Flog It's Paul Martin on why he loves useful antiques - and exciting new holiday experiences
On Friday the popular presenter of Flog It! will cut the tape on this year's Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show. He tells Stephanie Bell why he's looking forward to another trip to Northern Ireland and how going vegan has given him a health boost
Television antiques expert Paul Martin is no stranger to Northern Ireland where his knowledge of all things old and valuable has unearthed some priceless gems over the years. And the star of Flog It! and new daytime show Make Me a Dealer can't wait to get back to Belfast this Friday when he will again mingle with local people as he helps launch the 2019 Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.
A love of travel - and a belief that we all should book the best holidays we can afford - has made him delighted to be part of our 27th annual show.
"I am really looking forward to coming to Belfast for Holiday World," he says. "I love my holidays and how you get to talk to new people and experience a new culture and new food. The world is so diverse and there are so many amazing places.
"People work so hard and I think everybody should travel if they can and spend as much as they can afford on the best holiday they can as it is quality that counts and you are making memories to last a lifetime.
"I am looking forward to picking people's brains about places I haven't been to. These events are very important for people to meet the experts and talk first-hand about the holidays.
"Personally, I would love to experience more eco-sustainable holidays where you get to meet locals and talk about the heritage and help keep the heritage alive."
It has been a momentous 12 months for the daytime TV star who turned 60 earlier this month - and 2019 is already shaping up to be more of the same.
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After 18 years as presenter of Flog It!, he recorded the last episode of the popular series in 2018 and started his new daytime show Make Me a Dealer.
Admitting to feeling worried when the BBC decided to pull the plug on Flog It!, Paul and his TV producer wife Charlotte put their heads together to come up with a new show which the BBC has commissioned.
Curiosity Shop, a studio-based quiz show naturally centred on antiques, begins filming in February for transmission before the summer.
He has also just finished filming a new series of Countryfile and published his first book, Paul Martin: My World of Antiques, which has raced up the bestseller list since its launch in November.
As well as navigating a busy time on the professional front, Paul has implemented big changes in his personal life too, taking the decision nine months ago to turn vegan for health reasons.
It is a lifestyle choice which he says has made him feel and look better than ever as he turns 60. "I feel fitter now than I ever did and it has a lot to do with going vegan and having a dairy-free, gluten-free diet. I do believe you are what you eat," he says.
"I work hard and I eat well. To me, 60 is just a number and I feel very lucky to be busy. I am not one to sit down and watch telly, I have to be constantly doing things.
"I got a rest at Christmas and even then I was decorating my daughter's bedroom and sorting things out at home. I don't go to the gym, but I keep active.
"I have also given up drinking although I will have the odd glass of good red wine to be sociable.
"Being vegan is so accessible now as so many shops sell gluten-free food and food suitable for vegans. I really do feel the benefits. I've lost a stone without dieting. It's a wonderful feeling to sit down and your stomach goes in instead of out.
"I've discovered gluten-free Hobnobs which I love and we still have the traditional full Sunday roast with gravy and Yorkshire pudding - only with a nut loaf - and it's great."
Family life for Paul, his wife Charlotte and two children, Dylan (9) and Meredith (7), is centred on an idyllic small-holding in a village called Seend in Wiltshire. A period cottage - which Paul admits is bursting with "useful" antiques - is set in 25 acres with a menagerie of animals including ponies, ducks, geese, a partridge, quails, three stray cats and three dogs. His land is used as a release site for hedgehogs and owls from a rescue centre.
Home reflects Paul's other big passion, which is for nature. It's an interest he also gets to indulge with his series Countryfile Diaries which is often filmed from his own land.
He says: "We are currently filming a new series at my home which has canal frontage and is surrounded by trees and is a bit of a zoo. I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my passion for nature and antiques with my work. It's not just a job - I am doing what I enjoy in life."
His love of antiques goes back to childhood when he was an avid collector. His mum was a graphic artist and his uncle was an antique dealer and as a boy he gained an appreciation of art and history. He went on to study art and woodwork at Falmouth College of Art and after graduating got a job with Pinewood Studios as a scenic painter on film sets.
Paul started to trade in antiques and had a pitch on London's Portobello Road by the age of 25.
His first TV break came when he was discovered by a team from BBC Bristol who had interviewed him about his love of oak furniture.
From there, he was signed up to present Flog It!, going on to a record 1,300 episodes over the next 18 years, travelling the length and breadth of the country with his production crew.
Although the very last series has been recorded, it hasn't left our TV screens and will continue to run this year alongside Make Me a Dealer, in which he also travels the country in search of a new generation of moneymaking antique dealers.
The show sees wannabe antiques and collectable dealers given the chance to learn the tricks of the trade, and each episode features two amateur enthusiasts competing to buy items at auction.
Under Paul's guidance, the aim is to sell the items on to make a profit, but the risks are high, as each contributor invests their own money.
Flog It! gave members of the public the chance to have their antique items appraised by experts before being given the option to sell them at auction.
Sad to see it go, Paul says he is just grateful that it lasted as long as it did. "I expected it to end 15 years ago. I just thought 'this can't last as it is such a good thing and all good things come to an end'," he adds.
"I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity for as long as I did. We recorded 60 Flog Its! last year and I feel grateful that I now have two new shows.
"Make Me a Dealer is already in the top five of the daytime shows and I am looking forward to starting filming Curiosity Shop next month.
"After the decision to end Flog It! I did think I needed to reinvent myself and my wife and I wrote Curiosity Shop and pitched it to the BBC.
"It is a quiz show, a bit like The Crystal Maze meets Four Rooms, where people are set tasks and they have to go into different rooms which are all themed around different centuries and there is big prize money.
"We will be filming all of next month and my co-host will be my Bassett Hound Baxter - it's going to be great having him on telly with me. It is a very quick turnaround as the show is due to go out just after April."
It is no surprise that his love of antiques carries on into his own life, but while he can't resist a bargain he insists he only buys antiques that he can use in his daily life.
"I live and breathe it and my house is full of antiques but I buy things that you can touch and use on an everyday basis.
"Antiques bring a piece of history into your life. To me, they have no pretence, they are things which have been made with love and handed down through the generations and will outlast me and be enjoyed by my children. There is nothing 'greener' than antiques. They are the ultimate in recycling."
His expertise and experience has been poured into his first book, My World of Antiques: collect, buy and sell everyday antiques like an expert, which was published in November.
The book charts his experiences touring the country over the last 10 years with his TV shows and he describes it as a "must-have" for anyone who enjoys antiques.
Indeed, he has also offered to autograph copies during his visit here for the Belfast Telegraph Holiday World Show.
He adds: "I've been to Northern Ireland many times over the years to the auction rooms and also touring and at one point I got to make a spade in a lovely old spade forgery run by the National Trust.
"It has been great to see the changes in Belfast in the last 18 years. I love the Cathedral Quarter and its cafes and bars and the city has a great deal going for it. It is a very vibrant place full of energy and I can't wait to come back for Holiday World and meet everyone again."