Jamie’s bestie

But don’t panic Jools, it’s YOU he wants to walk down the aisle to re­new your vows 20 years on. And who bet­ter to be best man than Jamie’s old­est friend and TV co-star Jimmy Do­herty, who set the cou­ple up on their very first date as teenagers...

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - NEWS - In­ter­view: Cole More­ton Por­trait: Paul Stu­art Jamie’s Fri­day Night Feast is pub­lished by Pen­guin Ran­dom House, priced €14.60. Jamie And Jimmy’s Fri­day Night Feast re­turns to Chan­nel 4 later in the year.

Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Do­herty are hold­ing hands and gaz­ing into each other’s eyes. They’re hav­ing a play fight with soap suds. Now they’re get­ting on a tram­po­line. Well, Do­herty is. ‘I don’t mind do­ing the gay thing but I’m not get­ting on a tram­po­line,’ says Oliver with a laugh. ‘That’s go­ing too far!’

The su­perchef and the pig farmer have been hav­ing a fine bro­mance since their school days in an Es­sex vil­lage, and you can see it ev­ery week in their Chan­nel 4 se­ries Jamie & Jimmy’s Fri­day Night Feast. But as I watch them muck­ing about to­gether at our shoot, it is ob­vi­ous that their love goes deeper: they re­ally are very close and sur­pris­ingly phys­i­cal. So come on, have they ever fan­cied each other? ‘Sure. I was al­ways jeal­ous of his hair,’ says Do­herty quickly, fish­ing out his phone to show a pic­ture of them to­gether as teenagers.

Oliver says he al­ways thought Do­herty was the good-look­ing one. ‘We’ve never kissed. But if I was gay, I would smash that!’ He means he would def­i­nitely fancy Do­herty, who punches the air as if in cel­e­bra­tion and says in re­turn: ‘We’re quite com­fort­able be­ing a bit camp some­times. We’ve dressed up as women quite a lot.’

These two 43-year-olds are happy to share sto­ries about cross-dress­ing and talk openly about the times they have cried on each other’s shoul­der, from the near col­lapse of Oliver’s restau­rant busi­ness to the re­cent loss of Do­herty’s father to can­cer in May.

‘It’s not all about coun­selling or ask­ing how are you feel­ing, it’s more that you have a real laugh,’ says Do­herty. ‘Even the small­est ges­ture can mean the great­est thing.’

How much do they con­fide in each other? ‘Lots. Jamie saw me cry just last week.’ This was be­cause of the new book, Jamie Cooks Italy, ded­i­cated to Do­herty’s father. ‘There’s a pic­ture of him at my brother’s wed­ding on there,’ says Do­herty. ‘Jamie gave me the book and I’m used to my dad be­ing dead, but sor­row is a weird thing. I couldn’t con­trol it, I had to go away on my own. Then I came back and said thank you and it started again. But luck­ily I had an eye in­fec­tion so I could blame it on that. Pink eyes, weep­ing.’

He seems on the verge again. Jamie looks over with con­cern and says: ‘I think as you get older, es­pe­cially when you’ve had kids, there are so many rea­sons to want to cry. Frus­tra­tion, sad­ness, worry. Def­i­nitely nos­tal­gia.’

When it comes to chil­dren, they cer­tainly have a lot to talk about, be­cause these two men have nine be­tween them. Oliver in­tro­duced Do­herty to Michaela Fur­ney when she was one of his re­searchers.

They have been mar­ried for nine years and have four chil­dren: Molly, eight, Cora, six, Neve, three, and BoLila, who was born this year.

Oliver and wife Jools live in Prim­rose Hill, Lon­don, with their five chil­dren: Poppy Honey, 16, Daisy Boo, 15, Petal Blos­som, nine, Buddy Bear, eight, and River Rocket, two. They mar­ried in 2000, just as he was be­com­ing fa­mous with his se­ries The Naked Chef. A work col­league was his best man. ‘Should have been Jimmy re­ally. If I was get­ting mar­ried again I’d have two or three best men.’

And it turns out, his old mucker may still have a chance, as Oliver has a rev­e­la­tion to make about his mar­riage. ‘Jools wants to get mar­ried again!’

