Aussie antiques lover sets up shop in Belper

Charles Collins, owner of new antiques and tea room business opening up at The Gatehouse in De Bradelei House, Chapel Street, Belper.

Charles Collins, owner of new antiques and tea room business opening up at The Gatehouse in De Bradelei House, Chapel Street, Belper.

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An Australian antiques lover has set up shop in Belper and is hoping his new business venture hits the ground running.

Charles Collins, 56, of Derby, came to this county with his first wife in 1989 and found work in radio journalism.

Charles Collins, owner of new antiques and tea room business opening up at The Gatehouse in De Bradelei House, Chapel Street, Belper.

Charles Collins, owner of new antiques and tea room business opening up at The Gatehouse in De Bradelei House, Chapel Street, Belper.

However, after a long stint working at Radio Derby as a sports producer came to an end in 2014, he decided to go it alone in a field he had long been passionate about.

He said: “I found it difficult to find work after the BBC and spent about a year volunteering at food banks and things like that.

“I was in my mid-50s and had heart and back problems but I just thought, ‘I would employ me’, so I employed myself.

Charles managed to secure the lease on a unit at The Gatehouse at De Bradelei House on Chapel Street and decided to keep the tea room that came with it.

“I’ve had to do some courses in hygiene and Diane who runs it has been fantastic, but I’ve begun to get some compliments about the quality of my cappuccinos and lattes, which is nice.”

The shop is a veritable treasure trove of beautiful and interesting objects, from a Pye phonograph to fearsome military memorabilia and everything in between.

There are stunning African masks which have been picked out by Charles’ current wife, who originally hails from South Africa, and exquisite hand-painted porcelain by art-deco artist Clarice Cliff that was once, astonishingly, sold in Woolworths.

Twelve dealers in total will show their wares at the shop eventually, with the priciest items arranged in glass vitrines which seemingly add to their desirability.

There are even a few reminders of Charles’ native Australia dotted around in the form of the maps which adorn the walls and an wonderful Australia-shaped coffee table.

Charles’ love of antiques came from his first wife, the Prisoner Cell Block H actress Val Lehman.

“I used to find it really boring but she got me into it and eventually I developed and interest in porcelain and maps,” he explained. “We then set up an antiques centre but as she wasn’t a businesswoman it didn’t succeed. I do remember thinking, however, ‘I could do that’.”

Charles next step will be to open the upstairs of the shop in readiness for Monday’s official opening when TV antiques expert, Charles Hanson, and pop legend Dave Berry will be coming along to cut the ribbon.

Breaking news and ‘Neighbours’

After returning to Australia with his first wife in 1996, Charles again found work in journalism.

One of the most amazing tales he has to tell was his experience of breaking the news of a coup in Fiji.

“I pretended to be a senior Fijian official in order to get through to the head of their army,” he said.

“When I got through to him I admitted I wasn’t who I said I was, but the only thing he was interested in was in getting a message to the rugby team that they should continue their tour of Australia!”

Charles, now a committed Christian, says he couldn’t do the same now.

On top of that Charles also had a couple of small parts in Prisoner himself, courtesy of his then wife who played Bea Smith - Top Dog to the long-running soap’s aficionados - and even had one line in Neighbours.

“I suppose you could say I have had an interesting life story,” says Charles.

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