Daniel Chapman | Writing etc

“I always felt i had to do something more with my life” — Rav Matharu, clothsurgeon

“I was living the dream there for a while,” says Rav Matharu, as he sits and talks to us in a basement studio in London, where he is living a very different kind of dream today.

And yeah, he sounds wistful, as any sports mad Leeds lad might, who played football for Leeds United’s youth teams when Leeds United were a club in the semi-finals of the Champions League, who eventually had to let that dream go.

We weren’t totally sure how much Rav would want to talk about it; sometimes when you leave a life behind, that’s where you leave it. But now that he is Rav Matharu, clothsurgeon, and living a new dream as one of London’s best designers of genre-modifed menswear, working with artists like Nas, he has all the perspective he needs to look back to those days and appreciate the memories.

“We were pretty much spoilt,” Rav tells us. “I lived at the Academy at Thorp Arch for two years, and it was like a big holiday camp.

“We’d wake up in the morning, clean the professionals’ boots, and go for some breakfast. That was all laid out for you, and you could have whatever you wanted. Then we’d go to train, which was what we all loved to do. Then we’d have lunch with all the first team players and staff, obviously banter filled. We were so well looked after, all we had to do was play football, which we were obsessed with – then every now and then we would go out and enjoy our hard work on the pitch.”

Looking at the photos that, from time to time, Rav posts on Instagram, it’s amazing to see how far back his association with Leeds United goes. There are photos from 1992, of young Rav posing with a football, proudly wearing the Admiral home kit of the League Champions and Charity Shield winners; in the blue-and-yellow striped Asics kit, just like David Batty or Brian Deane.

“My school headteacher sent me for trials to Leeds City Boys, which was the representative side for all the schools in Leeds. I was ten years old. A select few from the LCB team where then sent to Leeds United trials.

“I was a little smaller than everybody else, but I had an amazing trial and scored about three headers. Andy Beaglehole was the youth development officer, and really took to me, telling me I rose like Gary Speed.

“My dad would send me and my cousin to the Ian St John Soccer Camp every summer. Eddie Gray, the Leeds legend, used to take training sessions. He remembered me when he saw me at Leeds United, because I’d once won some boots for being player of the camp – ‘You’re that lad who won that pair of Umbro Speciali!’ It was nice to be known and remembered by someone you admired and watched videos of.”

You can tell that sort of attention from a legend meant something; still means something. Leeds United, at the time, was a club filled with superstars, and young, dream-eyed youngsters like Rav, working as hard as they could to get to where Alan Smith, Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate had got to. The first team. The Premiership. The Champions League.

“The atmosphere at the club was incredible,” says Rav. “The energy at the club was contagious and it spread like wild fire, from match day at Elland Road, it filtered down through the reserves, the youth team, the canteen staff to the laundry ladies. The place was buzzing with positivity.

“I remember when Tony Yeboah was just god. I didn’t play or train with Yeboah, but I was at the game against Liverpool when he scored that amazing volley. And I remember watching Jimmy Hasselbaink take free kicks in training, nobody I’ve ever seen could hit a ball as hard as him. Ian Harte could hit a ball but Jimmy just pinged it off two steps. It was ridiculous. All the youth team would watch him, we would all be trying to hit it like that in the playground the next day.

“Probably the best in training was Robbie Keane, he had the quickest feet, he was amazing. Harry Kewell was incredible in that one season when he ran everyone ragged. Lucas Radebe was a true chief, the nicest guy, who had a quality of making you feel secure and protected. Mark Viduka and Nigel Martyn would spend some time in the boot room with us cracking jokes. Nigel had shocking banter, but had a fair few stories.

