TV presenter Jonnie Irwin is escaping to Yorkshire for the county’s residential property awards. Sharon Dale reports
With bags of confidence, boyish good looks and a winning personality Jonnie Irwin and TV presenting go together like bricks and mortar.
He has just celebrated ten years on the small screen fronting two of the nation’s favourite property programmes: A Place In The Sun and Escape To The Country. His longevity is thanks to his likeability and to firm foundations. He isn’t just a front man with a script, he has a degree in estate management and is a surveyor who really knows his stuff. He also has a genuine passion for property.
Growing up on a small farm in Leicestershire, he was no stranger to building sites, as his father was a developer. He later worked for property agency Christie’s before being tempted by telly. Most of his spare time at the moment is also property related thanks to the latest in a series of renovations. His new home in Highgate, north London, is only partially habitable, which his girlfriend is less than happy with.
“I’m not bothered by all the muck that comes with it but my partner isn’t so keen,” says Jonnie. This is his fifth project. He bought his first house in Birmingham in his early 20s and has leapt up the property ladder via a series of “do’er uppers” in London.
“I enjoy it and I’m lucky that I can immediately see potential in a place and I know just how I am going to do it. Renovating is a good way of moving up the property ladder,” he says.
The capital is the obvious base for work, which takes him all over the country and beyond. His filming schedule is interspersed with property consultancy and after-dinner speaking. He’s just agreed to present the Yorkshire Residential Property Awards on October 8. The prestigious event is designed to celebrate the industry’s successes while raising money for Variety, the children’s charity.
“I am a freelance TV presenter and I am very aware of the self-employed nature of the job so it’s important to have other skills. I like to keep my hand in with property consultancy, which I love. My previous job was buying and selling small to medium sized businesses and now I advise on both commercial and residential property.”
He also has a TV format company that comes up with ideas for new shows, which included a series for Sky called ‘Dream Lives for Sale’, which was about helping people buy a lifestyle business.
“I’d like to do something like that again because I think a lot of people get to 50 and start thinking about buying a pub, gift shop or B&B in the country or by the coast. They want that mezzanine way of living, although they don’t always realise how hard that kind of work can be,” says Jonnie, who found his way into TV after a friend told him about a screen test for A Place In The Sun.
“I’d always fancied it and so I called but I just missed the deadline. I basically begged and they asked me to send a video in,” says Jonnie. He borrowed his mum’s camcorder and he and a friend went to a shopping centre where he was filmed quizzing shoppers about their Christmas buys. It worked and his TV career was launched. Although A Place In The Sun is a ratings winner, it has been eclipsed by Escape To The Country.
“I love it too because it’s about people who genuinely want to relocate and want a full-time home. For viewers there’s a voyeurism aspect. You get to know about other people’s lives and you get to have a nosey round beautiful homes in the country. It’s a snapshot of what life could be if we had the money and the ability to move somewhere rural,” he says.
His travels round the countryside have helped him keep a close eye on the property market nationwide. “In London, the market was crazy last year but it isn’t now. Last year agents sneered at you if you asked for a viewing. They were doing group viewings on a Friday and it was best and final offers by the following Tuesday. It’s not like that now. There is less demand and supply has stabilised. Elsewhere in the country, vendors are being more ambitious with prices.”
However, he advises against being over ambitious. “That’s still an issue and I think agents need to tell vendors the cold hard truth. A good agent will do that. If it hasn’t sold in six weeks it’s either over-priced or it’s haunted. “
One day he would like to escape to the country himself. “I want a period house on the edge of a big village with rail links back to London. There would be a pub, village green, duck pond and a cricket field,” he says, although gentle walks and unwinding probably won’t be on the agenda.
Relaxing isn’t something he does often. He plays cricket for the Lord’s Taverners charity and he enjoys snowboarding and cycling. Keeping his blood pumping could be one of the reasons he is the Peter Pan of property. It’s hard to believe he is 41. “It could be the cycling and the fact I have an immature state of mind. I still love pulling wheelies on my bike,” he says.
* For details on how to enter the Yorkshire Residential Property Awards, visit www.yorkshireresidential propertyawards.co.uk. The deadline is August 14 and the awards event is at the Queen’s Hotel, Leeds, on October 8 and raises funds for Variety. The categories include: Best Planning Practice; Best Architectural Practice; Best Innovation Project; Best Small Development (25 units and under): Best Large Development (over 25 units): Best Marketing Campaign; Best Agency (estat and/or lettings); Best Interior Design Project; Best Regeneration Project for Housing; Housebuilder of the Year; Personality of the Year.