A quick chat with Mary Portas

Mary Portas helped turn around struggling fashion boutiques in her TV series Mary Queen of Shops, but will her retail makeover magic work on the humble charity shop?

We caught up with the straight-talking fashion guru as she tries to turn the smell of mothballs into the sweet smell of success in her latest venture, Mary Queen of Charity Shops, which begins on BBC2 at 9pm on Tuesday, June 2. She explains her mission here…

I wanted to breathe new life into charity shops and make them somewhere people want to go… Most of them are drab and feel a bit dated.

Charity shops depend on public donations and the volunteers who work in them… Everything was slightly out of my control, which I’d never come across in business before.

It was a tad different to transforming somewhere like Harvey Nichols… But the principles of great retailing apply everywhere. People want a great product, to be served brilliantly and to feel they’re in a great place.

I was shocked by the amount of rubbish that’s dumped at charity shops… The worst thing I found while sorting through stock was a sanitary towel. It’s beyond gross. I couldn’t get my head round a lot of it, as people had actually made the effort to take this stuff to the shop.

The average age of my staff was 78, and they were great… The energy, commitment and love they gave was humbling. One of them kept telling me dirty jokes. I couldn’t believe what was coming out of the mouth of an 82-year-old woman!

I got my team of grannies to style celebrities at London Fashion Week… That’s in the final episode and it’s a lot of fun. They styled Peaches Geldof, model Erin O’Connor and DJ Jodie Harsh, and the fashion press wrote about it. I needed to speak to a wider audience and show how you can get fashionable outfits in charity shops, while helping the environment and supporting a good cause.

My top shopping tip is, if you are not being served in a way you like, you should leave the shop… Don’t stand for shoddy service.

I’m very busy but, when I get the chance to watch TV, I’m a drama girl at heart… I have lots of box-sets to watch, like The Wire and Mad Men. I also loved The Street. Having said that, I watch The X Factor with my kids. It’s great with a bottle of wine and a bowl of chips.

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