“And David Batty. Nobody could get the ball off him. No chance. He’d let them get close and then no, he’d just lay off a simple pass and start again. Only the players who played with him know how good he was, an unsung hero, and I felt that’s just the way he liked it. I used to clean the club captains boot’s, also the manager’s, David O’Leary. Your professional would give their boot boy a tip at the Christmas party, I remember Woody gave one of the lads £1,000, Duberry £600. I was rubbing my hands thinking, happy days! What am I going to spend this money on? And I was waiting all night. I got nothing! Neither of them gave me a Christmas tip. If they’re reading this I hope they’ll forward the cheque in the post.

“I was in the age group with Anthony Lennon, Aaron’s older brother, and everyone was talking about Aaron coming through the age groups below us. You knew from a young age he was going to be exceptional. He used to play in the same team as James Milner, so you can imagine Lennon and Milner together, just tearing other teams apart.”

That was the standard in a first team squad of international stars; that was the standard in the under-14s. That was the standard an eighteen year old at Leeds had to reach to stand a chance of playing. There was pressure on all the youngsters, and additional focus on Rav and teammate Harpal Singh when the media’s search for the next young Leeds stars uncovered a rarity – two young Asian players with a shot at playing in the Premier League. Their careers – particular the older Singh’s – became a cause célèbre, and then subject to closer scrutiny in 2000, when first team players Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer were charged for their involvement in an attack causing grievous bodily harm to an Asian student in Leeds.

“There wasn’t really extra pressure on me and Harps,” says Rav. “It was there in the back of our minds, that if we broke through to the first team there would be a lot of media attention on us.”

For Rav, the story stopped just short of a dream come true: a first team appearance.

“I don’t think I got close,” he says. “Maybe I’ll tell people different in the pub after a few drinks, but I don’t think I was near to breaking through to the first team at Leeds. There were internationals playing in the reserves, it was hard to progress. I remember being on the bench for the reserves against Sheffield Wednesday, and that was probably the closest. Chris Waddle was playing for them and I was watching him, remembering idolising him at the 1990 World Cup.

“It was hard to break into that team because it was doing so well. There were internationals in the reserves like Jason Wilcox, David Hopkin. It was a club where you had to do exceptionally well to even get on the bench of the first team.

“I think Aaron Lennon and James Milner were the only ones who really made it at the top level. Everyone was on the lookout for another club, or going for trials when they were still with Leeds. Frazer Richardson got into the team; Frazer was an animal, pretty sure he had a six pack when he came out the womb, he was solid. Jamie McMaster was doing well; Caleb Folan went to a few clubs and is still playing, last time I spoke to him he was out in Myanmar, he is a spiritual brother, that area of the world really suits him. Simon Johnson also played in the first team, I spoke to him recently. He’s starting his own football camp to help people who come out of professional clubs at a young age, to try and develop them, give them a chance at another club.”

We suggest that might have helped Rav.

“It might have. I think I just lost my love for the game after a few trials. I was going round lower league clubs, and was like,” – Rav starts laughing at himself, remembering waking up from that dream world – “I have to wash my own kit? Make my own food? What is this? This is strange! I was offered some month-to-month contracts. But that didn’t seem like it would get me anywhere.”


“I was kind of lost for a couple of years,” says Rav. “I probably should have stayed at Leeds to keep up my fitness levels. I trialled at various clubs, considered going to America; my agent kept trying to get me to Portugal or somewhere.

“I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I didn’t want to work in sports therapy or coaching, it just wasn’t for me.

“I had to look for a job. I started working in retail and it was hard – people who knew me from Leeds, who knew me as a professional footballer, coming in and saying: ‘Oh. I thought you were a footballer.’ It felt like a fall from grace.”

That’s not an unusual script; professional football is notorious for discarding talented young players without support to help them find a new direction, and young men all over the country have experiences like Rav’s when they step outside of the dream world of the Premier League. But then, when they come to talk about that lost time, it’s usually in a confessional tell-all about the decline that followed, the dangers of a dream.

Not Rav Matharu.

“I always used to draw,” he says. “I was into clothing and footwear and designing. It seemed like something I could do.

I really wanted to learn more.