Quick as a flash, Do­herty asks: ‘Who to?’ ‘We’re gonna do it again,’ says Oliver. ‘Re­new our vows to cel­e­brate our 20th an­niver­sary.’ That’s news, since their mar­riage has been the sub­ject of much spec­u­la­tion over the years. ‘I’m not sure I’d want to be mar­ried to me,’ he told me when we met eight years ago. ‘But Jools made that de­ci­sion. It’s a chal­lenge.’

Oliver wore a pale-blue Paul Smith suit at his wed­ding, the bride wore white and there were not many celebrity guests be­cause he’d only just been plucked from ob­scu­rity by a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer who spot­ted him in the kitchen at the River Café in west Lon­don. Will their sec­ond wed­ding be at the same place? ‘No, we’ll do it com­pletely dif­fer­ently. It sounds a bit cheesy, but 20 is an amaz­ing mile­stone. It’s nice to have an ex­cuse to get peo­ple to­gether.

‘It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing who comes. It’s not judg­ing, but who came to your first one? Who comes to your sec­ond? What hap­pened in be­tween? If you’re lucky, a ma­jor­ity of those that come a sec­ond time were there for the first.’

Do­herty cer­tainly will be there. He is the more gre­gar­i­ous of the two, dressed in jeans and a Tshirt, his hair styled with a dark quiff. Do­herty has his own pig farm but also makes prime­time TV shows on what we eat and how it is made, in­clud­ing Jimmy’s Food Fac­tory.

Oliver has an em­pire that ex­tends to books and kitchen equip­ment as well as those strug­gling restau­rants. ‘The past 18 months at work have been in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing,’ he ad­mits.

A year ago Oliver took a call in the mid­dle of film­ing for Fri­day Night Feast to be told his restau­rant busi­ness was about to go bust. ‘I had two hours to put money in and save it or the whole thing would go to s*** that day or the next day,’ he said at the time. Oliver stumped up €8.4mil­lion of his own money then and an­other €5.8mil­lion over the fol­low­ing months. This al­lowed him to cut a deal with cred­i­tors and close some lo­ca­tions, but keep some open.

‘We’ve still got 23 restau­rants and we still em­ploy 500 peo­ple. We’re off life-sup­port. We’re start­ing to rein­vest.’

How long can he keep put­ting in his own money? ‘I haven’t got any more,’ he says, re­veal­ing that it’s now make or break. ‘I tried to do the right thing. I’ve never been paid by the restau­rant group, I’ve al­ways rein­vested. My liv­ing was on the other side.’ He means his tele­vi­sion work, books and

‘I haven’t got any more money to put into the restau­rants, but we’re off life-sup­port’

en­dorse­ments, like a big re­cent deal with Tesco, all of which helped to fund the res­cue pack­age. ‘So I could’ve just gone, “Do you know what? Let it go.”’

He claims that he was hit by a ‘per­fect storm’ that in­cludes ris­ing rents, rates, food costs, the min­i­mum wage and the de­cline of the high street over­all. But if he has no more to give, is Oliver now broke?

‘No, but there’s a point where I can’t put the other side of the busi­ness at risk as well and the peo­ple who work there. The up­side is I am now fully in con­trol of the restau­rant busi­ness. It’s fully owned by me. We’re get­ting on top of it and I think we’ve learnt lots of lessons. And if I’m be­ing philo­soph­i­cal, I think I’ll be a bet­ter boss and restau­ra­teur in the fu­ture be­cause of it.’ Tele­vi­sion is what Oliver does best, and be­ing with Do­herty is what he loves, so it’s a re­lief for him to fo­cus again on their Fri­day Night Feast, a mixed dish of a mag­a­zine show that fea­tures Oliver’s recipes, films on their on­go­ing fight with the worst ex­cesses of the food in­dus­try and a spot of DIY from Do­herty. It also uses taste to un­lock the mem­o­ries and emo­tions of celebrities who visit and cook at a pop-up café they set up for six weeks a year on Southend pier. ‘What I learned from the non­nas [grand­moth­ers] I’ve met in Italy is that when you mix smell, taste and con­ver­sa­tion, it opens the brain,’ says Jamie. The celebrities cook and chat in the kitchen area while two dozen din­ers chow down and chat­ter around them, which makes for an un­usu­ally re­laxed at­mos­phere. Some­times the sto­ries that come out are funny, says Do­herty. ‘Mark Hamill was talk­ing about film­ing the first Star Wars in Eng­land, go­ing to English pubs. He and Har­ri­son Ford were there look­ing at the menu in the pub and go­ing, “What’s spot­ted dick?” So he says to Har­ri­son, “Or­der spot­ted dick!” And Har­ri­son goes — im­i­tat­ing Ford’s gruff, heroic voice — “I am not or­der­ing spot­ted dick.” Can you imag­ine that? In­di­ana Jones and Luke Sky­walker in a pub try­ing to or­der spot­ted dick?’

