“I’d be a fool to stop it now!” The man with the only complete collection of UK No.1 singles

For 70 years, the UK Singles Chart has been a constant in our lives: a weekly countdown that hums along in print, on TV and radio. But for Dave Watson, it’s more than just background noise: it’s a way of life. The 55-year-old has been collecting copies of UK No.1 hits since the late 1980s; today he owns all 1,404 UK No.1 singles, stretching back to the charts birth in 1952. He believes it is the only complete collection of its kind.

Watson’s devotion to the charts began when he received a Guinness Book of Hit Singles one Christmas. Starting a collection made sense: with a mother who had worked in a record store, he grew up in a musical household and he enjoyed collecting things. “I just looked at the list at the back of the book and thought: wow, that might be a pretty good idea!” he says, speaking from his home in Dunstable.

By the time he began his mission in 1988, the charts had already seen 605 number one singles. With the newly released Don’t Turn Around by Aswad under his arm, he set out to find the previous 604 releases.

Growing up in High Wycombe, Watson would take the train to London to scour music fairs and second-hand record shops in search of his bounty. He answered ads in Time Out and Loot magazines and wrote to record dealers. “I would spend endless fucking hours looking through the dealers’ inventory,” he says. “I had a handwritten list that I would photocopy and take with me to get the word out. Some would write back to say what they had with their prizes scribbled on.”

His wish list had started on pages long. “Then you start putting lines through them, your list gets shorter and you think: well, I actually have a chance to do all of this. Once I started building it, it just drove me to keep going.”

Watson would break search by decade after release; the older ones were harder to find. But he liked the challenge and chose the rarer of the two when singles had been released in two formats during transitional periods.

“You can’t collect everything!” … Dave Watson at home in Dunstable. Photo: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Discovering eBay around the millennium was a turning point: at the time, Watson had fewer than 10 singles left on his list: “I remember going on for the first time ever, finding the remaining half dozen and just thinking: wow, this is crazy. I had looked and looked and looked, then suddenly you typed it in and there it is.”

When he bought a 78 RPM record of Lita Roza’s (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window, which reached No. 1 in 1953, his collection was updated.

At one point, Watson toyed with the idea of ​​collecting all the number 1s from the Official UK Albums Chart too, although he says that, luckily, common sense kicked in. All? There will be hundreds of them!” He laughs. “You can’t collect everything!”

To adapt to changing technology and listening habits, digital downloads and streamed songs became eligible for the singles chart in 2005 and 2014, respectively. Accordingly, Watson began downloading No 1s and burning them onto CDs, complete with a printed sleeve and label.

In 2020, he began creating homemade compilations in the style of Now That’s What I Call for the greatest hits of the year. “I try to make the CDs look like they were bought commercially,” he says. “It’s probably a bit old school.”

Physical singles are hardly released these days. (The physical singles charts read like a dispatch from another world; currently, Firestarter by the Prodigy is No. 1.) While he misses the process of flipping through record racks, Watson can now maintain his collection from his computer. It’s a weekly ritual: “On a Friday night, I check the charts to see what’s No. 1 and make a record of it,” he explains. “Sometimes if I can’t do it on a Friday, I’ll do it on a Saturday, but I very rarely forget – because I want to keep the fundraising going.”

Watson’s ever-growing archive of 78s, 45s and CDs is now displayed in his home. He doesn’t listen to the singles much anymore – he uses his mobile phone to revisit his favourites, from his teenage years in the ’80s, as well as later cherished hits from Prodigy to the Spice Girls – but the collection is a source of pride, as well as an icebreaker . “I try not to drone on about it but it’s a good talking point. It opens up a conversation,” he says.

Although he doesn’t like today’s chart music (“it’s not really my taste”), Watson won’t be giving up his hobby anytime soon. “It’s just one of those things: I’ve gone so far with it that I’d be a fool to stop now,” he says. “I’m going to keep at it as long as I can because it just seems to be a part of me now. It’s just what I do.”

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