“I went to Loughborough University to do a foundation degree in art and design, and was then offered a place at London College of Fashion. I went there for two weeks but dropped out because the expense was too much. I moved back to Leeds and worked in retail for three years, but I always felt I had to do something more with my life. So I picked up my studies at Leeds College of Art.

“I didn’t know how to sew. I didn’t know how to cut patterns. But I knew I had a good eye for fashion and clothing, and from a young age I’d always wanted to know how it was put together.

“I put in long hours. I learned how to use the sewing machine, learned how to cut patterns, and read many books. I guess I worked harder than my peers at university because I had to, I was a little bit older and knew what I was there for. I was about twenty-five and they were all nineteen, going to freshers dos, and I was well over that scene. I knew Leeds, so I knew the nicer places!

“I was just focused on my degree and getting the most out of it. And then moving to London and trying, and hopefully doing, something.”

People say things happen for a reason, and while the years in retail might have felt like a fall from grace, they gave Rav a valuable tool for his climb to London, and back to grace – an enviable, and valuable, collection of trainers.

“I’d worked at Size?, and I’d been living at home not paying rent – the easy life! – so I just spent all my money on trainers. I had an amazing collection, something like four hundred pairs, with a lot of valuable collectors’ pieces. And that’s how I funded living in London. You get a shed for like a thousand a month in a terrible area, but that’s just what London is. It took about a year to start getting paid so it was a struggle, selling off sneakers and working it out somehow, and mum was always there to support.”

Rav was head designer at bespoke streetwear brand House of Billiam for three years, but without the creative control he need to feel like he was fully using the talents supporting his new dream.

“I had just married Parv,” says Rav. “I had been told on my honeymoon that the brand could no longer afford to pay me. It was a blessing in disguise, because it just pushed me to do my own thing, but it was extremely daunting. I was coming back from honeymoon and basically didn’t have a job, living in London, where costs are ridiculous. It was a case of, this has got to work, so we’ve got to do as much as we can to make it work. As much as it was scary, equally, it was exciting.

“When I moved to London I always had the intention to start my own brand. The name was born at uni; a lot of people cut patterns with scissors, but I would always use a scalpel, and my tutor would constantly tell me I was like a surgeon. I’d built a small website and registered the name clothsurgeon, but didn’t really do anything with it until it was time to do my own thing.”


The clothsurgeon vision and philosophy is simple. The clothes are scalpel sharp, streetwear delivered with the timeless razor judgement of classic menswear. Bespoke pieces and tight collections that operate through individual expression, sometimes celebrating an inspirational figure like Garrincha, the Brazilian football legend who entertained more than Pele; sometimes celebrating the inspiration of the clothes themselves.

“We concentrate on quality fabrics, quality production,” says Rav. “You can come in and create a wardrobe of quality clothes; we offer a full bespoke service where you can make whatever you want, timeless silhouettes with a contemporary edge that can last you a lifetime. Beautiful overcoats that will not go out of fashion in your lifetime. A bomber jacket, a suit, whatever it is.

“It’s generic modification of what clothing is to menswear. Altering the fabrics, altering the fits. We do a double-breasted overcoat that is not classically oversized to fit over every layer, it’s fitted so you can wear it with a t-shirt. There’s a different silhouette to it, but you see it as a classic piece.”

The designs can be eye-catching in first blush, but the depth is in the dependent subtlety of Rav’s eyes and ideas.

“It’s nice to create something a bit more subtle and unique, through hidden details, fits, certain elements that we can do. I like putting pieces together and outfits together. If someone came in here and asked for ten pieces they could wear for the rest of the year, I would easily be able to do that. Jackets, pants, tops, rotating so it looks like they’re wearing something new and different every time.”

The brand, website and a small collection came together in October 2012, “And just sort of took off,” says Rav. “We were supported from the start by blogs like Hypebeast and HighSnobiety, who just loved the products and would always feature us.

