Andy McConnell, the entertaining glass specialist from Antiques Roadshow, is giving a talk in St Leonards next month to raise funds for Sussex Wildlife Trust’s new Discovery Centre at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
Andy is local, he lives in Winchelsea, and the talk is taking place in the Masonic Hall in St Leonards on July 12th, just a few days after an edition of the Antiques Roadshow is being filmed at Battle Abbey.
Andy recently spoke to Emma Chaplin of Sussex Wildlife about living and working in this area, about why he is passionate about fundraising for Sussex Wildlife and what people can expect to hear when he delivers his talk next month.
Most people know Andy as the Antiques Roadshow’s hugely entertaining glass specialist but he’s also a regular visitor to the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.
When he was asked what he likes about living in Winchelsea Beach he said: “It’s a mini-paradise, five minutes from Rye, near to Hastings 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.”
He sees being able to fundraise for Sussex Wildlife as ‘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 unforgiveable that we’ve not done more. We’ve seen an escalation in accumulation, without governments caring about the impact of it.”
Andy says entertainment is going to be his top priority on July 12th: “Most of the show is true,” he says, “…although I have been known to ham it up. Just a bit!”
He knows the 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,” he says.
So what led the boy charging round the forest covered in mud to develop 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,” he says.
Of course Andy’s fame on the programme has come about through his specialist knowledge of glass and he believes glass, ‘is the most important substance created by mankind’.
“Where would we be without lenses?” he asks. “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.”
His shop 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.”
Andy moved to Rye in 1976 after working as a rock journalist in Hollywood. He was phoned out of the blue by the manager of Jefferson Starship who invited him 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, I 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.
“My TV persona is weird, it beams out and people connect. It’s flattering.”
Andy says Antiques Roadshow has the largest viewing figures of any BBC programme on a Sunday night except for David Attenborough: “It’s got 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.”
But it can be hard to have a private life: “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 the 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?”
- Event details
- An Evening with Andy McConnell, is on Friday July 12th from 7pm until 10pm, in the Masonic Hall, East Ascent, St Leonards-on-Sea. Bring your own glassware for Andy to appraise after the talk.
- Tickets £10 www.eventbrite.com/e/andy-mcconnell-tickets-60270646125
- About the Discovery Centre at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve
- Anyone interested in learning more about the Discovery Centre can request a monthly newsletter to keep them posted about build news, sightings of some of the outstanding wildlife at the reserve, and ways to donate to the Appeal.
- Visit the website ryeharbourdiscoverycentre.org.uk
- The Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve is a charity whose 2,000 members support the Nature Reserve’s work through subscriptions and volunteering. Since 1973, it has part-funded the cost of staff, land purchase, large scale habitat creation, tools, vehicles and visitor facilities such as birdwatching hides and information centres. It provides events for its members throughout the year.