From Jamie’s baby joy to Hugh’s seduction technique Lynda Lee-Potter, the doyenne of celebrity interviewers, wrote some sparkling pieces for Weekend with some of her favourite chefs before her death in 2004

  • Weekend magazine has relooked at its interviews with chefs for 25th anniversary
  • Lynda Lee-Potter loved interviewing cooks in their homes over a fresh meal
  • Late interviewer adored Jamie Oliver and spoke to him while struggling for baby
  • Also had a soft spot for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as a fellow Dorset dweller

There was little our late, great interviewer Lynda Lee-Potter liked more than an assignment to meet a brilliant cook at his or her home, watching them conjure up a simple meal, crack open the champagne and settle down to answer her questions as they ate together. 

She especially had time for Jamie Oliver, who she first met when he had just married Jools and they were desperate for a baby. Two years later, when the Olivers had had their first baby Poppy, Lynda was back at their home in London’s Hampstead. 

How she would have celebrated the fact he and Jools now have five children. Delia Smith was another favourite. 

Lynda returned from the interview announcing that she absolutely ‘adored’ her. But she also had a soft spot for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. 

A fellow Dorset dweller, Lynda visited the thatched farmhouse Hugh was about to move his family into… 

The late Lynda Lee-Potter, pictured at her desk in 2000, loved interviewing brilliant cooks such as Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. They would cook for her at their homes before they would settle down for the interview over a wonderful meal

I wanted to run around naked! 

When Jamie Oliver, now a father of five, spoke to Lynda in 2002 he was on cloud nine. He and wife Jools had had their first child, Poppy, after struggling to conceive, and they’d just had some more happy news…

Jools and Jamie Oliver live in an enchantingly pretty house just off London’s Hampstead High Street. They moved in a week before their five-month-old daughter Poppy was born. 

When I interviewed Jamie two years ago, he said how much he and Jools wanted a baby. I thought then what a super dad he’d make, and as Jools says, ‘He’s wonderful with her, but I knew he would be. 

‘Nothing surprises me about Jamie. Two months ago he went to America and when he got back I’d really dressed up for him. 

‘He walked in past me and went straight to Poppy. I said, “I’m here Jamie,” and he said, “Right babe, in a minute.” I’m second to her but I can live with that.’

Six years ago Jamie was a sous-chef at The River Cafe in London when a documentary was being made there. His appearance on it made a big impression, producers began courting him and The Naked Chef was born. 

‘The night I was filmed at The River Cafe,’ says Jamie, ‘I wasn’t supposed to be working, but the kitchen was a person short. Needless to say the person who was off and wasn’t really sick hates me now – we fell out.’

At 21 Jamie, who’d had a loving upbringing in the family pub, The Cricketers, in Clavering, Essex, became rich and famous. After his TV series took off, he was inundated with offers.

Lynda met Jamie Oliver, pictured, in 2002 when the star had discovered his wife was expecting their second child. He revealed that Jools couldn’t wait to tell him both times and ended up ringing him during important meetings – leaving the TV chef struggling to contain his excitement in public

‘Jools used to say, “Don’t do so much.” I’d say, “I’m so lucky so young, I mustn’t waste it.” But it takes more of a man to say, “No.” When Poppy was born I thought, “Jamie, you’re not a kid any more, you’ve got to grow up.”’

He is a besotted father and even cooks with Poppy tucked into a baby holder slung around his neck. It’s a bewitching sight – the baby peers out over the holder, fascinated, as Jamie chops and stirs and chatters away.

When I arrive for lunch, Jamie cooks tagliatelle for Jools, who doesn’t eat fish, and bruschetta with crab and lobster and a salad for him and me, accompanied by champagne. We eat in the conservatory overlooking the garden. 

Being with them is a joy because they’re so welcoming, so entranced with their daughter and their house, which is festooned with fairy lights. They seem a bit like two children playing at house. 

They met at school as teenagers and have been dotty about each other ever since. Jamie was born when his father was 21, and he teases his mother by telling people he was conceived on Southend pier.

She’s actually quite posh and says he makes her sound like a slapper. ‘She rang me up the other day and gave me a lecture about dropping my Hs. 

‘She said, “And I know you work in a kitchen, but there is no need to swear. I’ve been talking to your nan about it.”’

