The Newport gardener, Eddie Hayes, who recently found fame through a 26ft flower tower in his garden, speaks to Laura Lea about a whole life of innovative projects and a do-it-yourself attitude.
“I WAS born in 1943 in Iraq, in Kirkuk. I came over when I was 19 with family. My father came before us and bought a house. We had to leave Iraq, because we were born as British subjects and they kicked all the foreigners out.
He knew somebody in Newport so he arranged to meet him and bought a house in Maindee. After a few months I started working at Llanwern steelworks. I worked there for 18 years but in between working there and now I met the wife, which was love at first sight.
We met at the Majestic – a dance hall. I didn’t have any money when we got married. The wife’s dress was £5 and the ring was £3. We’ve been married 47 years now.
We bought our house six months before we got married. It was a derelict house in Maindee. I borrowed £100 from my mother, £300 off my father and my brother and put a £400 deposit on a £1,400 house. The mortgage payment was £12.50 a month. We refurbished it and that was the first project.
I was working at Llanwern throughout all of this and doing the house on weekends or after shifts.
We were there for eight years. I had three kids and they liked splashing water so I thought let’s dig a swimming pool. So I built an extension and dug a 16ft indoor-heated swimming pool in a terraced house. That was my first plumbing job. I’d never even seen a pool being built before. It took two full days to heat it.
I built a massive fish tank in that house too. That was my first unusual project.
Then my wife wanted a bungalow so I said, find me the land and I’ll build you one. So she looked in the paper and this land on Gibbs road was called the dingle and nobody wanted it – it was too hard to build on.
So I bought the land. When we came to have a look at it we went down to the bottom and looked up – it was all overgrown, I loved it. I can visualise things – all finished, decorated, everything.
Between working in Llanwern, buying, doing up and selling houses in between, it took seven years to complete this house.
I wake up in the middle of the night and if I’ve got to do something, I’ll think and think about how to do it. When I was ten I was my brother’s apprentice. He had a carpentry shop and I learnt from there.
This is the hardest project I’ve done. It was different because it was for ourselves. We ran out of money half way through. I was still working at Llanwern at the time and they had a disused canteen on site. So I bought the whole canteen for £25, dismantled it and used all the materials to turn the downstairs basement into two bedrooms, a kitchen and reception room. Then we could continue building above it.
We bought this land first then the land below came up for sale so we bought it and built the warehouse for Beechwood Glazing on it. Then we had Beechwood Furniture and Beechwood Gallery.
In September we sold the gallery and finished trading but we still have two lock-ups full of furniture. So I’m still semi-retired.
After the glazing and the gallery we started the office furniture. It all started when I was clearing some offices for a business. There was a lot of furniture and he didn’t want it so he just gave it to me to take away, for nothing. It was something for nothing – that’s how it started. I would repair it, do it up and sell pieces and then it got bigger and bigger.
All of that Flower Tower – I didn’t have to buy anything – I had all the materials. I’m a hoarder and I’m also a workaholic. I can’t stop working.
Seven years ago, I had a triple bypass. I spent a week in the Heath, a week at home and then back at work. Between having the heart attack and the bypass, I fitted the kitchen.
I do upholstery, gardening and brick-laying. There are not many trades I can’t do. Each trade – I learnt either through accident or looking at people. Especially glass – I can cut any glass. I learned how to do that myself. One day I built my father a greenhouse from 360 pieces of glass. He loved it.
I don’t know what started the bar – maybe the miniatures I was collecting. I used to travel to get them – I love them. I’ve got over 2,000 different ones – got a lot more than that overall, but some are doubles. But I never drink them – they’re all sealed.
When I built the bungalow the downstairs bar wasn’t there – so I knocked through and got 18 skips of rubble out of there.
You wouldn’t believe the feeling when you finish things. The satisfaction is unbelievable.
If someone comes and says they want to buy the stock and the business they can have it and I’ll retire. I’ve done what I wanted and I never ever believed I’d be as happy as I am. I’m so content with my life. We couldn’t wish for any better.
A motto I really believe in is: why leave it to tomorrow, when you can do it today?”