‘I used to illegally catch trout and sell them to a restaurant’: Nick Knowles on his rural Suffolk school days
PUBLISHED: 13:21 10 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:01 10 December 2017
DIY SOS and Who Dares Wins host Nick Knowles has long had a secret yearning for music. Now the presenter-turned-singer, who has fond memories of growing up in East Anglia, has released his debut album — at the age of 55.
Armed with a dashing smile and a Sid James-style laugh, Nick Knowles has for a number of years been hiding a secret ambition.
That bearded chap who has fronted BBC series DIY SOS for two decades, along with a litany of other shows, including Lottery game show Who Dares Wins, has been dreaming of having a bash at the charts.
Having kept his singing and guitar-playing talents under the radar for decades, the 55-year-old is finally taking a step into the music world with his debut album Every Kind Of People, a collection of covers.
And though this self confessed workaholic, who spends much of his life living in hotels while filming shows including Real Rescues to Last Choir Standing, to name but two, never seems to be lacking self-confidence he admits to feeling nervous about his new endeavour. “I’m just really fascinated to see what people make of it,” he says. “I’m also interested to see whether people will actually give it a chance because of course a lot of people will have already decided that it must be a load of old crap because it’s me off the telly.”
With decades of TV under his belt, his usual self-assurance and infectious enthusiasm having made him something of a lifestyle programme presenting stalwart, he felt the time was right to go public with his musical side.
“I thought I might do it before I die,” he declares matter-of-factly. “I’ve played for years and years. I played when I was at school, I was in bands at school and after I left school - actually until I was about 21 - it was a real option.
“But I was also working as a part-time actor, I was in Room With A View and various other things. And then television came along.”
Those school days were right here in East Anglia. He attended St Louis Middle School in Bury St Edmunds, where, he says, he discovered girls and befriended many of the American kids whose fathers were serving with the USAF at the RAF Mildenhall airbase. “Many of them went to my school,” he recalls. “I used to swap dandelion and burdock for root beer!”
Though Nick was born on a council estate in Southall in London his life changed dramatically aged 11, when the family left London for Suffolk.
His father, who was a 45-year-old civil servant when Nick was born, suffered two heart attacks and after taking early retirement retrained as a careers officer. As a result the family moved to Mildenhall. It was quite a culture shock, swapping London suburbia for rural East Anglia, but Nick quickly adapted.
He remembers it as a Famous-Five style period: “I used to go fishing a lot in the rivers, and illegally catch trout from a trout river and sell them to a restaurant. I used the money to buy fish and chips!”
It was a memorable but brief period as after a few years his father took a new job in Tunbridge Wells and the family uprooted again.
After quitting school at 16 he had a variety of dead-end jobs, labouring on building sites, working in a petrol station, selling shoes and carpets, but music and performing runs in the family. His brother has a record company and his three sisters all became dancers. He was constantly writing music, poetry and comedy until he submitted a script to a BBC2 programme that invited kids to make a video.
“They gave me a film crew to shoot all the film I wanted to make. I loved it so much I thought ‘that’s what I want to do’, and I spent the next two years trying to get into television.”
He started as a runner for the BBC and then went to Australia where he became a TV news reporter, and later a producer and director before stepping in front of the camera.
But away from TV and even way back in his building site days, Nick spent years honing his craft, singing backing vocals for his brother, joining him for gigs.
Then there was Knowles’ attempt at Fame Academy in 2005 for Comic Relief, which gave fans a chance to hear a bit of his uniquely gruff and soulful, but somewhat unpolished, voice.
In the years that followed, Knowles has seen a few singing teachers and met with music industry experts.
Now, he has finally learned to sing in a much deeper key after years of mimicking the artists whose songs he was covering.
He adds: “I said the other day that the only other person in pop recently with a deep voice is George Ezra and the headline then read ‘Nick Knowles compares himself to George Ezra’, which wasn’t quite what I meant!” Chuckling, he adds: “But what I mean is there isn’t a history of deep voices in this country.”
Every Kind Of People also sees him rework popular songs from artists Robert Palmer, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Barry White among others.
“I just didn’t want to make a swing album or a country album, so this album is actually a genuine guitar singer-songwriter album,” he maintains.
As well as the covers, the album includes an original track called Waiting For The Love Of My Life To Walk In, penned by Amy Wadge, who wrote Ed Sheeran’s Grammy-winning hit Thinking Out Loud.
“Babies are going to be both made and born to that song, it’s so beautiful,” he predicts in a return to his super-confident self. “She just writes beautiful songs and this one is literally going to be a million people’s first wedding dance.”
Knowles is not just a regular face on TV, but he often appears in gossip columns having separated from his wife Jessica last year. He reveals the split was “really difficult and painful”.
But he quickly returns to the original track.
“I swear to God, if that doesn’t become people’s ‘getting married’ song, I’ll be absolutely gobsmacked.”