a bet­ter I’m try­ing to be dad

With feed­ing the fam­ily on bud­get at the heart of his brand-new book and TV se­ries, Jamie Oliver ex­plains why th­ese days he’s a changed man

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - COVER STORY -

As I pull into the drive­way at Jamie Oliver’s coun­try house — the place he says he feels most at home — I spot him by the pond with his son, Buddy. The chef and his flaxen-haired two-year- old are chat­ting an­i­mat­edly about the swans and birds they can see in the wa­ter. It’s a sweet snap­shot of quiet fa­ther-and-son bond­ing on a warm sum­mer’s af­ter­noon.

It’s worth men­tion­ing be­cause a pile-up on the mo­tor­way has made me nearly an hour late for our in­ter­view and Jamie has taken the op­por­tu­nity, some might say un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, to spend qual­ity time with his youngest child rather than work­ing. Soon, he takes Buddy in­side the long, pink farm­house and re­turns to sit at the out­door wooden ta­ble over­look­ing the pond and lus­cious gar­dens. In a ca­sual get-up of long shorts and checked shirt, he’s tanned and seems more re­laxed than usual. It could be the lo­ca­tion. ‘This is where I live,’ he says, sur­vey­ing his do­main. ‘I don’t re­ally live in Lon­don. I only sleep and work in Lon­don.’

We’re here to talk about his new cook­book, Save With Jamie, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing six- part Chan­nel 4 se­ries Jamie’s Money Sav­ing Meals. The sub­ject of fam­ily life crops up early in our con­ver­sa­tion be­cause Jamie is try­ing to be a more hands-on par­ent. He has re­alised, per­haps be­lat­edly, that an up­side of his own childhood was hav­ing his fa­ther Trevor, a publi­can, at home all the time. ‘If I wanted him, I’d just go down­stairs and say [in a child’s high voice], “Dad, does Chew­bacca have the power to beat Luke Sky­walker?” Liv­ing in the fam­ily busi­ness was a real gift.’

So, de­spite run­ning a busi­ness em­pire of restau­rants, bet­ter- eat­ing cam­paigns, cook­books, TV se­ries and Food Tube, a new online food chan­nel, Jamie’s try­ing to spend more time with Jools, his wife, and their four chil­dren — Poppy, 11, Daisy, 10, Petal, four, and Buddy. ‘Petal and Buddy al­ways seem to need me and it’s quite nice to be wanted,’ says Jamie. ‘When they hurt them­selves, they’re like, “Daddy! I want Daddy!” And that’s a good feel­ing. What’s hi­lar­i­ous is that when they do it, their mum says, “I’ve been here all day look­ing af­ter you, and he just waltzes in and you want him!”’

‘But it’s a good mo­ti­va­tion to be a good par­ent,’ he says. Re­grets? ‘I think I was a lit­tle slow on the up­take with Poppy and Daisy. I thought it didn’t mat­ter be­cause they were so young, but that kind of in­vis­i­ble close­ness comes then. I used to go away for four weeks at a time quite of­ten when the girls were about two and three. I was grow­ing a busi­ness. And I would think it didn’t mat­ter and they were happy with Jools. But I re­alise now it did mat­ter. I have a won­der­ful re­la­tion­ship with my older girls and I’m not wor­ried about any­thing, but I think I’ll have to earn my stripes with them when they’re older.’ He has ad­justed his sched­ule to get home from work at 6pm at least two evenings a week to put the chil­dren to bed. Week­ends and six weeks’ hol­i­day per year are sacro­sanct. ‘Jools would like me at home even more, though,’ he ad­mits.

Jools is a home-lov­ing ma­ter­nal woman who shuns the lime­light, while Jamie is a cre­ative, ex­tro­verted cru­sader. ‘We’re lov­ing with each other but at the same time we’re com­pletely op­po­site in ev­ery way,’ he laughs. ‘Of course, that equals fiery be­cause we al­ways dis­agree. But clearly it works be­cause we’ve been to­gether so long.’ They cel­e­brated their 13th wed­ding an­niver­sary in July with din­ner out near their Prim­rose Hill Lon­don home. He gave her a dress and a bag em­broi­dered with a ro­man­tic mes­sage.

What’s kept them to­gether all this time? ‘I love Jools more than choco­late,’ he says. He tries to keep ro­mance alive and now the kids are no longer ba­bies, he’s ea­ger for more date nights. He’s even will­ing to con­sider ac­com­pa­ny­ing Jools on her favourite — and his least favourite — evening ac­tiv­ity, ‘disco danc­ing,’ as he sweetly calls it. ‘ My mis­sus is both­er­ing me to go disco danc­ing be­cause she likes it,’ he says. ‘But I hate danc­ing. I’m aware that I look a k***, and when you’re fa­mous and every­body’s look­ing at you be­ing a k*** danc­ing, it’s hideous. I need pri­vate lessons, so this is a shout-out to any chore­og­ra­pher to sort me out with a few disco moves.’ Craig Revel Hor­wood, are you lis­ten­ing? Yet the re­in­sti­tu­tion of date night may be some way off. One area in which Jamie and Jools dis­agree is whether to have the fifth child that Jools has said she wanted, as re­cently as July at the launch of her Christ­mas range of chil­dren’s clothes for Motherca re. Jamie’s face falls at the men­tion of adding to their brood. ‘She’s got, what do you call it? Empty nest syn­drome,’ he ex­plains. ‘ She just doesn’t want it to end but I think it’s a great idea to end. I want date night back.’ He sighs, looks glum, and then says that if she in­sists, he wouldn’t deny her another child.

Another lit­tle Oliver would hardly make his crazy sched­ule eas­ier. This year he is open­ing another four restau­rants abroad, tak­ing his to­tal to 11 ( he has 41 open in the UK at the mo­ment and one in Dublin) and has a sched­ule so crammed that ev­ery work day is full. ‘That’s got to be sorted out,’ he sighs. ‘It’s a bit like air traf­fic con­trol for the girls who look af­ter my di­ary.’

His lat­est cook­book, Save With Jamie, and TV se­ries, Jamie’s Money Sav­ing Meals, are the re­sult of pub­lic de­mand, he says. ‘We’ve been ram­paged on Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and Face­book with re­quests for bud­get food — we couldn’t ig­nore it.’

He re­cently caused a me­dia firestorm with his com­ments about fam­i­lies liv­ing on a diet of junk food while spend­ing money on pricey con­sumer goods such as big TVs — com­ments, in­ci­den­tally, he also made in his 2008 se­ries Min­istry Of Food that failed to cre­ate a me­dia frenzy.

To­day Jamie is keen to move on from the ar­gu­ment. ‘Of course I’m sorry if I up­set peo­ple and hope it didn’t come across as me bash­ing the poor,’ he sighs. ‘The truth is that poor nu­tri­tion is some­thing that can af­fect the well- off as much as the less well- off. And equally, there are many peo­ple on low in­comes who do an in­cred­i­ble job of feed­ing them­selves and their kids well. I shouldn’t have gen­er­alised.

‘But I’ve spent a lot of time on var­i­ous cam­paigns, like Min­istry Of Food, to help peo­ple on a bud­get feed their fam­i­lies bet­ter. All I was try­ing to say is that I would per­son­ally love ev­ery­one to put bet­ter nu­tri­tion at the top of their list of pri­or­i­ties.’

av­er­age cost per meal in his new book, he says, is about £1.30 (€1.55). ‘I could have

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