TV

Jay Blades lived on 'one tomato a day' as a struggling teen

'I was 19 and living in Luton. And I remember saying to myself, OK, I've got five tomatoes, they're gonna last me for the whole week.'

Jay Blades on The Repair Shop. Image credit: Steve Peskett / Ricochet Ltd

Jay Blades on The Repair Shop. Image credit: Steve Peskett / Ricochet Ltd

Jay Blades is best known as a successful television presenter appearing on shows including The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing, but he is a man of humble beginnings. 

The furniture restorer, up-cycler and eco-designer, who describes himself as “passionate about sustainability and the environment“, had no formal training and left school at 15 with no qualifications. 

And in a new interview with The Big Issue, Blades revealed how he struggled through his late teens and couldn’t afford food.

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“I was 19 and living in Luton. And I remember saying to myself, OK, I’ve got five tomatoes, they’re gonna last me for the whole week. I can have a quarter of a tomato for breakfast, a quarter for lunch, and a full half for dinner,” he said.

“On the fourth day that week I got a job in McDonald’s but I got sacked after about three days because I ate too many burgers while I was working. That was a really low point. I’d like to go back and tell myself it’ll get better than that.” 

Writing to his younger self for The Big Issue’s regular feature, Blades said he also experienced racism from an early age, something he didn’t fully understand at the time.

“I suffered a lot of racism in secondary school. I went to a school that was predominantly white, and I was one of the first wave of black kids. I got called loads of different names and I didn’t know what they meant,” he explained.

“I grew up in Hackney, and I didn’t see racism there at all. We had black, white, Asian, everything. What we had in common was that we were poor, and that was it. So when I went to school and got these names I thought they were names of endearment. 

“I would go back to my community and use those names and the older people said, why are you calling me that? And I said, well, that’s what they call me at school. And they said, no, no, that’s a bad name, that’s a racist name. They’re taking the piss out of you.” 

Blades, who is set to release a new book in May and has revealed he is filming a new series of The Repair Shop, also spoke about being dyslexic, and said teachers told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. 

“People with dyslexia have a way of processing things. They sometimes don’t take well to authority,” he added.

“They’re very creative and they’re very good with emotional intelligence, they can read people very well. But I didn’t know I was dyslexic in school, I was just told I was dumb.

“I still remember my session with the careers teacher. Everybody went in, one after another, and they’d say, I want to be a fireman, and the teacher would say, get this qualification and get your fitness levels up, stuff like that.

“I sat down and my teacher said, there’s no point you sitting here Blades, because really, truly, you’re going to amount to nothing. And that was it.”

Read more from Jay Blades on The Repair Shop’s role in repairing communities, working in factories as a young man and how one ‘magical’ memory came flooding back in this week’s Big Issue, available through our online shop.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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