“We sold really well just through Instagram and Facebook, but then we’ve had some great celebrities who love the bespoke side. A$AP Rocky championed that. We did Tinie Tempah’s tour, Jessie J’s tour, Jess Glynne’s tour; various hip-hop artists come in for bespoke appointments, which is amazing.

“Nas in particular. I’m a huge fan of Nas and met him, and he was so cool. He loved what we were doing. Every time he’s in the UK he says, let’s catch up, what have you got for me?”

Rav still has the breathlessness of a fan when he talks about working with an artist like Nas, but mixed with pride at how that relationship is maintained.

“We’ve built relationships with superstars,” he says, “But that’s because we’re providing something. We’re not just fans. We’re bringing something to the table that they admire, so it’s mutual respect.”

We, at this point, is Rav and Parv, working with teams of interns between a production unit, and a workroom below a coffee shop.

“It’s becoming harder to find space in the cool areas of London,” says Rav. “I think people think we’re a lot bigger than we are. They don’t expect to come to a dungeon below a coffee shop. A humble space.

“But we’ve gained a lot of trust from a lot of people, which is so valuable. People buy from the website, £700 jackets, without touching them or trying them on. That’s trust.

“We’re growing slowly and organically, and working hard. It has been scary. It’s still quite scary now, when you do a collection – is it going to do well? Is it not? There is constant pressure.”

There’s also, in clothsurgeon’s fairly brief three-years-so-far existence, constant thrill at where the scalpel is taking them. Consulting for brands such as Asics; a window at Selfridges; appointed as ambassador for the prestigious Rolls Royce; attention-grabbing experiments like the Reconstruction Project, that crafted Nike fleece sweatpants into full suits, jackets and overcoats.

“That went crazy,” says Rav. “We didn’t really plan to sell that, but there was this huge demand. That Reconstruction Collection is now stocked in select stores worldwide.”

Working on brand-building with Asics prompted Rav to dig out the classic photos of young-Rav in his Asics made Leeds United kits, but it also took it him to Japan, where the Far East work continues through regular collaborations with Monkey Time/United Arrows.

“I love working with them,” says Rav. “Japanese people are perfectionists. Their levels of quality lift your levels. You think they’re going to be picky or selective but actually it’s just the way they operate, and that lifts your standards throughout everything you do. Going to Tokyo for the first time was an inspirational trip, seeing how they become obsessed with certain trends and sub-cultures, and take it to the next level.”

A new collection is on the rails when we visit, and a clutch of collaborative projects are ahead for clothsurgeon. But Rav and Parv won’t risk a jinxing comment.

“Nothing is done until you see it,” says Parv. “We love that freedom, to create what we want when we want, and not follow a regular fashion cycle that doesn’t work for us, that’s not what our brand is.”

“I think the longest we’ve ever had to make a collection is two months,” says Rav. “It’s because we can. I can turn around a sample from idea to garments in twenty-four hours and know it is exactly how I want it, because I’m making it myself with the exact fabrics. Once you have a customer engaging with your product and they really like it, they want to get on and buy it now, not wait six months.”

“We’ve done that since day one,” says Parv. “Build a collection, shoot a look book, then it’s available on the website soon after.”

One ongoing collaboration they could confirm was a visit from Monkey Time/United Arrows to the UK.

“We’ll take them out for drinks and ping-pong,” says Rav. “I just hammer them. I still have that competitive edge, I hate losing. They love playing ping-pong, and being the polite people they are they admire me wanting to win.”

“Rav takes no prisoners,” says Parv.

“I initially thought I’d take it easy, because I expected them to be quite good. Table tennis is popular in Japan. But then I just started smashing it.”

“Then he tells them, oh, I was junior champion of ping-pong,” says Parv. “Was that a lie, by the way?”

“I was junior champion of West Yorkshire at eleven,” states Rav. “Our headmaster at my primary school, Mr McHugh, was obsessed with table tennis. He set up table tennis club after school and he loved it, and really tried to develop our skills.”

