A ‘natural born dealer’ happy in the driver’s seat
Barnard Castle-based antiques expert David Harper has been a familiar face on our television screens for more than 15 years, appearing on popular programmes such as Bargain Hunt, Antiques Road Trip and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. In addition to his TV work, he enjoys a second career as an artist, has a passion for vintage cars and in recent years has developed a one-man stage show and become an author. His latest venture sees him recording game shows for his YouTube channel.
What first sparked your interest in antiques – and was it always your intention to go into the trade?
As a child I was fascinated with history and objects from it, so I began by collecting broken bits of pottery and clay smoking pipes found in farmers fields and stamps, coins and old bottles given to me by family.
How did you first get involved in TV – were you an “overnight success” or was it something you had to work hard for?
I was on radio for four years before TV doing regular antique phone-ins on local BBC (unpaid) and I pitched myself forward to TV production companies.
Eventually, after a few years, I started working behind the screen valuing antiques for productions (again, an unpaid role). Then, in 2004 I landed my first paid job in the media, presenting a show on Channel 4 called Natural Born Dealers.
You have appeared in a number of antiques programmes. Do you have a favourite?
The Celebrity Antiques Road Trip is a favourite.
This is where I take a celebrity antiques shopping in a classic car for three days.
It is always fascinating to meet these celebs – the stories I get to hear are fascinating. However, I’m enjoying very much making my own productions on my YouTube Channel.
It’s only very small at the moment. I’m building my audience, but I love the freedom it gives me to experiment with antiques and classic car quizzes in particular.
You have also appeared in a number of “celebrity” episodes of these programmes. Who have you appeared alongside – and do you get starstruck?
I don’t get starstruck. I learnt a long time ago that celebrities are just normal people, who want to live a normal life.
The only difference between them and most other people is that viewers get to see them on TV doing their jobs, which in most cases they love doing.
I’ve met and worked with so many celebs now, that I couldn’t list them all, but they include everyone from Jimmy Osmond to The Duchess of Cornwall.
One event I go to every year is Giles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde birthday celebration at the Dorchester, in London.
It‘s effectively a huge room full of around 200 famous people.
I’ve never seen anyone there that isn’t instantly recognisable either from comedy, film, stage, TV or politics. It’s actually quite a bizarre scene.
What’s the attraction of classic cars?
Classic cars are art on wheels, so they’re no different to me than antiques.
I come from a family of classic car fans and I’ve been around them all my life. They’re just normal to me.
Your other passion is art, something you only relatively recently came back to after quite a long time. What prompted you to pick up you paint brush again?
Painting is my way of meditating. It’s the only time my brain stops thinking, plotting and planning, so I find it highly therapeutic.
I had a burning urge to paint about eight years ago and after dreaming constantly of painting, I began just for myself and for about a year, I locked myself away whenever I could and painted, sometimes all day and well into the night.
Then, an art dealer friend saw my work, liked it and put on an exhibition.
It’s a long story, but since then, my work has been sold to museums and collectors all over the world.
You have a distinctive style – how would you describe the way you paint?
Free, uninhibited and soul searching... each painting has a meaning to me and a reason for painting it.
Were you surprised by the response you have received to your art?
My first art exhibition was more nerve wracking that anything I’ve ever done in the media, including live TV.
You bare your soul for people to stare at and criticise, so it’s a very difficult thing and something that puts a lot of artists off from ever showing their work in public, which is a shame and a waste.
But, I’m used to being critiqued. Being on TV, you’re open to all sorts of comments and opinions, most kind and generous and some, of course not so much. It’s a price you pay
The lockdowns and restrictions in place since last March have severely affected your work. What's been keeping you busy?
I sat down and wrote my book A Romp With The Georgians, which is a funny look at our Georgian ancestors.
It was described as horrible histories for adults by one reviewer, which I was pleased with (book available from the Mercury!) and now I’m throwing myself at my YouTube channel, which is really rewarding and liberating
How did you find writing your book A Romp with the Georgians – and any plans to continue writing?
I loved it. A bit like painting, it allowed my brain to go somewhere else for a while!
What's next on the agenda – and given the continued uncertainty as a result of coronavirus, are you able to plan for the future?
I really want to do my own thing.
Whether that’s with a programme on TV or YouTube, I don’t mind.
But I would like to have more involvement in the format and development of a programme, less controls and being able to say and do what I want!
Where can people find out more about your work with antiques, classic cars, art and writing?
My YouTube channel David Harper TV or my website david-harper.uk.