3:53pm Friday 24th January 2014
2013 was a busy year for David Harper, the Barnard Castle-based antiques expert who combines running his business with regular appearances on a trio of popular BBC shows. But, as he tells Stuart Laundy, he wouldn't have it any other way.
DAVID Harper has just taken delivery of 100 boxes of objects from a client in Staffordshire and is about to get rummaging.
They are a lifetime’s collection, but now Mr Harper has been asked to go through them all and place them in suitable auctions.
“Clients come from all over.
They see me on TV and they trust me,” he says.
Mr Harper has operated an antiques business in Barnard Castle for the past 15 or so years.
Born in Yarm, with much of of his childhood spent in Africa, he ended up in Barnard Castle via Florida.
“Dad loved Africa. He first went when he was in the Army and later he was managing director of a manufacturing company in central Africa.”
Mr Harper has two older brothers but he probably has his younger sister to thank for his success in the antiques business.
“In about 1996, because my sister was living in Florida, where she is a realtor (estate agent), we decided to give it a go – my mum and dad, wife and baby daughter upped and went and I opened an antiques shop there. I basically filled a container full of British antiques and took them over.”
It was to be a short-lived adventure.
“Much as we loved Florida, we missed this part of the country. Even in Africa, we would always be thinking of the dales,” he said.
“I sold all the stuff I had taken then bought a load of US antiques, shipped them back here and opened a shop on The Bank and we are still here – albeit in a different shop.”
Although he has maintained a lifelong interest in antiques, Mr Harper, 46, has dabbled in other enterprises.
“I have always been self-employed and just enjoy being in business.
“I have been involved in property, vintage cars, restoration, but antiques has always been the anchor.”
His first tentative footsteps into the world of broadcasting came via BBC Radio Tees.
“They were doing an outside broadcast from Barnard Castle and wanted someone to talk about the antiques shops in the town.
“I had never dreamt of doing anything like this and I didn’t sleep a wink the night before. I was so nervous I felt physically sick.
“I sat down with the producer and presenter, put the headphones on and I was talking to people as if I was on the phone – only it was going out live to thousands of people.”
That 20-minute spot on a local radio station changed his life. He got back in touch with Radio Tees, along with other local BBC stations across the North and appeared regularly for the next four years.
“I loved it – it was such a buzz,” he says.
As a result of his radio work, Mr Harper was beginning to get known at the BBC and when he heard a new programme called Cash in the Attic was being made, he rang the producers.
“They did not need me on screen but asked me to do some off-screen valuations.”
While doing this, he asked if he could be filmed, just to see what it was like.
“They filmed me talking about some objects.”
About 18 months later, he was contacted by the producers of a new Channel 4 programme being planned called Natural Born Dealers.
“They asked if I would do a screen test and sent a director up from London. I had to talk about myself to camera.”
The feedback was interesting, to say the least.
“I was told I had to smarten myself up, shave my head, put on false tan, get my eyebrows plucked, shave my beard and put on a jacket!”
The programme was commissioned and after a second screen test, Mr Harper was told he should grow his beard back – but lose some weight.
“Natural Born Dealers was me taking two teams to auction, giving them some money and advising them what to buy and how to sell it. It was Channel 4’s first foray into antiques.
“Unfortunately, it went out at the same time as Noel Edmonds’ Deal or No Deal and that really took off.
“Once I heard Deal or No Deal had scuppered Natural Born Dealers, I started doing Bargain Hunt for the BBC and the others seemed to follow.”
The others in question are Antiques Road Trip and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. He filmed his final Bargain Hunt of the year earlier this month and now has a break before more TV work starts in March.
With filming schedules fitting in well with running his business, he hopes to remain a member of the television antiques world for some time yet.
“I am incredibly lucky and I don’t take it for granted. I will never get tired of doing the television programmes,”
he says. “When I am out and about, people think you are just a TV presenter and that’s it. They don’t realise the majority of time is spent on the business.
“I might spend 15 days filming and five to seven days’ travelling – so 22 days will make a series. This allows plenty of time to work on things back in Barnard Castle.
I chose Barnard Castle because I wanted to be near other antiques shops. You need to be among other shops and galleries as this brings people to the area.
On your own, you will struggle.”
Ironically, Mr Harper says his business has now gone beyond being a traditional antiques shop thanks to the increasing number of people who have asked him to sell items on their behalf.
“The business has evolved into an auction agency. The key is to find the right sale for the right object and make sure the buyers are there.
“The best businesses happen by accident and this did.
This is the future.”
As the business develops, Mr Harper relies on the help of just one person – assistant Sue Cholmondlely.
“I am not the most organised person in the world. My strength is finding things, talking about antiques and getting people to sell stuff.
“Sue is the organiser of the business and between us we can really make things happen.”
And with Mr Harper considering opening another office elsewhere in the country, Sue could be in for a busy 2014.
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