Our favourite chef and dad of five lets us in on his feminine side – and what he thinks of the new GBBO
Jamie Oliver has always come across as quite blokey. Bursting with banter and forever cracking cheeky jokes, he’s the kind of guy you’d love to share a pint with down the pub. So it came as kind of a surprise when Jamie, 42, tells us he’s actually a bit girly.
We met up a few weeks ago at his London HQ to talk about his latest book and TV series – Jamie’s Quick & Easy Meals – and hear tales about his life at home with his wife of 17 years Jools, also 42, and their five children – Poppy, 15, Daisy, 14, Petal, eight, Buddy, six, and one-year-old River.
Jamie likes sewing and mending, he plaits the girls’ hair and he’s a proper hands-on dad when it comes to changing River’s nappies. At the same time he’s got restaurants to run, TV shows to make, cookbooks to write and a government to harass about doing more to tackle childhood obesity. Somehow he also managed to squeeze in half an hour to chat to us.…
So Jamie, are you saying you’re not as blokey as we thought?
I think I’m quite feminine in some ways. I have a sewing machine and can fix things, do turn-ups and mend clothes. I’m good at darning and sewing and I can plait the girls’ hair. When River was a newborn. I got up and did night feeds, as of course I should. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at any of them, but I’m OK at a range of so-called feminine things and I do enjoy them.
And would you like your sons to be the same?
Yeah, definitely. I’m not into the whole ‘boys are blue and girls are pink’ thing. Girls can – and should – be builders and I even send Buddy to ballet classes, for instance. Some people rear up about that, but I’m really into Billy Elliott and I think he should go for it.
Have any of your children ever expressed a desire to follow in your footsteps and become a chef?
Buddy’s the only one who’s ever wanted to. He chatters about it to himself and says: ‘I want to be a chef, but the problem is I won’t be better than dad, so is it really worth it?’ And he complains that I’m always stopping him from cooking and I’m like: ‘Do I?’ He said I stop him making his ‘potions’, which are basically a big pot filled with every kitchen ingredient plus soil and possibly bird poo! The last time he made a potion, I watched him peeing into a bowl and shaking baking powder into it and then trying to carry this big sloshing thing into the house. I’m like: ‘No way!’ And he thinks I’m being out of order!
What’s new about your latest cookbook and TV show?
I’m trying to not sound cocky but I’m thrilled with this cookbook. It’s about making fantastic food with just five ingredients – why didn’t I think of that before? There are things in it that are naughty and some are super-healthy, so rather than get a takeaway, pick up these simple ingredients and make something amazing at home. Seriously, it couldn’t be simpler.
Tackling childhood obesity with free school meals and a sugar tax on fizzy drinks is the big issue you campaign about. Where are you with that now?
At the moment we’re working on energy drinks, and the prolific consumption of them by under-16-year-olds. All the warnings saying they’re not suitable for kids are on the back of the can, not the front, and the warnings don’t effing work anyway. If I sent Buddy into a corner shop to get a Red Bull or a Boost or a Monster, he could buy what he likes. It’s a multi-billion pound industry that’s preying on kids. It’s not right.
Are your kids fussy eaters?
Not really. The older two are into everything – Asian stir- fries, sushi, curry, the lot. Petal and Buddy’s taste buds aren’t quite there yet, so they like their food more modular and separate on the plate. And Rocket has normal food, just made quite lumpy and cooked with no salt. But meals can be chaos when somebody’s crying or deciding they don’t like something they used to like. This week I had Buddy refusing to eat a tomato on his plate when all month he was munching them straight off the plant!
You’ve always stated the benefits of hard graft and were working from the age of five in your dad’s pub. Do your teenage daughters work yet?
That’s all just starting, but they work so hard at school – which I never did – so it’s hard for me to say: ‘Go on, get down the street and wash some cars like I did. Or get in grandad’s kitchen.’ My girls even have tutoring at the weekend, so I’ve been a bit slower on the old-fashioned graft with them. But as they want to buy more things, they’ll get into work.
But you’re rich – couldn’t you just give them money?
True, but it’s quite nice to want things and have to find a solution to get it. As a kid I’d put in the hours at the pub, save up money and after three or four weeks I could order something from the Freemans catalogue. Obviously, it’s a bit different for my kids and we’re in new territory here. But Jools and I don’t believe in spoiling them.
What do you cook for Jools when you’re in the doghouse with her?
The only thing that gets me out of the doghouse is an apology! But after the apologies, I do ask her what she’d like to eat – I’ll say: ‘Babe, what do you feel like? Light and fresh and zingy, or spicy, or comforting?’ But often she won’t say – it’s a funny part of our relationship. She always keeps me guessing. I’m trying to get the girls to be more specific. They’ll be eating something I’ve made and say: ‘Thanks for this, but I really liked that curry you made last week.’
Are you and your family watching The Great British Bake Off?
I’m a massive supporter of the new Bake Off, as much as I love Mel and Sue and Mary Berry. But Prue Leith is wonderful – I’ve known her for years and she’s the real deal. We love it at home, me and Jools and the kids – as well as Britain’s Got Talent. It’s great in the days of digital TV to have a show that everyone’s watching and talking about.
Have you ever been asked to be a reality TV judge?
I really regret that I had to turn down being a judge on America’s Bake Off [a job Paul Hollywood eventually got in 2013], which I would have loved because I used to be a pastry chef. No one’s asked me to do any others, but I think Jools got asked to Dancing On Ice once. I don’t like the idea of Jools being on ice because she’s so clumsy and has such long legs.
What are the downsides of fame do you think?
Recently I was having a pee in a pub loo and it was a little private moment. Then this dude behind me asked me to autograph my cookbook!
Jamie’s book 5 Ingredients is out now