What I learnt from appearing on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip - David Blunkett

David Cameron is back in government as Foreign Secretary; the Penistone line from Huddersfield is going to be upgraded – hurrah. The so-called Autumn Statement has come and gone, and the world continues to be a frightening place.

I thought, therefore, for this column leading up to Christmas, I might try and bring a bit of cheer. Yes, it is very personal, so forgive me.

It’s all about two people born and brought up in Yorkshire who love our historic county. One of them is Doncaster born Lesley Garrett, a soprano who made her name through opera. Her dad was a Head Teacher in my former Brightside constituency.

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What’s more, she's married to a retired GP, and so am I. What more natural, therefore, that we should partner to take on BBC2’s Celebrity Antiques Road Trip?

David Blunkett appeared on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip earlier this week.  PIC: Ian Waldie/Getty ImagesDavid Blunkett appeared on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip earlier this week.  PIC: Ian Waldie/Getty Images
David Blunkett appeared on Celebrity Antiques Road Trip earlier this week. PIC: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

I only agreed to do it if the person I was partnered with was someone I respected, and who would be a damn good laugh. Lesley Garrett was just that person.

Both of us wanted the producers to shoot the programme in South Yorkshire, but as is so often the case, those from the South (and some of the team were from Scotland) had really only heard of West Yorkshire, which actually turned out to be North Yorkshire.

Regardless, we both thought this was a great opportunity to promote our region. To demonstrate the variety, culture and the countryside, including the tourist attractions, like the oldest sweet shop in the world, in Pateley Bridge. Here, with my guide dog, Barley, I asked the proprietor to pull down a rather large jar of, yes, barley sugars. The dog took a hefty sniff.

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Meanwhile, Lesley made fudge – something which, as a politician, I should be very familiar with. If I'm honest, I've tasted better.

We visited Ripley Castle, with its terrific history of local “bigwigs" and Members of Parliament, including one who was lucky to escape with his life having been associated with Guy Fawkes' plot to blow up Parliament.

As readers might know, the main thrust of the whole programme is to see how much antiquity, or even something akin to junk, you can buy for £400 and then auction at the end of the programme.

It must be said that neither of us were very good at it. We each had an antiques expert with us who advised us on what was genuinely worth something, and what was junk. That could not override what took our fancy. We were both, at one point or another, enamoured with something that meant nothing to anyone else except ourselves.

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Because I'm from Sheffield, I was taken with anything that involved silverware, although I did forego buying a canteen of cutlery because, frankly, it was only finished, not made, in Sheffield.

My best buy, as it turned out at auction, was a carved wooden plate with the famous hallmark of “mouse man". Not from Sheffield but, hey, York is good enough, isn’t it?

Throughout filming, there were some bizarre incidents.

At the end of a long day we had just sat down to a meal when I received a phone call to say that two minutes earlier Boris Johnson had announced his final hurrah from the House of Commons. I had an extra glass of wine.

On another occasion we were in what I would describe as an emporium, looking to spend our final few pounds; but what sticks in my memory is that, on that very sunny final afternoon, a hundred or so York residents (presumably protesting about climate change) cycled past – completely starkers.

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This is one of those occasions when not being able to see is either a massive plus, or great disadvantage – depending on your point of view.

I think, on the whole, the former.

So, to the auction just south of Leeds. And with an audience more interested in anything except those wonderful purchases that Lesley and I had spent so much time mulling over.

These days, auctions are mostly conducted online, so having any audience at all was a plus. But sadly, neither of us did very well. The fact that I did slightly better in terms of return on investment (which, for a politician who was in charge of money is not a bad thing) didn't lift my spirits. All we could do, as our prized possessions bit the dust, was to double up in laughter.

For when two Yorkshire folk find themselves losing money, there's only two ways you can deal with it. Become grumpier and meaner than ever, or to just think “it's only money".

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Being with Lesley throughout the filming was a wonderful pleasure. I have never met anyone quite so bubbly and full of humour, and that's what made the gruelling days really worthwhile.

We even tried to sing a duet when we were travelling in the 1966 Volvo, which, for fairly obvious reasons, she had to drive. On pure health and safety grounds, the BBC and the commissioned film crew drew the line at me getting behind the wheel.

It was, however, as those who watch the programme know, a real experience. Having commentary about the landscape and having Lesley singing a bar or two was, to say the least, uplifting.

Maybe the old adage should be turned on its head. Instead of “where there's muck, there's brass", we might replace it with “where there’s sunshine, there's laughter". Happy Christmas.

David Blunkett is a Labour Party politician, and served as the MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough.

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