Lucy Alexander on being a self confessed shopaholic

Lucy Alexander

Lucy Alexander - Credit: Archant

TV property presenter and Hampshire Life columnist Lucy Alexander is aself-confessed shopaholic. Here she tells Viv Micklefield how filming a special Hampshire edition of The Celebrity Antiques Road Trip was right up her street.

“I really, really haggled. I’m a car dealer’s daughter, it’s in the blood,” laughs Lucy Alexander, recalling the balmy summer weekend spent touring the county’s southern reaches in search of bargain antiques. Yet, although she’s spent the past decade advising others on how to spot a money-making opportunity when investing in bricks and mortar, this was, definitely, a venture into unknown territory. “I grew up surrounded by antiques,” she reveals. “My mum and dad used to enjoy trawling around antique shops, but when I bought my own house I loved shopping in modern, contemporary stores.”

So with, one imagines, her London family home all glass and Italian leather, perhaps, it’s not surprising that Lucy’s first reaction on realising what she’d taken on is: “Oh Christ! I won’t be very good at this.”

Not that this stopped her from giving 100 per cent in a one-off edition of The Antiques Road Trip, the proceeds of which would go to the Children in Need appeal. And, it seems, this wasn’t the first time that Lucy, together with her regular Homes Under the Hammer co-presenter Martin Roberts, were pitched head-to-head for a good cause. “A couple of years ago we both did Ready, Steady, Cook! And he won, she tells me through gritted teeth. “So, when we were asked if we’d like to do this show, we both jumped at it.” Clearly this was a chance to redress the score.

In keeping with the show’s format, the challenge saw each of them paired with one of Britain’s leading antiques experts. Unleashed into a world where profit can sometimes be found in the unlikeliest of places, both teams had up to £250 to spend on items which would later be sold in five separate lots at public auction. With just forty-eight hours to complete the task, and a search area stretching from historic Portsmouth to the New Forest, the clock was ticking.

While Martin was accompanied by James Lewis, senior valuer at Bamfords Auctioneers, Lucy was aided and abetted by Dreweatts’ auctioneer James ‘Bingo’ Braxton, whom she instantly took to. “We got on like a house on fire. He was brilliant, a really good laugh,” she says. Adding: “I learnt so much from him.”

Lesson one, obviously, is to look for what will make money. Spurred on by James, to cut a deal straightaway, Lucy describes how her first foray into an antiques shop in years, started well: “I was drawn to some Victorian tins and trunks. We stacked the tins and they looked really good together so we bought four of these, as one of our items.” Flushed with a new-found confidence, next to be spotted was a 19th century rose sprayer designed to look like a bicycle pump. Another successful purchase clinched. Beginner’s luck perhaps, with a big dollop of charm thrown in too, but, not bad for a novice.

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And Lucy’s warming to the challenge: “We had a lovely lunch and then went all round the Hampshire countryside which was breath-taking; it was the most glorious day and so much fun compared with filming HUtH, when we’re under more pressure.” Having said this, riding along in a classic car on the open roads, brought its own challenges. By all accounts, the attempts to do a piece to camera with her long blond hair flapping in front of her face, caused great hilarity in the Alexander-Braxton camp. But even an unexpected mechanical issue – thank goodness for roadside assistance, failed to derail Lucy’s enthusiasm.

Back on the shopping spree, one particular painting caught James’s well-trained eye. But, whilst agreeing that her personal taste shouldn’t sway a savvy purchase, she took some convincing. “I said: ‘I wouldn’t hang THAT in my house,’ but, as the expert, he knew it would do well at auction.”

Lucy soon grasped that it’s worth spending time digging around for interesting items. On arrival at one shop, first impressions held little appeal. However, once invited to take a look ‘out back’ it was a real eye-opener. As she says: “It was a bit like going into one of those handbag shops in Thailand; in another area he had chairs, tables and other stunning pieces of furniture, it was great.”

Another dilemma for the would-be collector is whether to blow a large part of the budget on an expensive item, in the hope of a high-end return. Or, instead, focus on those in the middle to lower price bracket.

Despite having to curb her costs, Lucy, by her own admission, was in shopping heaven as soon as they stepped over the threshold of Ian Parminter’s Southsea emporium. It was an irresistible treasure-trove. But with her negotiating skills on high-alert, a French onyx clock was snapped-up for £50, half the asking price. And a three-arm candelabrum closely followed. “I took a bit of a gamble and I went on instinct, but my mentor James was happy,” she says proudly.

Unbeknown to Lucy, over on the other team, there were some surprising discoveries in store at a specialist militaria shop. A bit of a kleptomaniac when it comes to collectibles – James’ passion is old scientific instruments and anything quirky, Martin too was in his element. Amongst the items with a recognised local provenance was a sketch by Victorian naval artist WL Wyllie, a snip at £5, and a cast iron ship’s gimbal, once used as a candle holder.

While Martin had another chance to take a peek into Hampshire’s heritage at Portsmouth City Museum, Lucy took a tour of Beaulieu House, ahead of the big pre-auction reveal.

With part one of this challenge behind them, Martin’s left in little doubt as to who’s already claiming the upper hand. “Although we present the same show, we don’t get to work together very often,” he later observes. “I didn’t realise how fiercely competitive Lucy is. She was there to win!”

So, what happened at the auction? “It was very different from a property sale,” Lucy explains. “For one thing, you’re not dealing with such big prices. And it’s a lot quicker. We both really enjoyed it.” Several weeks later, amid scenes of lively bidding, first-timers Lucy and Martin were joined once again by the two James’s at a packed Lincoln saleroom. For all of four of them it was still touch and go, as to who’d have the final bragging rights.

While there were wins and losses on the day, happily both the clock and the sketch delivered a tidy profit. Bidding over, how pleased was Martin’s opponent? “She was smugger than the smuggest person in smugland!” is his final comment. No guessing the overall winner then.

The result aside, has the whole experience changed Lucy’s views about antiques? “Absolutely,” she replies. “I always thought I preferred new things but some antiques shops are just wonderful places. They’re not full of ‘boring grandfather clocks and dusty Toby jugs,’ they’re great places to shop, and I love the sense of history.

“I love the whole recycling thing as well. Now that I’ve seen what you can buy in an antiques shop, I will definitely be going to a lot more.”

The Celebrity Antiques Road Trip featuring Lucy Alexander and Martin Roberts is an STV production for the BBC and will be available on BBC iPlayer at the time of press.