BBC Repair Shop star Jay Blades has revealed his secret life of homelessness, fights and living with racial abuse.
Jay‘s mum Barbara Blades moved to the UK when she was 13 from Barbados and raised him and his siblings on her own, after having Jay when she was just 18.
She was living with her mother at the time who had an unpleasant man in her life, and when he heard that Barbara was unmarried and pregnant he kicked her out of the house.
The star, now 51, revealed his first home as a baby ended up being a refuge for homeless mothers.
Though he had a strict upbringing in Islington, North London, Jay found himself in trouble at school when a gang of older white boys began picking on him and his Indian friend.
He explained: “After one particularly bad beating, my mum saw me in tears. I told her a bigger boy hit me, and she stared at me: ‘Well, why didn’t you hit him first?’
“From then on, if anyone wanted a fight, I was going to give them one. If anyone pushed me, spouted racist words or bullied my friends, I was going to have them — no question, no quarter.
“Highbury Grove split every year into three streams. I was in the ‘L’ class — L for learner, L for loser, L for licensed anarchy. I didn’t learn a single thing and didn’t expect to. The only reasons I turned up at school were to fight and get a free dinner.”
By the end of his time at school, having achieved U grades in every subject, Jay was told he was “going to amount to nothing” by a careers’ advisor.
Within a few years he became a dad with first son Levi but ended up on the streets after falling out with the mother of his child.
While living at a Salvation Army hostel for the homeless Jay’s dad got in touch and revealed he had 24 siblings.
Writing in new book Making It: How Love, Kindness And Community Helped Me Repair My Life, which has been serialised in The Mail On Sunday, he said: “He encouraged me to start volunteering for a Christian-run charity and homeless hostel in Oxford called the Cyrenians.
“In exchange for my help, they’d put a roof over my head and feed me. I’ve always been a glass-half-full sort of bloke, so I thought: ‘Sure, why not?’
“If I am honest, I didn’t have the first idea what I was volunteering for. I knew it was a homeless centre, and I’d stayed at a few, but this place was something else. It was a complete eye-opener and it blew my mind.
“This was a major step down from any homeless centre I had seen before. It was a hostel full of people, mostly older men, who had absolutely nothing — people who had given up on society, on family, on hygiene, on life. They had nothing, yet many were still able to have a laugh and a joke.
“I thought I had been doing badly and my life had been going wrong. Walking into Cyrenians gave me a whole new perspective. Compared with these poor guys, I was a king.”
Jay eventually went to university where he met first wife Jade, who he set up two charities with called Street Dreams and Out Of The Dark that helped young people failed by the education system.
He began teaching them how to restore furniture, which led to TV appearances on Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas, but at the same time his marriage to Jade was crumbling.
Jay realised he wasn’t in love with his wife, who said they couldn’t work together if they were no longer married.
He soon ended up homeless again and considered taking his life, after handing everything over to his wife, who he had daughter Zola with.
He said: “It was too much internal pressure to cope with and I couldn’t do it.
“One evening in April 2015, I just snapped. Something inside me broke. It was like an out-of-body experience. I watched myself walk past Jade and tell her: ‘I’m going.’ I had no idea where — I just got in my car, a battered old BMW that I loved, and started to drive.
“As I turned on to the M40, heading nowhere, I felt as if I was driving into a tunnel. The headlights from the cars coming the other way were the walls.
“I had half an idea to drive into one of the concrete bridge supports, but they had barriers around them. Instead, I turned off at a random slip road, parked in a retail centre’s car park and fell asleep in the driver’s seat.
“I don’t know how many days I stayed in that car park. Perhaps three. Possibly four. Maybe five. I ate burgers and sat at the wheel, doing nothing, feeling nothing.
“I’m not sure, but I think I must have got out of the car and walked around at some point, because I worked out I was in Wolverhampton — a city I had never visited, to which I had no connection at all.”
Jay went on to build his furniture restoration business there called Jay&Co.
His first TV appearance was alongside Kirstie Allsopp, but over the years he has had numerous stints on This Morning, as well as appearing on Money For Nothing and now The Repair Shop.
You’re Not Alone
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm