'Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51' : Jay Blades reveals his struggles and why he hopes to inspire others

Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51 - Jay Blades opens up about his struggles in new BBC documentary.
Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51 - Jay Blades opens up about his struggles in new BBC documentary. (Image credit: BBC)

Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51 is a new BBC1 documentary on Wednesday Jan. 26 that sees the popular host of The Repair Shop reveal how he has always struggled to read. 

Jay Blades reveals how he left school with no qualifications, was only diagnosed with dyslexia in his 30s, and has spent his entire life avoiding the written word. 

He's one of 8 million adults in the UK who struggle with literacy. In the documentary, Jay meets other adults like him, shares his coping strategies, and talks openly about the dark times in his life when he couldn't see a way out. 

Now committed to learning to read, the programme follows Jay's progress as he embarks on reading lessons, visits a school that specialises in teaching children with dyslexia, and reveal how 50 percent of the UK prison population can't read and the impact that has had on people's lives.

Whattowatch.com spoke to Jay Blades to find out more...

What was your main motivation to learn to read now?

Jay Blades says: "I wanted to be able to read to my daughter, Zola. Even though she’s 15 now, I’ve never been able to read her a story. I want to be able to read to her before she turns 16 and I also want to inspire people like me who are dyslexic."

Tell us about some of the coping strategies you’ve adopted over the years?

Jay says: "I rely a lot on technology, I send voice notes instead of texts. You find a way around things. I’ve never filled out forms, I’ve always taken them home, or found an excuse like, ‘I ain’t got me glasses with me right now.’ When I got a letter through the post telling me I’d got an MBE I thought it was a bill because it came with an official-looking crest. I had to get my partner Lisa to read it to me."

Jay Blades with his Repair Shop colleague, Suzie Fletcher.

Jay Blades with his 'Repair Shop' colleague, Suzie Fletcher. (Image credit: BBC)

And for years your 'Repair Shop' colleagues had no idea you couldn’t read? 

Jay says: "No, for the first three years the producers were sending me pages of notes on the people coming in, the item they were bringing in. I never once read them and I’ve never had an autocue to read. For me, my role is just two people having a chat. When I told everyone they were really supportive and couldn't believe I’d been doing everything naturally without notes. I wish I’d told them sooner."

You talk about some of the lows you’ve hit in life during the documentary. How did you feel about exposing your vulnerabilities? 

Jay says: "I wanted to include all of that. I said before we made the program, it’s going to be like The Full Monty, me walking around naked because I’m so exposed with regards to my vulnerability, my insecurities, everything that’s happened to me. But I knew from the beginning that’s the way it was going to be."

The documentary sees Jay learn to ready with help from national charity Read Easy.

The documentary sees Jay learn to ready with help from national charity Read Easy.  (Image credit: BBC)

Tell us about your experiences at school? 

Jay says: "Secondary school was a bit naughty for me. The class I was in was called ‘L’ for learners but was known as L for ‘Losers’  so that’s how I got treated at school. The Ls weren’t allowed to do chemistry or anything that included something sharp or hot, so no bunsen burners, no woodwork. It was deemed we would mess everything up." 

How did not being able to read affect your prospects after school?

Jay says: "I did a lot of low-level jobs where no reading was needed.  When you look at the statistics, 50 percent of the prison population can’t read or struggle with reading and that just proves what path that it can lead to, a dead end job or worse, criminality and ending up in prison. I chat to a young guy in prison in the programme who is learning to read. The honest truth, it was like meeting a younger me. It could have been me there. 

What advice would you give to people who might be inspired to learn to read after watching this? 

Jay says: "Just give it a go. Open up and ask for help because there is a lot of help out there, especially for us older people. The charity, Read Easy, is an amazing organization that has volunteer reading coaches who can help. It isn’t a quick fix though, there has to be a level of commitment. I’m still learning! 

'Jay Blades: Learning To Read At 51' airs on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022 on BBC1 at 9pm. It will also be available on BBCiPlayer shortly afterwards.

Tess Lamacraft
Senior Writer for What's On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite week, Whattowatch.com

Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.