Andrew Dan-Jumbo wanted out of carpentry. The Nigerian-born 40-year-old had actually been contemplating a return to his previous career, graphic design, before he snagged a role as one of television's original "hunky handymen" on TLC's While You Were Out three years ago.
Dan-Jumbo, who will appear in Ottawa this weekend at the Ottawa Home & Garden Show, had actually built a successful commercial and residential construction company in Buffalo with his brother.
But after 10 years of working in that city's blazing summer heat and brutal winters, he wanted a change. Then he heard TLC was casting for a new, couples-focused renovation show. So he sent in a tape and within weeks met with producers in New York. Within an hour of that meeting, his phone was ringing with an offer to film the first two shows. Two more followed, then full-time work.
It was a much earlier, tragic twist of fate which actually imbued Dan-Jumbo with the skills that make him such a clever and crafty carpenter.
He was just six when his mother, brother and sister -- followed shortly by his father-surgeon, wealthy by Nigerian standards -- fled the civil war-torn country in 1969.
He has vague memories of sitting on a stranger's lap on a crowded plane, and later staying with an uncle in London, England while his parents started over with nothing.
"One of the benefits of growing up in a poor family setting is that when things break, you fix them yourself," he explains. "It encourages resourcefulness and creativity and a sort of fearless approach to taking things apart and figuring out why it broke and how I can fix it."
Perhaps that's why he's so pleased when While You Were Out veers into the sort of philanthropic territory it does April 6, when a hard-luck father and son from Houston, Tex., are presented with a new condo courtesy of the Roger Clemens Foundation.
Though there will probably be more such episodes in the future, it's usually about one-half of a couple wanting to fix up anything from a back garden to a home office to surprise their better half. The person planning the surprise has to get his or her partner out of town for the two days it takes the While You Were Out crew to complete the job. When they return, it can make for some emotional moments.
"The show is not about whether you like the design that's been done for you, or whether you like the prizes that you may or may not have won," said Dan-Jumbo. "It's simply about the fact that your partner has gone to such extraordinary lengths to surprise you and based on that they're saying to you they love you."
Wives make better "reveals," he says, because they are quicker to realize what has happened. They are also harder to get out of town because they are more suspicious.
Dan-Jumbo estimates as many as one in five couples conspire with each other to get on the show. Producers have even caught them talking about their project's process.
That's why the third season has a contractual clause to deal with couples who lie about their circumstances, says Dan-Jumbo.
"If we do find out in the first day you've lied on the application, we will pull the show immediately and take everything and go to the nearest local community centre or charitable organization and do some work for them," he says.
Besides his respected design and carpentry work, Dan-Jumbo has become a sort of a tool-belt TV sex symbol. In 2003, he was named one of People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. He has a serious girlfriend of three years, but that doesn't stop women at the 30-odd Home & Garden shows he attends each year from getting personal.
"I get proposals of marriage quite frequently," he said. "I'm sure they'd be quite nervous if I said yes to them."