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
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