The Bargain Hunt presenter, 75, on his legendary colour, wheeling and dealing in his childhood, and why he’s not ready to retire just yet…
David Dickinson is ambling his way across his living room, a mug of steaming tea in each hand. He may well be famous for his extensive antiques knowledge and his cult following – equal part grannies and daytime-telly-watching students – but
for most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of David is that tan!
"The funny thing is," he says, handing me one of the cups of tea, "I’ve done adverts for tea, beer, McDonald’s… but I’ve never been asked to do a tanning advert. I’d definitely say yes."
We’re not so sure that David’s somewhat atomic glow is something people will aspire to. Although to be fair, in real life he’s less of a Wotsity hue, and more a perfect match for the well-brewed cuppa in my hand. But he’s warming to the subject, so it’s best to let him roll…
"I was on Big Star, Little Star recently with my grandson, and the presenter was angling to get him to say what sort of tanning products I use," he says, sipping his skin-tone tea. "Jonathan Ross calls me the orange man. But I’ve got olive skin from my Armenian heritage, and my real secret is getting as many holidays in as I can."
His wife of 47 years, Lourne, lets out a squeal from the sofa, where she’s been nodding along enthusiastically.
"He’s an absolute sun worshipper. I wheel him out in the morning, and he just lies here like this…" she mimes David supine on a sun lounger, mouth agog and arms limp by his side.
Hmmm. Can it be true? Or is his bathroom bursting at the seams with bottles of St Tropez? There’s only one way to find out, and we ask to pop to the loo. David guides me through to a library room, floor-to-ceiling with leather-bound tomes, taps a button
on a book and a secret door pops out. There’s no fake bake here, but it’s clear we’ve underestimated this man – who knows what else is hidden behind secret doors.
Naturally, David’s house, a converted barn in Cheshire, is packed to the rafters with bobby dazzlers: a huge ceremonial sword above the fireplace, a snow leopard rug on the floor, big twee paintings of girls in pink bonnets, and photos of a younger David with a magnificent black mullet alongside his glamour-puss wife in her cabaret singing days.
Enter a little TV show called Bargain Hunt and David was catapulted to stardom. The viewing figures crept up until they overtook This Morning as the most watched daytime TV show. Suddenly, David had an overwhelming number of fans, receiving up to a thousand letters a week at one point. The show was popular with students because ‘it was on at the time they fell about of bed’.
Nowadays, David can’t get on an aeroplane to one of his tan-top-up holidays without someone yelling, 'You won’t get any bargains here!’ He’s even (sort of) healed the sick."We were in Barbados last week," he says, running a hand through his demi-mullet, "when a man came over a bit gingerly and said that I was his idol. He’d been in a serious industrial accident and said it was because of me he’d got better. He was lying there under sedation, then I popped up on the telly all, “Hello, how are you?”’ David pauses to wave manically and grin like the Cheshire Cat. ‘Apparently, I was giving him the message that he was going to beat the illness. Of course, I wasn’t really, but he believed it."
Lourne, who has been rummaging in kitchen cupboards, is making her way back with a plate of choccy biscuits. She nods seriously as she places them on the coffee table.
"He has a lot of big fans," she says. "He was doing the shopping in Marks & Spencer’s recently, and women kept banging their trolleys into his to get his attention!"
David sips more tea thoughtfully. "Sometimes you go on holiday and you’re on a beach in the middle of nowhere, and someone comes along and goes, 'Well, what are you doing here?'" he mimes an OTT double-take. "And you think, 'P*ss off!'"
He’s now back in the limelight with a new antiques-themed gameshow, Name Your Price. But before his rise to fame, David tells us that life wasn’t always so easy. Adopted as a baby, David grew up in a family where money was tight.
"Coming from a working-class background has helped keep me down-to-earth," he says. "I remember well not having any money, but now I’m older and I’ve got a foot in both camps. I’ve been very lucky all my life, always making money… Maybe I’ve got natural trading ability within my DNA. By the age of 14, I was buying wheels and selling them to other kids for their go-karts."
It’s this start in life that colours his attitude to some troublesome children from a local estate. One young boy smashed one of David’s windows, and, furious, he rang the police. But by the time the police got there, he’d cooled off and thought, ‘What the hell am I doing?’
Instead, David enlisted him to help in the garden. "I got to know him during that time, and I gave him a bike that my son didn’t seem to care much about. The kid couldn’t believe it, it was like he’d met God and God had said, 'Here, have this.'"
David and Lourne have their own children, Rob and Katrina, both in their 50s, and they are doting grandparents to three grandkids.
David has already said (twice) that he can’t talk for long today, as they’re busy packing for a trip to Malaga (obviously). But here’s a man who likes a chat, particularly if it involves as many diverse and lengthy tangents as possible.
The conversation swings wildly from the time his son was a chef on a cruise ship (‘The obese Americans were rattling the buffet hall doors at one minute to midnight, desperate to get in!’) to what he thinks of foreign aid (‘The African leaders are over here buying crocodile-skin shoes on Bond Street while the rest of them starve!’), and the wealthy Saudi business partner who’d arrive for dinner bearing extravagant gifts (‘He’d come with a set of crystal glasses and embroidered towels, and I’d say, “Christ, Iman, can you stop this? We’re having fish and chips!”’).
But all those miniature tanning oils won’t pack themselves, so eventually it’s time for us to leave. At 75, David’s not getting any younger, but with the rate he holidays and appears on our screens, he’s showing no sign of slowing.
"At the moment I feel fit and active. I enjoy what I do and I’m obviously well paid, so it would be silly to stop. But fame is a fickle friend," he says, leaning back in his tapestry throne. "However, if you’d asked me that question 20 years ago, I would have said the same thing – and the work just keeps coming."
Glad to hear it, David. We don’t know where we’d be without our regular dose of tantastic antiques.David on his new show Name Your Price...
"This show is a classic gameshow with antiques thrown in. I scoured the country for really unusual and interesting items. I tell the story of the valuable item, along with a couple of made-up stories about some cheap-as-chips items. The contestants then have to guess the bobby dazzler from the duds to win a big cash prize."How does David spend his Sunday?
How did you spend last Sunday?
We were at home, sitting in the sunshine with a glass of something nice.
Gym day or lazy day?
When I was going to the jungle for I’m A Celeb…, I did about a month at the gym to get ready. Now people ask, ‘Are you a member of a keep fit gym?’ and I say no. Now I tell Lourne, ‘That’s my gym [points to the neatly-mown lawn].’
Running errands or pampering?
I don’t have a to-do list, but I know what needs doing. Lourne lets me think I’m the master of my own home… Any girls who know what they’re doing let their man think they’re in charge, but we know we’re not really.
Hungover or fresh as a daisy?
We have a nice glass of wine or a cocktail on the weekend, although sometimes we say we won’t drink anything for a few days. It’s too easy to drink every night when you open the bottle.
Lazy lie-in or up with the lark?