Rav smiles at the memory; another time when hard work meant skills; when skills meant success.

“I wonder if I could find that trophy. I would love to have that trophy back.”


Maybe adding table tennis makes it three things Rav Matharu is good at. Maybe there are other things too. Maybe there’s no limit to the dreams Rav could live. He has the formula: dream, work hard, skill up, succeed.

“I would love to design a cricket kit,” says Rav. “I keep reminding Nike that I’m here, because I’d love to get involved designing with the Indian cricket team – they’re the only team sponsored by Nike, so that’s three obsessions: Nike, India and cricket.

“Or a Leeds United kit’s something I’d love to do. First thing I’d do is speak to die hard fans, discuss favourite kits over the years, do something nostalgic with it, but add the functionality and breathability of modern fabrics.

“I loved the Umbro kit when Leeds won the league in ’92. And I remember David Batty and Gary Speed wearing Asics boots with the massive tongues, these £300 made in Japan football boots. I’ve still got some old Puma stuff from my time, old training kit with the numbers stitched and marker-penned on.

“I still remember when we found out Nike were going to be sponsors after Puma. I thought it was amazing. Nike boots, Nike kits, Nike tracksuits! That was the golden era for me.”

The golden era in football, at least. The golden era in the life of Rav Matharu? Maybe he’s living it. Maybe there are plenty of dreams still to follow, plenty of risks. Plenty of hard work. What will be his golden era? That question will have an interesting answer.


First published in TCT

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” — Tim Sayer

Tim Sayer, aged seventy, of Islington, has bequeathed the art on the walls of his home to The Hepworth Gallery, in Wakefield, and has been besieged since morning by journalists and reporters who want to ask him why.

Besieged was a theme we were happy to embrace. Secure in the first floor sitting room, we discussed tactics with Tim to delay the arrival of an expected reporter from the Telegraph, including heaving a bowl’s worth of boiling water at him from our upstairs vantage.

It’s not only the journalists.

“I find since this was decided that I now look more times when crossing the road,” says Tim. “Just in case The Hepworth are up to no good.

“I’ll keep checking their exhibition lists. The Tim Sayer Bequest! It’s all here now! That’s when I’ll see a crazed bus driver. It’s Simon Wallis.” Simon Wallis is the director of The Hepworth.

“Or maybe even you, Naomi, sent to run me down.” Naomi is The Hepworth’s PR manager, and in the corner of the room she looks appalled.

“It’s been a very quick process with The Hepworth,” says Tim. “Perhaps I didn’t realise how quick it was going to be.”


By the time of our visit, on a Wednesday afternoon, Tim has settled into a relaxed routine of charming his inquisitive guests and appalling Naomi.

“The response has been extraordinary,” he says, after greeting us at the door (“Tim?” we asked. “Jim,” replied Tim) and guiding us up the stairs. “Not only Look North filming. I had Front Row yesterday afternoon, which went out on Radio 4 last night. That only emerged about lunchtime. They asked if I would care to come in to the BBC for a live interview, and I said no, I wouldn’t. I don’t really want to go into Broadcasting House again. But why not come here? So their presenter popped round.

“It was extremely well done. They interspersed bits of Charlotte Green reading the news, and then me talking, because I had this career working at the BBC. It worked very well.”

Did they know about you already? we asked.

“Oh no, the BBC is so large. They didn’t have a clue who I was. Until about midday the presenter didn’t even know he was doing it.”

In retrospect we’re a bit surprised by that. Not only because Tim worked at the BBC, writing the scripts for news bulletins, for forty years, but because he must have made his presence felt. Robert Peston, we think, will remember him.

“Being nasty to Robert Peston,” says Tim, when we ask him exactly what his job involved. “My role in life was to write the news, on Radio 4 mostly. For the six o’clock news there would be about five of us writers, and two editors; writing the news, dealing with all the correspondents at home and abroad, being nasty to Robert Peston.

