Most people know Andy McConnell as the BBC Antiques Roadshow’s hugely entertaining glass specialist whose shop in Rye is a fascinating treasure trove. Andy is a regular visitor to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. In July, he is giving a talk about his extraordinary life as a fundraising event for the new Rye Harbour Discovery Centre. Sussex Wildlife Trust Communications Officer Emma Chaplin went to speak to him.
What do you like about living in Winchelsea Beach?
It’s a mini-paradise, five minutes from Rye and just over an hour from London. It’s real, not plastic, grungy or urban. It’s beautiful, with nice weather. The Gulf Stream blows into my life through the front door and the air is fabulous.
Thank you for offering to fundraise for us.
It’s a pleasure and an honour. I hope I can put bums on seats. I set myself an annual target as a charity fundraiser in appreciation of how spoiled I’ve been in my life. I generally support humanitarian and environmental causes, the latter because we’re making such a mess of our precious world. We are losing species and it’s unforgivable that we’ve not done more. We’ve seen an escalation in accumulation, without governments caring about the impact of it.
What might we expect from your talk?
Entertainment will be my top priority. Most of the show is true, although I have been known to ham it up. Just a bit.
How well do you know Rye Harbour Nature Reserve?
Very well. I lived in Rye Harbour for years and could literally see it out the window. What Sussex Wildlife Trust has created over the years to support rare species’ habitats, is magnificent. I’ve always loved wildlife and the countryside. I was brought up yards from Epping Forest, and spent a childhood charging around the woodland getting covered in mud.
What led to an interest in antiques?
Mum and dad were part-time dealers. I found that I enjoyed visiting antique shops with them and was buying in Portobello Market from the age of 14. Any decent dealer loves an enthusiastic kid.
What do you like about glass?
I believe that glass is the most important substance created by mankind. Where would we be without lenses? Glass represents vanity, sophistication and civilisation. To decant wine is both urbane and civilised and it improves the taste, transforming a £5 bottle into an £8 one.
You’ve got a shop.
Yes, Glass Etc in Rye, the biggest glassware shop in Britain. It’s been going 12 years, you can have a cuppa, touch whatever you like on the shelves and get a refund if you change your mind.
What was your path to becoming a glass specialist?
I moved to Rye in 1976 after working as a rock journalist in Hollywood, California, and was phoned out of the blue by the manager of Jefferson Starship. He invited me on tour. When we were in Hamburg, I met an antique-shop owner, who asked me to source glassware for him. We worked together for 25 years until 2000. It was brilliant. After he retired, I started writing articles and books about glass. Then, in 2006, joined the Antiques Roadshow team, and I’ve been its glass specialist ever since. My style is looser than the other specialists. I don’t dress like an Edwardian undertaker, for instance, and don’t claim to know everything. I run a junk shop, not Sotheby’s.
Viewers love you on Antiques Roadshow.
My TV persona is weird, it beams out and people connect. It’s flattering. Antiques Roadshow has the largest viewing figures of any BBC programme except Attenborough. Loads more than Poldark and it costs a lot less to make. It’s really democratic, with rich folk queuing alongside everyone else, and everyone gets seen. We’re a team, led from the top by Fiona Bruce, who is a great presenter.
Is it hard to have a private life?
That’s a tricky one. I’m a private/public person and don’t always take it well when people point and stare, or poke. Airport queues can be awful. When I first joined Antiques Roadshow I knew it would herald the end of my boot-fair buying. And, sure enough, by the third season you could hear ‘Antiques Roadshow’ drop like a lead weight when people recognised me. But you can’t have everything in life, can you?
An Evening with Andy McConnell, Friday July 12, 7pm-10pm, the Masonic Hall, East Ascent, St Leonards-on-Sea. Bring your own glassware for Andy to appraise after the talk. Tickets £10 eventbrite.com/e/andy-mcconnell-tickets-60270646125
Image Credits: Steve O'Neil, Andy McConnell.