Known as the ‘fixer’ in building circles, Essex carpenter Raphael Meade is an odd job man like no other, discovers Mark Kebble
Since Absolutely launched this title, it’s fair to say we haven’t featured someone like Raphael Meade in our homes and interiors section. We first came across the Essex local because of his carpentry work, but dig a little deeper and you open up a real box of tricks, covering everything from ballet dancing to starring in a reality TV show that saw him stranded in a remote part of Scotland with 22 other participants.
With so much to cover off, it made sense to start right at the beginning. “From as far back as I can remember, I have always been building or dismantling things,” Raphael – sharply dressed (fashion icon next, perhaps?) – says on his childhood. “The main reason was because I wanted to know ‘how, why and what’ made things work the way they did, and could I add to it, strengthen it and make it last longer or just improve it?”
Although, as Raphael says, he was “always involved in carpentry from childhood”, it wasn’t an instant career pathway until he reached his mid-20s. “From 16 to 24 years I did a multitude of jobs with no direction, no aim, and no focus. I had my ‘stupid head on’,” he admits with a rueful shrug.
Once he did knuckle down, however, he swiftly became well renowned in building circles, particularly with his ‘can do’ attitude. “I’ll work on almost anything, from hanging doors to building complete homes,” he says, “but I suppose I specialise on the more awkward type jobs, or jobs that have a little flair to them and are not standard in nature. Bespoke, for want of a better word.”
His ability to tackle such jobs led to him being given his own moniker. “I became known as a fixer because I’d get jobs or someone would call me in on a job because the previous tradesperson had ‘messed it up’ and now the clients were seeking a way to ‘put it right’,” he chuckles. “The title ‘Fixer’ actually comes from a glass company I used to work for. My then guvnor used to say to me, ‘just chuck it in…’ to which I’d reply, ‘I don’t do chuck’. With a gentle laugh, he’d answer back with, ‘You haven’t got a malicious hammer swing in you, have you boy?’”
One job that he found himself involved with – but certainly not because of things going wrong – was a unique ‘straw bale house’ project in North London. It’s the home of architect Sarah Wigglesworth, and its unique design – such as a palette of ordinary materials transformed into innovative wallings and evocative claddings – caught the eye of TV show Grand Designs. “I was just one of the workers with no screen time,” Raphael says, “but what I did get [from the experience] was the finer, more dextrous type jobs within the home that required quality finish.”
Soon, though, Raphael was appearing in front of the camera as his career diversified. Eden was a reality TV series, first broadcast on Channel 4 from 18 July to 8 August 2016. It featured 23 participants living for a year in a remote part of Scotland, attempting to build a self-sufficient community. “I actually took part in the show not because I wanted to be on TV, but because I was, up to that point, an ‘armchair enthusiast’ always shouting at the TV, ‘Oh I could do that!’” he laughs.
During the show, he lived and worked as a carpenter for a number of months before leaving under protest from the behaviour of other cast members. It was a sign that Raphael is a person that stands up for the underdog – “That show changed me as a person to appreciate and have more empathy and sympathy for others” – and his charisma has seen him appear in several TV ads in recent years.
Today, you will find Raphael still working in the building trade, but also teaching carpentry – as well as coaching martial arts. “Maybe it’s because I can still think like someone that ‘doesn’t know’, meaning I can relate to people who struggle,” he says on that side of things. “It gives me a great feeling to see someone blossom when they ‘get it’. If I were to get to a point in my life where I don’t do anything, this I will still do. The accumulation of my years of struggling to know what I now know and can do must not go to waste.”
But there is still one thing that maybe, just maybe, we can add to his impressive CV one day. “I love ballet,” he smiles. “The best present I have ever had to date was to watch a rehearsal performance at the Sadler’s Wells theatre, organised by my wife. We sat there in the empty auditorium, just us and the dancers on stage. I was mesmerised. If I could live my life again, give up all I have now and run the risk of a new unknown life as a dancer, I’d jump at it. Letting go, expressing yourself through music… YES!”