The world of Roo Irvine is as colourful as her on-screen outfits. But when the wrap for ‘Antiques Road Trip’ or ‘Bargain Hunt’ filming is called, Roo likes nothing more than heading home to her cats. Alison Gallagher-Hughes meets the TV antiques expert.
When it comes to romantic gestures, this one is hard to beat. Having opened her Christmas presents, TV presenter and antiques expert Roo Irvine was handed a final gift. It was an envelope containing a USB stick, on which was a folder called ‘Come Get Me Mama’ with a photo of a kitten inside.
“Mango was a Christmas surprise present from my husband, Mark,” explains the star of BBC ‘Antiques Road Trip’, ‘Bargain Hunt,’ and ‘Flipping Profit.’ “It had been a tough year. Both our dads had passed away that summer and we’d spent the best part of four or five months at my mum’s, helping her get through it.
“So, we were enjoying being home on Christmas Day. We’d opened our presents and then I was given the envelope.” That was back in 2013, then three years ago Mango Chutney was joined by another Maine Coon, Kimchi Cherry Blossom. Having more than one cat has highlighted the difference in their personalities.
Roo says: “They’re total opposites. I think that we got Mango too early at seven weeks and she hadn’t been socialised. She’s very shy, rather aloof with anyone else, but with us she’s the most loving girl. Whereas Kimchi was from a proper Maine Coon breeder, very well socialised, a complete love bucket. She literally will take my face in her paws and come up and give me a kiss on the lips. We spoon every morning, she’s totally the opposite to Mango. They show love in different ways, don’t they?”
The breed was an ideal choice for Roo, who loves their wild look. As a teenager growing up in Glasgow, she would attend pet shows with her brothers and became fascinated with cat breeds. “I had all these books on all the different breeds and what characters they had. My favourites were always Maine Coons or Norwegian Forest Cats. I just loved the wild look about them. I feel they are a bridge between their wild ancestors and domestic cats.”
Roo hasn’t always been in the antiques business. She spent 10 years living in London, working in senior sales, business development, and marketing roles within the gaming industry where she met her husband, Mark. The loss of both their fathers within the same year prompted them to reassess their lives and return home to Scotland.
“I love the big city, the restaurants, the convenience, and the culture but you know, you get on that tube to go to work and everyone’s got their headphones in, they push you out of the way to get the last seat, and no-one has eye contact. And I thought I was becoming that way too, so it was time to save myself, get out of there, and come back home.
“We would never have the lifestyle that we have here. We just love the quality of life, the tranquillity. After what happened with our dads, it kind of made us re-evaluate what we wanted, appreciating a sunny day and the glimpse of the water like diamonds, you know, simple pleasures.
They stepped away from their jobs, relocated to the Highlands, and took on a Victorian House. They began attending auctions to furnish it and found it fun. It led to them selling collectables on eBay which in turn, sparked a new career.
They got a feel for what would sell, gathered knowledge, and opened a little shop — Kilcreggan Antiques — in their village in 2015. Initially, Roo was sceptical about the potential for its commercial success but it turned out to be a good move. It helped them integrate into the community and soon ‘Antiques Road Trip’ came calling.
“They asked if they could film in our wee shop and I said ‘Are you sure, it’s tiny?’ but they came and I was a little shopkeeper in it for four or five minutes. A few months later, after it was televised, I got a call from the producer asking me if I would be interested in joining the programme. I was shocked but that was more than five years ago now and I still feel like I’ve been doing it for only a few months.”
Did she feel a sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ working alongside experts who had been in the business a lot longer? “Yes, 100 per cent,” she admits. “I would have those nagging doubts creep in, especially in that first year but I continued to get more work and my hubby was like, ‘Now do you believe me?’”
Her fellow experts were quick to take her under their wings. In her first programme, she was paired up with Philip Serrell. “He is very paternal and I have a real soft spot for Phil because he’s such a sweet person. He may have this grumpy exterior, but actually he’s got a soft heart. The other experts I’ve worked with have generated very different relationships. James (Braxton) is like the fun uncle with whom I love to go to fine restaurants. Angus (Ashworth) is like a little brother and David (Harper) is like the best friend you love to go shopping with, so I have a different connection with every single one of them. They’re all very dear to me.”
Roo has also got to rub shoulders with — quite literally as they travel in classic cars — a number of stars in the celebrity version of the show. She particularly enjoyed the Westlife versus Boyzone battle of the boy bands, in which she partnered Keith Duffy and is thrilled to have met TV favourites such as Russell Grant and ‘Benidorm’ actor Tony Maudsley. Her dream Road Trip celebrity would be Bruce Springsteen as Roo is a massive fan. “I have seen him in concert seven times and last night we watched ‘Blinded by the Light’ again…my hubby is so tolerant,” she laughs.
Although she feels blessed to be immersed in the glamour of showbiz, Roo likes nothing better than coming home. “I really miss the cats. I really struggled at the beginning. It wasn’t that I didn’t miss hubby but I knew he was fine at home with the football and something to put in the oven. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world coming home after a few days’ work to my wee girls. And it doesn’t matter what time of the night it is. Knowing I’m going to see those two little fluffy faces makes it all worthwhile.”
Cats occasionally make you pay for your absence. Has Roo sensed any indignity on her return?
“They completely smother me with attention when I walk in. Usually, I get in about midnight, feeling tired, and I open up my suitcase in the kitchen before I take it upstairs because I’ve often brought food or some leftovers. So, the first thing they do is come over and say ‘What have you got for me.’ It makes me very popular,” she says.
Despite all her travels, she rarely comes across many good cat antiques, although she likes Lorna Bailey’s colourful animal ceramics, the humanised depiction of cats at play by Edwardian artist Louis Wain, and cats used as motifs within the Art Deco period.
She is a keen supporter of the Blue Cross animal charity and visited its Burford Rehoming Centre with ‘Antiques Road Trip.’ She says:“I was so impressed by the amount of work that Blue Cross do and the fact that they’ve been around since the late 1800s, and they were obviously one of the first charities to open up an animal hospital. I wanted to do something to support them.”
Last July, she did just that, raising more than £1,600 by completing a six-hour ‘Hoopathon’, a hoola hoop marathon which she filmed in the midst of lockdown. “I thought what can I do while I’m at home? I love hula hooping. I absolutely adore it and I have this big, weighted hula hoop that’s good for fitness. I picked six hours randomly and I did it on International Friendship Day as animals are our best friends.
“At the time, I was doing a series of social media posts called Radio Roo, choosing tracks that meant something to me and asking others to send in theirs, and I promoted the Hoopathon during this, set up a Just Giving page, and used the music to spur me on. I would like to do another this year and aim to do ten hours this time.”
Roo admits that she has rather enjoyed lockdown, enjoying the chance to spend more time at home and be herself. Talking to Roo is like chatting with an old friend. She has a relaxed and happy manner — peeping from behind a large cup of tea during an interview which promptly turns into a two-way conversation as the questions go back and forth. And the conversation turned to getting another feline friend.
“We would love a boy to keep Kimchi company,” she says. “It could go either way: it may let Mango enjoy her older years in peace and quiet without being harassed by Kimchi and let the other two go out and play — or it may introduce a different dynamic.
“We have already picked the name because I’m a complete foodie. So, Mango and Kimchi maybe joined by Miso — he will be ‘me so’ handsome,” she laughs.