They’re off again, laugh­ing. We vis­ited the film­ing on a late sum­mer day with sight­seers cran­ing their necks to see past the cam­eras into the green wooden café. In­side was Danny DeVito, who was there to film a seg­ment of the pro­gramme in which they recre­ate the food from Basil­i­cata, a tough area in the south of Italy, where his grand­par­ents came from. ‘We sent a run­ner out there to buy all the in­gre­di­ents for the show.’ DeVito was vis­i­bly moved.

Pa­trick Stewart and Jes­sica Chas­tain are also in this se­ries. How do they get such big stars? ‘The show is full of love. We’re not try­ing to catch ’em out,’ says Oliver. ‘It’s about their up­bring­ing and their con­nec­tion to food. You see their real per­son­al­i­ties.’

Jamie and Jimmy met in a vil­lage hall in Es­sex, where there was a nurs­ery. Oliver’s par­ents still run the vil­lage pub, The Crick­eters, and it was there he first learned to cook. They went to the same school and Do­herty says they were naughty.

‘We were like devils with an­gel faces. We’d be like, “Yes, sir. Ab­so­lutely, sir.” Then turn around and flick our ink pens up the teacher’s white coat, or do all sorts of naughty stuff.’

Do­herty in­tro­duced Oliver to Juli­ette — Jools — when he was 18. ‘We went on a dou­ble date to the cin­ema — me, Jamie, Juli­ette and Sue Stump. He had a Fi­esta with big fog lights and an ex­haust like a trac­tor on it.

‘We were go­ing over a hill lis­ten­ing to Bob Mar­ley, Buf­falo Sol­dier. We’re all singing, the guy braked in front of us and Jamie smashed into him and knocked his front lights out.’

Oliver says: ‘My fog lights were hang­ing off so I just ripped them out and threw them away. I was so up­set.’

‘Your car’s ev­ery­thing at that age,’ says Jimmy. ‘Juli­ette must have thought, “What the hell?” ’

They were to­gether when Oliver worked in the kitchen at the River Café, be­fore he be­came fa­mous. Mean­while, Do­herty was study­ing an­i­mal bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of East Lon­don, then work­ing as a pig farmer. They kept in close touch, and when Jamie’s Kitchen came to film at his farm in Cum­bria, Do­herty met Michaela. ‘I re­alised straight away that she was the one.’

They were mar­ried in 2009, trav­el­ling to the re­cep­tion on a pink trac­tor he had bought her as a Valen­tine’s Day present.

Do­herty had been to Oliver’s stag night but Oliver didn’t make it to Do­herty’s. ‘I think you were film­ing. It wasn’t a ma­jor thing,’ he says in a way that sug­gests it prob­a­bly was at the time. ‘I used to travel a lot in those days,’ says Oliver, apolo­get­i­cally.

Jamie and Jimmy cer­tainly have a chem­istry to­gether on screen that any pro­ducer would kill for, and in per­son there’s noth­ing fake about it. ‘What I get from Jamie is a sense of home,’ says Do­herty, giv­ing his buddy a hug.

‘The show is full of love, it’s all about the celebrities’ up­bring­ing and con­nec­tion to food’

Jamie and Jimmy lark about in the kitchen. Be­low: in their younger years

Jamie and Jools Oliver with their chil­dren (from left) Daisy Boo, Buddy Bear, Poppy Honey and Petal Blos­som, and baby River Rocket

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