The Forum talks with John Cameron


John Cameron has an easy, friendly manor and is extremely grounded. He currently appears as an expert presenter on BBC’s popular antiques show Bargain Hunt as well as Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and Cash in the Attic.

Born in Portsmouth he attended City of Portsmouth School for Boys in Hilsea.
“Growing up on an estate in Portsmouth during the seventies was quite tough, I was frequently in trouble at school and completely wasted my opportunities, however, I was very fortunate to be saved- literally saved – by an amazing teacher who took me under his wing.”

“Harry Bourne was a woodwork teacher at the school and also ran the Portsmouth and Hampshire Junior Football teams. Harry got me interested in carpentry and eventually at the end of my school career got me an apprenticeship as a carpenter joiner with an old established local firm Barnes and Elliott where he himself had started as an apprentice before his National Service. To supplement my low weekly apprentice wage of £27.50 I helped my Grandfather on the family fruit & veg market stall in Portsmouth’s Charlotte Street. My Grandfather was also interested in antiques and spent a lot of time buying and selling furniture, clocks, porcelain and other interesting old items. Stripped and waxed antique pine furniture was very fashionable at the time so utilizing both my grandfather’s contacts and my carpentry skills I purchased a dip ‘n’ strip tank and set about buying, restoring and reselling antique pine.”

“In my early 20s I was diagnosed with a prolapse disc in my back and was advised by the consultant surgeon to consider a less physical career than my current one unloading timber lorries at Barnes & Elliott, fruit and veg down the market or lumpy pieces of furniture in my workshop. I sought the advice of the local careers office who suggested a diploma course in antique restoration at West Dean College, however this wasn’t financially viable so instead I enrolled on a Degree course in Fine Art Valuation at Solent University in Southampton. This was the only course of its kind in Europe at that time.”

How did John find himself on television?
“Whilst studying for my degree I worked as an unpaid intern with DM Nesbit & Co, a well established firm of estate agents & antique auctioneers in Southsea. I joined them full time after graduating, having worked first for a year at the Salisbury firm of Woolley & Wallis. In 2004 the BBC came to Nesbits to film an episode of the new series ‘Cash in the Attic’ and, as luck would have it, they were also looking for a new valuation expert presenter for their team. So I did a screen test, got the job and filmed over 150 episodes working alongside household names like Gloria Hunniford & Angela Rippon. This led to a second opportunity to film BBC’S Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is and on to ‘Bargain Hunt” joining the team in 2014. I have gone full circle really, having left Nesbits in 2004 to start a valuation business and focus on TV opportunities I re-joined the firm as managing director in 2014, so I’m back where I started out!”

“It’s great fun but hard work. We film four episodes back to back over three days, juggling the blue teams and the red teams, it’s all done at quite a pace!”

So when John isn’t filming where does he like to go in Hampshire?
“I love being by the sea, so Southsea and Hayling Island are very close to my heart. Some friends have recently refurbished and relaunched a restaurant in Southsea called Beckets that has proved extremely popular with people of all ages and my wife and I have a real fondness for the Chewton Glen near New Milton.”

“To me a chef is like an artist and the craft of cooking is an art, no doubt about it. I believe art should stimulate one of the senses, art the eyes, music the ears and food the nose and palette. I never get star struck but when we filmed Celebrity cash in the Attic with Antonio Carlucchio and Mary Berry I Just thought wow, and pinched myself!”

With such a depth of knowledge, does John have a favourite period of artist history?
“Oh, definitely the 20th Century! The whole idea of ripping up the rulebook and starting again. Picasso is a prime example, he was a fabulous draftsman in the classical academic style but diversified into what we now know him for, we wouldn’t even talk about him if he hadn’t. Then there is the modernist movement of the Bauhaus School, utilizing new materials in furniture design such as tubular steel, plastics and bent plywood for example. Just such an incredible time in the fine and decorative arts.”

“My area of specialty is Militaria, particularly Naval.
It’s not so much the item but the story behind it that interests me. For example, I have a hardwood pulley-block from the original HMS Invincible which sank in the Solent in 1758. Made by the French, she was originally called L’Invincibelle,’ and subsequently captured by the British. She influenced British ship building, and by the time of Trafalgar in 1805 around 85% of our fleet were designed on her lines. The pulley-block isn’t that aesthetically pleasing to look at, but when you consider her history it is amazing!”

Does John have a prized procession or something he can’t live without?
“Well yes, obviously my family. My wife and I met when I was just 16, we now have three grown-up children aged 30, 24 and 20, and two granddaughters aged 8 and 6. I’m passionate about vintage vehicles so my 1968 Lambretta and my 1968 Volvo Amazon car because the latter was owned from new by my mentor and woodwork teacher Harry Bourne. I used to ask him ‘when will you sell me that car sir?’ and he would reply ‘get in the queue son!’ Then one day he said ‘If you want the car, you’re at the front of the queue’. It’s such a privilege to own it. Harry literally saved me from the wrong side of the street and to this day we are firm friends, he is eighty- six now and it’s my turn to look after him and his lovely wife Joan.”

“Also the surprising finds we have at Nesbits, for example, you just never know what will come through the door. A Rolex Submariner watch we sold for £50,000, a Queen Victoria naval medal for £25,000 and a gilded copper Buddha that recently sold for £47,500.”

When John is not working at Nesbits and appearing on television he has another commitment close to his heart- The Princes Trust.
“I feel a real affinity with the work of The Prince’s Trust. Growing up, I was a kid who could have easily followed the wrong path. The Prince’s Trust provides invaluable support for many youngsters who have had such a tough time, offering them the chance of a new future. I first became involved when I was invited to be the auctioneer at a Princes Trust event at the Savoy, it turned out to be one of the Trusts most successful fundraisers. Since then I acted for their as auctioneer and have been made a Celebrity Ambassador for the Trust. It’s an honor and a privilege to work for them.”

Successful in all areas, John Cameron is certainly an inspirational figure.