Jools’s mother was a model alongside Jean Shrimpton, her father Maurice a City broker who had a stroke when Jools was eight and died before her wedding in 2000. ‘Mum loves Jamie,’ says Jools.

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‘If I ring and say, “Jamie’s being a complete sod,” she’s on his side. She talks me round.’

Jools knew she might have difficulties conceiving because she had polycystic ovaries, and after an operation on her fallopian tubes she started a course of fertility drugs, which she had to take three times a day. It was a difficult time. 

‘She wasn’t Jools for six months,’ says Jamie. ‘The drugs muck about with your hormones, which govern to an extent who you are.’ Jools felt paranoid, mixed with the fear that she’d never get pregnant.

‘Every woman who has been through it will understand,’ she says. ‘Everything was going wrong. The house had to have work on it and we moved into a horrible hotel. 

‘Then Jamie had to go to Australia and New Zealand and I have a fear of flying. He said, “Just come, you’ll love it.”’

They went and it was in New Zealand that Poppy was conceived. ‘I did a pregnancy test every month. 

‘Usually I’d do it, leave it and then go back to look. This time I thought, “No, I’ll stay holding it,” and I saw these two little lines, which means you’re pregnant. 

‘I was laughing and crying and I phoned Jamie. He was in an important meeting and he couldn’t really talk.’ 

Jamie (pictured in 2000) revealed to Lynda that the night he was scouted while cooking at The River Cafe he was actually covering someone else’s shift – and that this unnamed person had a massive falling out with Jamie over the incident

He also said all of his heroes are women – including Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from The River Cafe, and Elizabeth David

Jamie didn’t want the high-powered people he was with to hear the news before anybody else, so outwardly he stayed calm. ‘I was talking to the biggest wigs and Jools was crying and screaming. 

‘I wanted to cry and run around naked myself. I felt like doing the whole Naked Chef bit, but I was just saying, “OK, yeah. Have you spoken to anybody about this?”’

When Poppy arrived Jamie was in tears. ‘After watching Jools give birth I’ve got even more respect for women,’ he says.

‘I’ve always been a ladies’ boy, my heroes are women: Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers from The River Cafe, Elizabeth David.’

At Poppy’s christening two weeks ago Jools felt particularly emotional and she’s just found out why – she’s expecting their second baby next spring. ‘The doctor said I was unlikely to get pregnant when I was breastfeeding so we didn’t bother to use anything. 

‘The other week I thought, “I’ll just do a pregnancy test,” not really thinking I could be pregnant,’ she says. ‘And it was positive. I knew Jamie was in another important meeting but I couldn’t wait till he came home so I rang him.’

Jamie was ecstatic that it had happened so naturally. ‘The fact that this was spontaneous was empowering for Jools. 

‘Ladies like to feel like ladies and this pregnancy is really special because it wasn’t with help. It’s just been an amazing year. I don’t think Jools and I have ever been so happy.’ 

Cooking can be a flirtation –  but there’s no surefire hit

In 2003, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed his secrets of seduction – and how being sacked made his career.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is living in a rented Dorset rectory next to a Norman church. On Sunday mornings the sound of hymns drifts through the house, which is down a little lane with glorious views across fields and hedgerows to the coast.

Hugh, 38, has left River Cottage where he made his beguiling TV series in which he showed us how to grow vegetables, keep livestock, fish, cook, conserve and cherish the countryside. He and his French wife, Marie, have now bought an old farmhouse with 40 acres and, when the renovation work is finished, they will move in with their four-year-old son, Oscar, and new baby, Freddie.

Marie was a journalist and was introduced to the charming, rather scruffy, eccentric Old Etonian by a mutual French friend who described him to her as ‘Hugh the Cook’. It was an apposite description because cooking was part of Hugh’s seduction technique, which he highly recommends to any besotted chap.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall told Lynda in 2003 that he used his cooking to seduce women – and that he used a courgettes and pasta dish to woo his now-wife Marie

‘When you’re cooking to seduce there isn’t a surefire hit, because people like different things,’ he says. ‘But if you’re trying to guess what they like sex-wise you can do that as you cook for them. 

‘You think, “Well, if she likes this, I bet she’ll like that”. So there can be a flirtation. The first dish I cooked that Marie really loved was courgettes and pasta.’ 