“I had a tremendous row with Robert once,” begins Tim, and the story that follows – Robert, hunted by Tim throughout Broadcasting House, cornered in a television editing suite, and browbeaten – “He ranted, I ranted, it went on a bit like that” – into changing his script – doesn’t sound like a one-off. Neither does its conclusion. “I got a topline message later, saying, ‘Thanks for your fucking help,’ and we were as good friends as we ever were.

“It was just pressure. People outside that environment don’t always appreciate that you could have a blazing row with somebody and be buying them a drink half an hour later.”

We’ve visited on the premise of talking to Tim about the life-long modern (and some ancient) art collection that he is leaving to The Hepworth, but we’ll get round to that, and we don’t know yet that The Telegraph are on our heels, so we ask more about working at the BBC.

“Nearly forty years,” says Tim. “It was all accidental. I just sort of drifted into it. Didn’t go to university or anything, got no training.

“When I left school I was offered three jobs. One was as a general trainee with The Hawker Aircraft Company, as it was then. One was as a trainee with Martins Bank, as it was then. And one was cutting up newspapers in the BBC News Information Library. So I went for the last one.

“I left after a while, went to work in magazines, and drifted back to the BBC. I left a few times. Most of my time there was freelance. What I discovered was the hours were such that I had lots of time to pursue other things, like collecting art, working in various galleries, things like that.

“The hours were long, very long. I worked a lot of nights as well, from ten o’clock at night to nine in the morning. A day shift would be eleven-fifteen until quarter to eleven at night. I had to know a little about everything, and become specialist in a story on Tuesday and forget it all by Wednesday, because there was so much to do.”

We’re all news-gatherers now, scanning Twitter, and editors, as we choose what to retweet, and experts, at least when someone forces us to factcheck a complacent opinion on Wikipedia. Forty years ago news was a job of hours, not seconds.

“I do sometimes wonder, I really do, how we ever did manage,” says Tim. “It was much slower in those days. If you wanted to check something you had to phone up news information, which was the library on the fourth floor, and they would look up newspaper cuttings for you. They would ring back in ten minutes and say, this is what we know. Amazingly cumbersome.

“All the editing was done on quarter-inch tape and five-inch spools, and there were studio managers who did that for you with a razor blade and sticky tape. Now that’s all done on a screen, you do it yourself.

“We used to dictate stories to typists, who would sit there with a cigarette in their mouths, fag ash hanging off the end of it, and the good thing was that if they didn’t like your English they would say so.

“They would say, ‘Well, you can’t say that love.’ And I would ask why not. They’d say, ‘Well, it’s not bloody English.’ Right. Thank you.

“It was great training. I had to write very tightly. In the days when I was first doing it, if you misheard something on the radio you couldn’t listen again, you had to wait for the next hourly bulletin. So you had to take the first sentence, grab the listener’s attention with that first sentence, explain it all in the second, and conclude it all in the third. It was as simple as that. I would be very lucky if I had seventy words to write.

“Which is why I don’t like all this bollocks that is written about art.”


Which is, remember, why we’re here; to write some bollocks about the art on Tim’s walls.

There’s a problem with that, because there’s so much of it. That ought to mean a wealth of material for us to write bollocks about, but walking into the house that Tim shares with his wife, Annemarie Norton, a costume maker and former dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, is an art experience unlike any other, making it hard to compare.

The art is everywhere; better behaved than it used to be, since Tim and Annemarie bought the ground floor flat, took down some of the art that hung on the upstairs ceilings, and rehung it on the new walls. And removed it from the banisters, where it was blocking the light.

Paintings and prints are edge to edge, with no room for explanatory notes to guide art-blinded novices like us. The vase on the table by which we sit, Tim says, dates from 2200BC, and we think of every vase we’ve ever seen toppled by a placid cat’s paw, and wonder how life here, with a placid cat named Otti prowling the rooms, can possibly be real.

