Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 21 seconds
Everyone has a story. One Highbury couple has such a passion for art that in their home even the loo is a gallery. Meet Tim Sayer, a recently retired BBC radio news journalist, and his wife Annemarie Norton â a former ballet dancer â who makes costumes for opera, ballet, theatre and musicals. Interview by Nicola Baird
Tim Sayer is an expert conversationalist. Perhaps itâs because his homeÂ is so full of books and all the walls, and many doors, are used to show off hisÂ fabulous art collection that every objet dâartÂ can inspire an animated tale of friendship or fun.
âIâm a Londoner from north of the river,â says Tim about Teddington where he grew up â sadly with a father who was constantly unwell. By the time he was 17 he was ready for adventures such as rowing a skiff with friends from Kingston to Oxford up the Thames. âIt was five days of fun, including pub breaks. We slept in the boat,â remembers Tim.
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Over the years he has moved all round London including Kensington, Albany Street (close to Regentâs Park) and Primrose Hill.
In 1981 he was renting a flat in Finsbury Park when: âI heard about this place in Highbury and moved in January 1982. Iâve stayed because I love it here â thereâs such a mix of people and they are so friendly.â
Places Tim Sayer & Annemarie Norton like in Islington
Tim: Upper Street Hardware (204 Upper Street) — their window motto is:Â “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”. And they’re right.â
Annemarie: âThe staff are friendly and the food is fantastic at Gem on Upper Street â cheap and cheerful. We had our wedding reception there, and weâve had lots of parties and dinners. The lamb shish is always brilliant and they do a great chicken salad.â
Tim: I go to theÂ newsagent on the forecourt of H & I station. Harrendra BhattÂ and his wife, Prafulla, have been there for 26 years. Networkrail turfed them out of their stall by the post office in 2008.Â They appealedÂ to the Secretary of State for Transport, Lord (Andrew) Adonis, but it wasÂ no use.
Annemarie: We donât have papers delivered but we do haveÂ a milkman. Itâs so unusual â he brings us milk and fizzy water. StrangelyÂ the day after this interview, the milk and water were stolen from the doorstep.
Annemarie: Highbury Self Storage on Melody Lane, off Highbury Grove is run by David Partridge and two able assistants, Barry and Tony. Itâs very eccentric â we were using three units at one point!
Two becomes one
At one stageÂ Tim was tempted to moveÂ thanks to his burgeoning art collection. His flat wasnât big enough for all the paintings as well asÂ the furniture and possessions left from hisÂ andÂ Annemarieâs family homes after both their mothers died. But then his downstairs neighbour agreed to sell the couple his flat in 2012.
âWe completed on 18 December at 11.30am. I kicked the plasterboard down from my side,â says Tim showing me the bottom of the stairs where this happened. âSimon, my neighbour, said âitâs all yours nowâ and gave me a glass of whisky and then the bottle! He still sometimes comes to stay.â
Itâs not that long ago but Tim and Annemarieâs house has few clues of the time it was split into flats. Every room is perfectly organised â the books are arranged alphabetically and the abstract art is mostly in the dining room.
Annemarie is another Londoner. She was born in Hampstead to Polish refugees and claims to have been âa very shy child. âWhen I was nine I saw a photograph of Margot Fonteyn* and I said to my mother I want to do that.â Soon she was immersed in ballet â she went to the Royal Ballet School and then the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam where she danced for 10 years.
Her main work now is making costumes with Sue Smith, including the recent Monty Python and Kate Bush tours. During The Bakkhai at the Almeida in Islington, with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel, Annemaire says: âOur dress was covered in blood â I donât know what they use for blood but we had to send it to the dry cleaner often.â
To relax she dances in a class led by dance legend Romayne Grigorova at Covent Garden. âDance has always been a way to concentrate on oneself. So if I had any problems Iâd always want to do a dance class â you have to be 100 per cent present physically and mentally. It takes you out of yourself and is extremely good therapy,â explains Annemarie.
Tim may not be a dancer, but heâs active too â using a bike to get around and joking that, âyouâd be amazed by how many things Iâve carried home on a bike!â
Tim Sayerâs art collecting tips
- âItâs very different from when I bought prints in a junk shop – big business is much more involved. People photograph everything so that they can can look it up and check almost immediately.â
- Match up the artists you like with a friendly gallery. Donât be put off by snobby West End galleries. Donât let them intimidate you. Donât buy for investment.
- Make sure youâre not being fleeced by doing your homework.
- Donât over spend.
- Go for what you like with your heart and soul. I make up my mind quickly. If you like it and want it always go for it.
- Tell the dealer you want to pay monthly (not all at once). A good gallery will always agree.
- You could try for a discount too, but thatâs pushing it a bit.
For the love of art
For many years TimÂ was a BBC radio news journalist and itâs clear he still loves swapping news and stories. His art collection is very special, full of treasures, big names and work by artists heâs become friends with through his long connection with London galleries. NowÂ he has arranged to leave his collection, and all the books, to the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery in Yorkshire, which opened in May 2011. This may be sometime away, so until then Tim and Annemarie are having fun inviting friends and art lovers (such as Kettleâs Yard members) to their house to enjoy the unique experience of art on the stairs, in the loo, around the snug and even on the ceiling. Best of all, this gallery is full of prints, watercolours, oils, sculpture and even spears chosen entirely because Tim loved them âheart and soulâ.
- From 30 April – 30 September 2016, 100 of Tim’s artÂ works will be on view for the first time at the Hepworth Wakefield offeringÂ a taster of the Tim Sayer Bequest. See more here.
Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) was an English classical ballerina. Her final performance was when she was aged 66.
Over to you
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.