The dish clearly worked because when I later ask Marie about Hugh’s seduction dish, she smilingly recalls that courgettes and pasta supper. ‘That’s a relief,’ says her husband.

Hugh owes his skills in the kitchen to his training in London at 192 and at the River Cafe, run by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. ‘I think they must have had a tricky conversation with the accountant one day,’ he says.

‘We knew somebody was going to go. I was sure it wasn’t going to be me, but it was. Ruth was very nice. She said I wasn’t as disciplined as the other chefs, and she was right.’

He went off to France to cook for restaurant critic Quentin Crewe. ‘If he was entertaining for lunch or dinner, we’d flick through Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. That’s when I started to think I preferred cooking for people on a more informal level.’

I was a failure at school

The outwardly confident Delia Smith revealed a vulnerable side when she spoke to Lynda Lee-Potter in 2000, explaining how her unhappy schooldays had left her riddled with insecurity… 

Delia Smith is said to be the woman most men fancy. She’s pretty with a sweet smile and has the ability to tell even beginners how to cook without getting in a muddle.

But the chaps who actually know her might tell a different story. ‘I am a perfectionist so I can be hard on people,’ she says. ‘I’m also a blunt speaker, which I think men find quite tough.’

In fact Delia, who last August was offered a peerage but turned it down as she felt she was too busy, is an amalgam of implacability, vulnerability and total assurance. ‘I’m a person of powerful instinct,’ she admits.

‘The BBC said to me, “You can’t put a sunflower on the front of a cookery book. It will look like an advert for margarine.” But I knew it was right and I wouldn’t back down.

‘If I didn’t also have the unsure side to me I’d probably be absolutely dreadful. I went through years of never having any confidence.

Delia Smith exposed her vulnerable side to Lynda during an interview in 2000, revealing that her unhappy school days left her with an insecurity which she has since used to her advantage

‘I was a failure at school and if you fail your 11-plus you do really feel on the scrap heap. The results were read out in class and I went home and cried all afternoon.

‘I felt I’d let my parents down, and I think that’s where the lack of confidence is rooted. I found school a very unhappy experience. 

‘The headmistress said when I left, “If you’d worked hard you could have been a secretary.” You don’t feel confident if you start out with an inadequate education and then marry someone who’s got a degree from Oxford.’

She is referring to her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, who was a deputy editor at the Mirror Magazine when Delia landed a job as their cookery writer. They were ‘desperate’ to fill the job, she says. 

‘I went to see the editor, Mike Molloy, who said, “What have you written?” I said, “I haven’t written anything ever.” I hadn’t got an English O-level, I didn’t know how to write or put full stops in and I still can’t spell. 

‘He said, “That’s all right. Go away, write two 600-word pieces and send them in.” I sat up all night doing it. Then I thought, “No, it’s not right.” 

‘I did it again, and again. I saw the sun come up but I got the job and £80 for each piece, which was a huge amount then.’

She also got a husband, in Michael. ‘It wasn’t just my looks and charm which attracted him,’ says Delia. ‘Michael likes his food and that’s been a joy for me.’ 

She told Lynda: ‘If I didn’t also have the unsure side to me I’d probably be absolutely dreadful. I went through years of never having any confidence’

When the magazine folded the pair took their redundancy cheques and bought a cottage in Suffolk. Viewers know it because it’s where Delia does all her TV programmes. 

‘Our lifestyle is modest, though we fly first class. But I’ve learned that the more possessions you have the more aggro you have.’

The couple don’t have any children. ‘I’ve never spent time worrying about it,’ says Delia. 

‘I couldn’t have had my career if I’d had a family because I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else to look after them. I’m not sure, though, that I’d have been a good parent. I’d probably have been unsure if I was doing the right thing.’

In some ways, Norwich City Football Club, where she and Michael are principal shareholders, has become a surrogate family. ‘Football,’ she says, ‘offers all the things we’re told we’re missing in life – community, belonging and sharing.’

And cooking has brought her joy, fulfilment and finally, at 58, possibly confidence. ‘Cooking is very important,’ she says. 

‘There’s joy in eating, which can be shared. I don’t think I’ll ever suffer from depression because I’m always looking forward to the next meal.’  

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