Later, with freedom to explore, we discover the reporter from the Telegraph has breached our defences and is dazed on the first floor landing; “There’s just so much!” he exclaims to us, then, “My camera!”, and with that he rushes off to find his camera. While he’s gone, Tim guides us through Annemarie’s studio at the top of the house – an oasis of her tastes for mid-twentieth century glamour, to which a photo of Annemarie as a young ballerina adds – into the loft, piled with unhung art and more books (there are, on every bit of wall not covered by valuable artworks, incomprehensibly many books). The only place we’re not taken is to Jane’s house up the street – there’s more art there, apparently, that won’t fit here. It’s only after we’ve gone that we think to ask if Tim has a cellar, and what might be in it.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” asks Tim, ready to razor his life of art collection for us into a seventy word bulletin.

“I was seventeen in 1962, and I lived in Teddington in south-west London. I cycled across Richmond Bridge one Saturday and there was a junk shop, selling a portfolio of 183 prints. I know there were 183 because I’ve still got the list. It was ten shillings, which is about 50p. And I thought I would buy them. Fifty-four years later, I’m still framing them up. And then it sort of went on.

“I had always collected; I was only young, but I had collected books, Dinky toys, things like that. There was always a collecting urge. Gradually, as I started framing those prints, that’s what started me off. If I could put these on the walls and appreciate them, I thought, let’s see what else I can buy.”

The facts and figures of what Tim bought over the next fifty-four years, and how what he bought became a collection that a nationally important gallery would welcome, will have to wait until The Hepworth are able to catalogue and calculate the contents, because Tim bought without a system, although some systems were tried.

“A friend came round once when I lived in Finsbury Park and said, there’s a lot of black and white here. And I thought, he’s right. So then I went into buying colour. And at one point there was a lady called Nancy Balfour, who was president of the Contemporary Art Society, who said I should only buy art by living artists. So I kicked out all the dead artists and started buying living artists. Then one of the living artists died so I got rid of them, and I thought, this is crazy.

“So any time a living artist died I kept them, and then I went back to buying dead artists. The living artist’s thing probably only lasted for about six years, but unfortunately I got rid of a couple of things I should have kept. There are probably three or four things over the years that I really regret letting go.”

Do you think you’ve got enough to make up for it? we ask, having a bit of a redundant moment.

“What do you reckon?” asks Tim.

We reckon Tim’s done alright. In fact we reckon Tim is in a unique situation with his collection, developed according to taste rather than fashion, arranged around him in cramped domesticity; the effect on a visitor is like vertigo, but Tim is at ease.

“I am lucky that I can focus,” he says. “A lot of people ask how I manage to look at just one painting, and I say it doesn’t worry me, I can do that. I do like going round the house and picking something to look at.

“Living with art is a very good way of appreciating it. Most people can only manage it through books, but I am lucky enough to have not had holidays, and nearly bankrupted myself, and bought it.”

Which brings us to the question of what, having bought it, Tim is to do with it.

We’ve heard stories like Tim’s, of the odd fellow in the mid-terrace, that nobody knew had a valuable collection behind its front door. Usually, though, the Tims don’t appear in those stories, except as ghosts; the collections aren’t discovered until they’re dead and gone.

“I want people to see it,” says Tim. “It has always been our policy that people should be able to see it, and we have always welcomed people here to look round. I don’t like the idea of sitting behind the curtains saying, ‘It’s all mine.’

“Annemarie and I don’t have children. We don’t have siblings. So we have nobody to leave the collection to. And what I didn’t want to do was have the thought that, when we die, nobody will know what to do with it. So I was looking around.

“We went up to Yorkshire last July for an Anthony Caro opening at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Hepworth. And we were very impressed by The Hepworth. Such an amazing setting on the banks of The Calder, the building by David Chipperfield, the galleries themselves, the enthusiasm of the local people – this is the script isn’t it, Naomi?”

Naomi looks more incredulous than appalled.

