Jamie Richardson’s mates say he is a modern-day Forrest Gump. “He starts with nothing,” Jamie says, recounting the plot points that stuck with him from the two-and-a-half-hour Oscar-winning 1994 drama, “And he does something and ends up on telly for it. And he does something great, and somehow he keeps ending up on telly.”
If you’ve caught This Morning, BBC News, talkSPORT, ITV News, Mixtape Madness, The Sun, or the Australian current affairs show The Project this month, you’ll have noticed something unusual. Jamie Richardson keeps ending up on telly (and the radio, and the papers, and viral videos).
The 33-year-old Yorkshire carpet fitter started with nothing. Ten months ago – he says over the phone while shopping in a DIY store for spray adhesives – he was homeless. “I ended up jobless and hopeless,” he says, explaining he struggled with gambling and addictions after splitting with his partner of three years. “I remember praying saying ‘Listen, God, I know I don’t ask you for much, but just fucking please’,” he says. “All my life everyone’s always said ‘you’ll be famous’, and they were right. But it came when I least expected it.”
Jamie is famous – sort of. Since January he has been in and out of the local and national news for his various escapades. Most puzzlingly, he’s been a talking head on This Morning twice in a few short weeks, once (topless) as “Jamie Richardson who says it’s too hot to wear a top in this heat”, and once as “Jamie Richardson who believes stag dos are ‘mint’”. Last weekend, a Belgian TV crew came to his house to ask his opinions on “Britain leaving the Brexit”.
“They were asking people that care, basically passionate Britons really,” he says. “They were good lads, good bit of banter.”
When talking to Jamie, it’s clear to see why he’s a TV producer’s dream. He speaks candidly and quickly in a thick Leeds accent, succinctly summarising issues in his distinctive conversational and free-wheeling style. But just how did he become television’s go-to British bloke? And what does this say about the stereotypes our media relies on and perpetuates?
It didn’t start with the World Cup tattoo, but it helped. “Basically I got this tattoo 21 days before the World Cup final,” Jamie says, referring to the ink on his stomach that reads “England 2018 World Cup Winners”. A man from the British newspaper The Sun told Jamie he had “300 guys” with World Cup tattoos, but Jamie’s personality was the best. From there, he spoke to other media outlets, even appearing on TV in New Zealand.
“Even though England went out, it didn’t bother me even in the slightest, football came home weeks before that,” he says. When England lost their semi-final match against Croatia, Jamie’s media rounds started again. “I did an interview the next day with some guy in Bradford on YouTube, and he sold it to loads of other newspapers.
“To get from homeless ten months ago, to get to being on national telly, something I’ve always, always wanted to do, it’s just something…” A representative from This Morning did not respond to a request for comment, but Jamie believes he was invited on the show because one of the producers has him as a Friend on Facebook. “I did anything they asked me to do,” he says of why they asked him back, “When I went down they asked me to take me top off, we were all laughing and having a joke.”
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After social media noticed the strange coincidence of Jamie’s multiple This Morning appearances, it’s unlikely the show will have him back on, but he says he enjoyed representing “half” of the English population. Yet is it really him that we see on TV, or is he playing a part?
“A lot of the stuff that I did, like the BBC stuff where I said I had the epiphany [that England would win the World Cup], it wasn’t acting but it was to a point… To me it was hilarious, it was a bit like David Brent in The Office.” Nonetheless, Jamie insists that on television he is his true self. “It’s the real me but it’s the real me that doesn’t have to worry about anything. Can you imagine a person with no regrets at all?”
Yet no two-minute TV segment can really represent Jamie. After his first This Morning appearance he received backlash for a comment many interpreted as homophobic and transphobic. “In this day and age you’ve got transgender people, men marrying men, men going to the same toilet as women – and we’re talking about a man after he’s been at graft all day,” he said as justification for why he should be allowed to walk around topless.
“No! No!” he says when I ask if he is prejudiced against the LGBT+ community. “If you actually read the interview it says any English man should be able to do what they want, I never said anything negative,” he says. And what of his thoughts on Brexit? “I’ve lived in Gibraltar for six years, I’ve been about Europe, I know what it’s like to be living abroad,” he begins. “To be honest I’m a sole trader, it doesn’t make a difference to me…” In his Leeds accent, he summarises: “The only Brexit I know is if somebody sits on a deck chair and he breks it.”
In reality, then, Jamie defies stereotypes. He isn’t a caricature. And his media journey started well before the World Cup tattoo.
“People just stereotype me as ‘always up for a pint’, that’s great, I can be that guy, I’ve built myself as that guy, does it represent me in total? No it doesn’t.”
Jamie first appeared in the press after donating and fitting carpets to people in need, free of charge. “The other week I went out to a lady’s house, she had no carpet in her living room, all the kid’s feet were getting splinters from the floorboards, I did it for nothing,” he says. A month later, he made the local news again for helping homeless SAS veteran Bob Curry find a home. Another month went by, and Jamie appeared on ITV News for helping a homeless man who was living in a garage after his mum died.
“That’s it for me, that’s my legacy, not these bits on TV,” Jamie says. “If you believe that there’s goodness in the world, anybody can do anything.”
Jamie says nothing he ever does will compare to helping out his community, and that his media appearances are “just a joke” for him now. Still, he hopes there’ll be “one last adventure”.
“If I wanted to do one thing I’d love to do a bit of acting,” he says. “Like maybe play a bad guy in some film.
“You have to play to your strengths, I’m not going to be able to turn up and play Mr Articulate.”