KIRSTIE ALL­SOPP: ‘No woman is a de­ity in her own home. I have a lot of help, so there are var­i­ous do­mes­tic god­desses around...

She’s adding cook­ery skills to craft-mak­ing with the re­lease of her de­but recipe book, but the TV pre­sen­ter in­sists she’s no su­per­woman. She tells Les­lie Ann Hor­gan how her late mum Fiona still in­spires her

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - REPORTAGE -

Kirstie All­sopp — finder of houses, maker of crafts, wearer of tea dresses — is some­thing of a girl­crush of mine. It’s a soft spot that I know to be shared by many women of my ac­quain­tance, not least my god­mother, for whom Kirstie is a de­ity made of glossy-haired flesh and straight-talk­ing bone.

So it’s, well, crush­ing, when Kirstie an­swers my first ques­tion — is she com­fort­able be­ing hailed as a do­mes­tic god­dess? — with a flat “No”. There’s a beat of si­lence, where I men­tally flail about look­ing for a fol­low-up ques­tion, be­fore her rau­cous laugher comes rolling down the line from Lon­don.

“Firstly, I think no woman is a de­ity in their own home,” Kirstie clar­i­fies when her laugh­ter sub­sides. “We are all fal­li­ble in our own ways. Sec­ondly, be­cause I’m busy work­ing, I am lucky that I have an enor­mous amount of help, so there are var­i­ous do­mes­tic god­desses around our house.”

That work, of course, in­cludes Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion — the hit tele­vi­sion show that first made her and co-pre­sen­ter Phil Spencer house­hold names — along with well-re­ceived solo projects such as Kirstie’s Hand­made Christ­mas and Fill Your House for Free. Now, she has added cook­ery to her CV, with the re­lease of her de­but cook­book,

I wanted the book to be an ex­cep­tion­ally hon­est jour­ney

Kirstie’s Real Kitchen.

Not that she’s claim­ing any ex­per­tise in the area be­yond en­thu­si­asm and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a whole­some, home-cooked meal. In­deed, the book is ded­i­cated to those who “think they can’t cook”. “If I can, any­one can, and it’s much more fun than you think,” it reads.

“I wanted the book to be an ex­cep­tion­ally hon­est jour­ney towards food,” Kirstie (46) says. “I have gone around the coun­try and seen so many women — and men, too — who are not con­fi­dent in their own abil­ity, be that to sew or paint or to even pur­chase their own home. No one has an in­nate abil­ity to cook, or craft, I cer­tainly didn’t un­til work made me do it. And I have found not only that I can do it, but I have come to en­joy it, too.

“So, I’ve writ­ten about what I love to eat, much of that shaped by how much trav­el­ling I have done through my work. It’s all about hav­ing the con­fi­dence.”

That’s all well and good for some­one as nat­u­rally un­daunted as Kirstie, but how do the rest of us de­velop that con­fi­dence? “It’s not nec­es­sar­ily about trial and er­ror,” she says. “With cook­ery, it’s about find­ing the books that work for you. I love a book called Made in In­dia by Meera Sodha. I love In­dian food, but hadn’t cooked it at home be­fore now. The book is a rev­e­la­tion, ev­ery sin­gle recipe works out.”

Through­out her own cook­book — which cov­ers ev­ery­thing from break­fasts and sal­ads to roast din­ners, pic­nics, Christ­mas dishes and cock­tails — there are recipes which Kirstie has bor­rowed or been taught be oth­ers, whom she names.

“I think the thing I was most pas­sion­ate about in do­ing this book was in try­ing not to pre­tend to be some­thing I’m not. When I was asked to do it I said that I had some recipes, but not 100 — no one has 100 recipes. I’m not a born cook, or a crafter, but I have a sense of loy­alty to those peo­ple who have helped me to become both.”

The fin­ished prod­uct is a gen­uine re­flec­tion of how peo­ple re­ally cook — swap­ping and adapt­ing recipes with friends and fam­ily mem­bers — even if Kirstie does hap­pen to have the likes of Hugh Fearnly-Whit­tingstall and Jools Oliver to trade recipes with. In­deed, she is the first to ad­mit that she lives “a very priv­i­leged life”.

Her fa­ther, Charles All­sopp, is an art his­to­rian, for­mer chair­man of Christie’s auc­tion house and the sixth Baron of Hindlip. The el­dest of four, Kirstie founded her own prop­erty com­pany in 1996. The role on Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion fol­lowed, and she has since es­tab­lished a TV pro­duc­tion com­pany with screen hus­band Phil Spencer.

Her mother, Fiona, sadly passed away in 2014 at just 66. She had been suf­fer­ing with breast can­cer on and off for more than 25 years. Kirstie has since spo­ken of hav­ing a one-in-three ge­netic risk of de­vel­op­ing the same can­cer. This prompted her sis­ter, TV pre­sen­ter Sofie, to have a pre­ven­ta­tive dou­ble mas­tec­tomy, while Kirstie and sis­ter Natasha (they also have a brother, Henry) have cho­sen to have con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing.

Kirstie has also re-ex­am­ined her health, writ­ing in the book that she has al­ways been “about a stone heav­ier than my ideal weight, al­though it’s never re­ally wor­ried me — too many peo­ple in my life are too thin”. Since turn­ing 40, she con­tin­ues, “the half stone I usu­ally put on dur­ing an in­tense run of film­ing just didn’t drop off as it had in the past, so I ended up nearly three stone over what I wanted. This is fool­ish and self­ish, and dan­ger­ous as well. Among the nu­mer­ous rea­sons for not be­ing over­weight is that it is the num­ber one risk fac­tor for breast can­cer, a dis­ease that has caused havoc in my fam­ily.”

Now, she has lost two stone by cut­ting down the amount of sugar in her diet, drink­ing only oc­ca­sion­ally and, as she ad­mits in the book, rarely eat­ing what she bakes. Given this fo­cus on health, the hearty dishes in her book, though nu­tri­tious, seem some­what out of step with the cur­rent trend for fussy recipes with ob­scure “healthy” in­gre­di­ents. Was it a con­scious de­ci­sion to stay away from the likes of kale and co­conut sugar?

“With this book I first and fore­most want to en­cour­age peo­ple to cook,” she in­sists. “I don’t want to frighten peo­ple off, and I think that the kales and co­conut sug­ars can do that. I don’t dis­ap­prove of those types of in­gre­di­ents. I am a fan of them and use a lot of those things too, par­tic­u­larly in the past few years where I have hugely re­duced my sugar in­take.

“That’s been a big suc­cess and I would rec­om­mend it to any­one. But with the book it was most im­por­tant to be en­cour­ag­ing and the best way to do that is in small steps.”

Though she says in the book that her mum, an in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor, was not one of her cook­ing in­flu­ences, her pres­ence can be felt in other ways. “She was a great en­ter­tainer and a huge dec­o­ra­tive in­flu­ence on me. Through­out the book, all of the crock­ery and nap­kins and things are mine. I wanted the book to be vis­ually warm, and very flo­ral. I didn’t want to write a book about cook­ing my way and then have it pre­sented in a dif­fer­ent or stark way.”

The pic­ture of Kirstie’s life painted by the book is def­i­nitely warm, if rather quaint. She and part­ner Ben An­der­sen and their four chil­dren live be­tween houses in Lon­don and Devon. There are big fam­ily break­fasts and feasts for groups of 12, and Kirstie writes about her hap­pi­est times be­ing Sun­day

DOU­BLE ACT: Kirstie and Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion, Lo­ca­tion screen part­ner Phil Spencer

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