TV property expert and honorary Brummie, Jonnie Irwin talks to Shelley Carter about Harborne, Brexit, stag dos and his love for the city
The dream start to an interview is not, “I’ve just got back from my stag do, so bear with me” (an Alan Partridge-themed do on the Norfolk Broads in case you’re wondering). However, if this was a below par Jonnie Irwin, he must be one lively fella on a good day. The cheeky chappie burst onto our screens 12 years ago with A Place in the Sun co-host Jasmine Harman and his star has been on the rise ever since. Numerous TV presenting roles have followed including Escape to the Country as well as speaking at conferences and events and he’s become a household name. Growing up in rural Leicestershire, Jonnie moved to Birmingham to study and fell in love with the place. As you’d expect he got on the property ladder pronto buying a small place in Bearwood followed by another in Moseley which he still owns. After graduating from Birmingham City University with a degree in estate management in 1997, Jonnie began building a successful career at Christie and Co before being head-hunting by Colliers in Birmingham to set up a hotel and leisure division when an opportunity in TV came knocking. It nearly didn’t happen though.
Jonnie explained: “I’d just got back from a trip to Argentina and I had a message saying a TV production company was looking for people in property for a new show. I’d missed the deadline while I was away and when I called I was told it was too late.” Undeterred, Jonnie didn’t take no for an answer. He added: “I just thought it probably wasn’t too late in truth, so I did my own screen test on a camcorder and sent it to the producers.” He interviewed shoppers in the street on the day after Boxing Day about why they were returning Christmas presents. This impressed the producers and bagged him a proper screen test followed by a job offer and more than 200 episodes of A Place in the Sun under his belt – and Jonnie still loves what appears to be a dream gig. He admitted: “It is pretty good! The best thing about it is getting to explore places you might quite like to visit but you wouldn’t necessarily waste your precious fortnight holiday on. The Caribbean was a surprise for instance. I thought it’d be all Americanised and it wasn’t. It was so different.” As the name suggests the premise of the show is a series of house-hunters buying property abroad with Jonnie and co on hand to guide them through it. It’s an interesting watch and at times frustrating as often the house hunters don’t buy anything. Jonnie said: “When the house hunters don’t pull the trigger through fear, yes that’s frustrating. Conversely there are days when I say to them ‘I don’t think this is right for you. Let’s keep looking’.”
With a small team filming for weeks at a time it’s crucial they get along. “We’re in one another’s pockets and we’re a tight team. What I’ve realised about TV people is that they make things happen. The attitude is a can-do one. They just get on with it and anything’s possible.” I wondered if Brexit had affected the show, but Jonnie says not. “We haven’t missed one day of filming since Brexit. The majority of house hunters on the show are looking for a holiday home and that’s largely unaffected although obviously people realise their budgets have shrunk due to exchange rates. The Brits are such massive buyers of property in areas like Southern Spain and we’re so strong in the market that it’s worth a cheeky offer.” Surprisingly Jonnie doesn’t have a holiday home – “I don’t spend enough time in my actual home let alone a holiday home! I’ve managed to detach myself from the emotional side of buying a property. I see something I want, sleep on it and realise it’s not the right decision.” Now living in London, Jonnie has kept his house in Moseley as an investment and is regularly in Birmingham visiting his best mate. He enthused: “I’m so fond of the city. It’s probably the friendliest city I’ve been to anywhere in the world. Seriously.” The city has rewarded him with an honorary doctorate from BCU which he’s delighted about.
And what of the property market in Birmingham? “Property stock in Birmingham is good. There are some wonderful streets. I’m not into property hotspots and I’m definitely an advocate of buying the worst house in the best street. My dad taught me that. I’d buy somewhere secure like Harborne which has good pubs, nice shops and is a short distance to the city centre – that’s important to me. Otherwise what’s the point? I might as well be in Solihull.” Three weeks after we talked Jonnie was set to enjoy (possibly) his second stag do because one’s just not enough! This one’s a bit secretive though and he has been instructed to turn up at the airport with his passport and wallet with no clue as to where he’s going. If he makes it back in one piece you can catch up with Jonnie at Place in the Sun Live.