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The antique hunter.

Byline: By Paul Martin

The interview hasn't even started and already Paul Martin is bartering.

But the enthusiastic presenter of BBC2's antiques show Flog It!, where contributors can win or lose their own money by selling their possessions at auction, isn't trying to buy anything at a knock-down price.

He's engaged himself in a sparring match over the length of the interview.

"How long will you need," he enquires politely.

"Fifteen to 20 minutes."

"Can we make it quicker?" he replies.

"Is 10 minutes all right?"

"Five would be better."

Paul isn't being rude. It's just he's a busy man with a lot on his rare James Giles-painted, Worcester scalloped- edged dessert plate.

Not only is he in the middle of recording a commentary in Bristol, but he's filming a new series of Flog It!, which will bring him to Durham City on Sunday.

The 42-year-old also has his own antiques shop specialising in 17th and 18th century English and Welsh oak furniture, in Marlborough, Wiltshire, to run.

As it turns out, Paul is happy to talk for a lot longer than five minutes.

And despite describing himself as a "private man," who is keen to keep himself, family and friends out of the news, he soon opens up.

Having pointed out that there are "some things best kept to oneself," he then volunteers that he has a girlfriend, that he's very much in love with her, and that her name's Charlotte.

Charlotte who? Just Charlotte. He's reluctant to be pushed any further on the topic.

Something he is keener to chat about is Flog It!, the show which has catapulted him into the national consciousness.

Created four years ago by the teams behind The Antiques Roadshow and Bargain Hunt, Paul has been at its helm since it started.

Like a lot of things that have happened in his life, his involvement with the show came about by chance.

Paul was `discovered' when he was interviewed about his passion for oak furniture by a team from BBC Bristol.

To that date, this was the extent of his television experience. But the team was impressed enough to sign him up to present Flog It!

It is just one of the many strange twists and turns his life has taken.

Born in Teddington, Middlesex, but raised in Truro, Cornwall, he was educated at Falmouth Grammar School before going on to study art and woodwork at the town's college.

A self-confessed "romantic man," who cares deeply about life and people, he is obsessed with beautiful furniture and on Flog It! is at his most eloquent when talking about the look, the feel and the smell of wood.

After graduating, he worked as a scenery painter on film sets at Pinewood Studios, including on a Bond movie.

"Then from about the age of 25, I had a pitch on London's famous Portobello Road and participated in various shop-share schemes," Paul explains.

"A girlfriend, who was a model, then got me into styling for magazines like Marie Claire and New Woman.

"At the same time I began undertaking larger projects by designing antique sets for television shoots for the Clothes Show and Granada TV."

He also has a few contemporary artistic bows to his arrows too. Paul enjoys drumming and in the early 1990s he was a session musician for rock bands such as The Choir Boys and the Dogs D'Armour.

To this day he says he can't put the drumsticks down and plays in local jazz and blues bands ( when he can find the time. Flog It! has changed his life.

From humble beginnings in BBC2's teatime slot, it has moved to the channel's peak early Saturday evening spot, and attracts audiences of more than three million.

Worldwide many more millions tune in to watch the programme. It is popular in Scandinavia, America, South Africa, Dubai, and has even been shown in Iraq.

"Somebody came up to me the other day, shook my hand, and said they had been watching Flog It! in Iraq. I couldn't believe it. It was heavily dubbed of course."

Paul's fame has built-up slowly over the past four years. And as he points out, Flog It! viewers are not the sort to run screaming after him.

He said: "The people that watch Flog It! are the sort who are very welcoming. They see me and they will say how much they enjoy the show. They aren't psychotics and they don't have a go at me.

"I'm sure for some famous people being pursued by fans must be awful. But the people who watch Flog It! are not over the top. They are very polite.

"And that is one of the reasons I love doing the show."

And some of the contributors have had fantastic results. A lady who inherited a small cream jug had it valued between pounds 300-pounds 500. It sold for pounds 1,300.

A Beatrix Potter enthusiast brought Peter Rabbit tea set to the Leeds valuation day and, because it had pieces missing it was only valued at around pounds 200. It sold for pounds 700.

Paul is hoping this weekend's Durham visit will produce equally good results.

He said: "I'm really looking forward to coming to Durham. I've heard it's a beautiful city so I'm very excited.

"We are expecting a lot of glass because the area is famous for it, but we also want people to bring in furniture. We like seeing furniture."

Or rather Paul loves seeing it.

Several times a month he and his German Shepherd Bluebell will head off into Wales searching for primitive country chairs, tables and beds.

On a typical trip Paul leaves his Wiltshire home at 4am.

When he gets lost or his car breaks down, it's his chance to meet colourful characters who, he says, "invariably greet me with hospitality and often become valuable contacts or trusted friends".

He said: "They are intrigued when they see my old Volvo estate loaded up with 18th Century oak furniture.

"My eyes really light up when I have to dig old bread and cheese cupboards covered in bird droppings out of old barns."

Flog It! will be holding its valuation day at Durham Castle on June 26 between 9.30am-4pm. People are invited to bring along antiques and collectables they are interested in selling. Once valued, the owner and the experts will decide whether it should go forward to the auction, which will be held on August 2 at Thomas Watson Auctioneers in Darlington.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 24, 2005
Words:1084
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