“And the director, Simon Wallis. I had never met him, hadn’t heard of him before, but after he gave a speech to introduce the Anthony Caro exhibition, we sort of polled up to him and asked if he would consider a collection.”

On the spot?

“On the spot. And he said he didn’t know, because he’d never been offered one on that scale before, but that he’d come and look. So he popped down to London a few weeks later and took a look. And within about half an hour he said, yes please.”

On the strength of that yes please the Tim Sayer Bequest sealed a fate for the collection in the north, at a new – five years old in 2016 – gallery, in an industrial city far from the genteel, well-heeled world of London art. It’s an affronting gesture that Tim is adamant ought to be noticed.

“I didn’t want to give it anywhere in London,” he says. “London has got enough, I think. And The Hepworth is overwhelming. You’ve been, you know what it’s like, it’s ideal. It is a truly remarkable place and they have been incredibly good to me. They have sent curators down, gallery managers down, trustees; they showed more interest in the first month than I think anyone has shown, ever. And they’ve sustained it. There’s always one of the buggers on the phone nagging me to do something.

“Clearly, regional museums are starved of cash. This hypocritical government keeps

talking about a Northern Powerhouse, but it clearly doesn’t care about a Northern Powerhouse when it comes to the arts. I don’t think ministers care about the arts anyway. They’re a bunch of bloody Philistines. They’ve no idea how important the arts are to this country, culturally and economically.

“So I want very much to encourage other people to do what I have done. Either give their collections, or loan works, or make bequests of money, to regional galleries. They are the ones that need it.”

The Hepworth are not going to delay displaying Tim’s collection. From the end of April, until October, a selection from Tim’s walls will travel to Wakefield for an exhibition that will replicate, as much as it can, the domestic setting of Tim’s home in Islington. Which is going to leave Tim’s home with some bare walls.

“It certainly is.”

How will that feel?

“Come back and ask me when it has happened. But some artist friends have offered to fill the holes.

“It’s going to be a fascinating experience, seeing it out of this context. Seeing it possibly as a whole unit, or seeing things completely differently, or even seeing things and thinking, why did I ever buy that? That’s the great part for me. The different context, different setting, different lighting. Seeing people looking at it, listening to their comments. Maybe their rude comments. It’s going to be an adventure.”


While Tim has his photograph taken, we wander the rooms and staircases, disturbing the cat, trying to judge the value of the heavier ceramics, in case we need something non-essential to drop upon the head of the man from the Telegraph.

There is art on every side of us, of quality that could suffocate you if you attempted to breathe it all in at once. This, we suppose, is why galleries look like galleries; they talk about letting the art breathe, when actually it’s the viewer who needs air. But that’s also why so many galleries can be so deathly; all those people and artworks use up all the air. We’d rather be suffocated among Tim’s nearly-lost-at-Tetris wall hangings and long shelves of paperbacks than by a white plaster wall, and we’re glad that’s the atmosphere The Hepworth are intending to transplant north, alongside the art.

But then there’s one. A painting. Hung above a radiator, we remember, or maybe it was below a shelf. Those built in necessities of the house receded when we noticed it. All the other paintings receded too. It was burgundy mostly, a rectangle, with dull yellow stripes at angles that felt Soviet; it was abstract, anyway, as most of the collection is. It was brilliant. We looked at it for as long as we could. Maybe we’ll see it again at The Hepworth.


“A couple of weeks ago, a friend called from the Ronchini Gallery in the West End,” says Tim. “It was about Rebecca Ward, a young Texan artist whose work I had bought. I had spoken to her at her latest private view and asked if she could do me another small work. Well, she’s done it. It’s not here yet, but that’s the most recent one I’ve bought.”

So with the bequest settled upon The Hepworth, Tim is still buying?

“Yes, I’m afraid I am,” he says. “I’m not sure where the money’s coming from. But I’ll still stagger along – maybe not quite at my former rate – but I can’t stop. Only death will bring it to an end. Death, or incarceration in a high-security psychiatric hospital.”


First published in TCT