox.

The Peabody estate was founded by American philanthropist George Peabody who wanted to provide affordable housing for Londoners living in slum conditions, but with rules on moral conduct.

The BBC show has propelled Blades to being a household name after the furniture maker was picked to host the show

The BBC show has propelled Blades to being a household name after the furniture maker was picked to host the show

In the programme, Charles, pictured with Blades, Steve Fletcher, Kirsten Ramsay and Will Kirk, will meet with the show's host Jay Blades and his expert team of craftspeople to explore their shared passion for preserving heritage craft skills

In the programme, Charles, pictured with Blades, Steve Fletcher, Kirsten Ramsay and Will Kirk, will meet with the show’s host Jay Blades and his expert team of craftspeople to explore their shared passion for preserving heritage craft skills

They've met before! Blades receiving his MBE from King Charles in May this year

They’ve met before! Blades receiving his MBE from King Charles in May this year 

Growing up: Blades has spoken previously how he was brought up in impoverished conditions, after his mother Barbara (pictured) was abandoned by his father when he was a baby

Growing up: Blades has spoken previously how he was brought up in impoverished conditions, after his mother Barbara (pictured) was abandoned by his father when he was a baby

Blades said it was when he was living in the flat that he found voluntary work which kickstarted his career as a furniture restorer and designer.

His earlier life was similarly bleak, he’s revealed previously that he used to live amongst rats in his childhood home in Hackney, north-east London.

The star told how he was brought up in impoverished conditions, after his mother Barbara was abandoned by his father when he was a baby.

He said: ‘When I was born my mum came to live here with my uncle. My mum got pregnant with the man who contributed towards my birth and he left her high and dry.’

Jay added: ‘[He] took all her money from her, said he was going to promise her this and that, and he didn’t, he just disappeared. The time for my mum must have been quite desperate I would say.

‘There was loads of rubbish everywhere, there was rats.’

Struggles: The Repair Shop star Jay Blades has revealed that he ended up homeless and living in a hostel in London when he was in his twenties

Struggles: The Repair Shop star Jay Blades has revealed that he ended up homeless and living in a hostel in London when he was in his twenties

MBE: Jay was given the honour by the Prince of Wales on Tuesday for services to craft and in recognition of his work promoting heritage craft and restoration in the UK

MBE: Jay was given the honour by the Prince of Wales on Tuesday for services to craft and in recognition of his work promoting heritage craft and restoration in the UK

Looking back: Jay made the admission on his new documentary series, There's No Place Like Home, where he revisited his old flat on the Peabody estate (pictured)

Looking back: Jay made the admission on his new documentary series, There’s No Place Like Home, where he revisited his old flat on the Peabody estate (pictured)

Last year, the presenter starred in the BBC documentary Learning to Read at 51, which saw the once-illiterate star tackle the written word after years of being unable to read.

The presenter learned how to read last summer using the same techniques children use, such as phonics.

Speaking to The Sun at the time, Blades recalled how he was brought to tears when he received a letter from his daughter Zola, 14, who lives in Turkey with his ex-wife Jade, and was able to read it. Jay also has two other children from previous relationships.

He said: ‘Reading is something most people do every day and I didn’t know it would mean so much to me. It grabs you emotionally.

‘It was the first letter Zola had ever sent me — she had never sent one before because she knew I couldn’t read it.

‘Reading her letter gave me everything I’d ever wanted but didn’t think I would ever experience.’

Jay, who left school without any qualifications, suffers from dyslexia which went undiagnosed until he was 31.

The success of The Repair Shop seems to be as much as a surprise for Blades as anyone else. 

Settled: Blades with his long-term partner Lisa, the couple announced their engagement in December last year

Settled: Blades with his long-term partner Lisa, the couple announced their engagement in December last year

In May, he was given an MBE by the then Prince of Wales for services to craft and in recognition of his work promoting heritage craft and restoration in the UK.

The star said he never expected that the programme ‘would become so big’ when it began five years ago.

He said: ‘I knew it was special, because you wouldn’t have all of those different disciplines in the same building. You wouldn’t have a ceramic next to a fine art next to woodwork and a clock restorer, you just wouldn’t have that.’

Jay left school at 15, and has set up a charity encouraging young people who struggle academically to get involved in practical jobs, such as restoration and craft.

He is also an ambassador for the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, which provides people with up to £18,000 in funding to study a traditional craft.

Jay previously lauded his co-stars for giving him the ‘confidence’ to speak about his dyslexia.

The special episode with King Charles was announced during The One Show on Tuesday, with the episode airing on October 26 at 8pm on BBC One.

The Repair Shop team will mend two precious items chosen by the monarch - a piece of pottery made for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and a 18th century clock. Pictured meeting the team of experts at the start of the video

The Repair Shop team will mend two precious items chosen by the monarch – a piece of pottery made for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and a 18th century clock. Pictured meeting the team of experts at the start of the video

In August 2021, Blades’ team, ceramics expert Kirsten Ramsay, horologist Steve Fletcher and furniture restorer Will Kirk were invited to Dumfries House in Scotland to meet the King, then the Prince of Wales, and learn about The Prince’s Foundation’s work in training the next generation of craftspeople.

Presenter Blades announced that Charles would appear on the episode on the One Show tonight and in a teaser clip from the programme, Blades and his team were seen chatting with the King.

‘We’re going to take these items to take a better look at them, and maybe you might join us at the barn,’ Jay told the sovereign.

‘I’ve got a barn, you’ve got a barn,’ the monarch joked. ‘We can have a barn dance.’

Blades cheekily said: ‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ to which the King replied: ‘oh, will you?’

Speaking of the sovereign, Jay told the One Show: ‘I think it’s fair to say that he is a fan of the show, and he does come down to the barn.

‘When you see King Charles in this show, you’re never going to see him like this, he was so relaxed, unbelievable, filming with him was such a joy, he was absolutely normal,’ he added.

The special episode of The Repair Shop will air on October 26 at 8pm on BBC One. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog