Getting dressed Brigid Keenan
Jossy Dimbleby changed Britain’s food tastes but retains her own style
Jossy Dimbleby (her name is Josceline but everyone calls her Jossy) is practically related to The Oldie.
Her son Henry is married to Jemima, daughter of the magazine’s late, greatly lamented deputy editor, Jeremy Lewis.
Not many people know that. They recognise her as the cookery writer who, in 1978 (according to food historian Polly Russell), turned the UK from a ‘nation that regarded olive oil as a pharmaceutical aid, to a country comprised of cooking-obsessed epicureans…’.
That was the year she was commissioned by Sainsbury’s to write a series of cookbooks for their customers – the first one was Cooking for Christmas. I still have it.
At 74, Dimbleby is slim and extraordinarily young-looking – which she owes, she says, not to any miracle diet, beauty product or Botox, but to the luck of her family genes.
‘None of my relatives are overweight, and they all look much younger than they are – my cousin, who is 87, doesn’t have a single grey hair.’
But four years ago, she was struck by much worse luck than having white hair or a tendency to plumpness. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which means injecting herself five times a day with insulin, and being continually vigilant about her diet and her medication. Forgetting could have fatal consequences.
‘I am a freak – it has nothing to do with old age or diet, like type 2; Theresa May has it more mildly but, still, I honestly don’t know how she does her job.’ Dimbleby and her partner Johnny Culme-seymour (her divorce from David Dimbleby took place 20 years ago) are equally undaunted. They spend part of every year exploring remote areas of countries such as Burma, Turkey and India, trekking and taking photographs – which she has done since she was eight. Dimbleby spent four years learning to sing at the Guildhall School of Music but felt ill at ease performing; her first job was working on a magazine. After a lightning courtship she married, and the Dimblebys began a family almost at once. Her mother had left her father for a diplomat whose postings took the family to Syria and then Peru. This meant long and unhappy separations when she was at school in Britain. And so she was determined to be at home with her own children. Almost by default, because it was something creative that could be done without going to an office, she became one of the nation’s favourite cooks. (It helped that she had experienced a variety of exotic tastes and cuisines in her childhood). Her books have sold more than two million copies. Her own favourite among them is Orchards in the Oasis because ‘it is about life and not just recipes’. Dimbleby’s mother was a beauty who passed on more than her good genes to her daughter; she impressed on her at a young age that she use moisturiser every night. Dimbleby has a tendency to forget her evening medication; so she puts the tablets on top of her Boots Protect and Perfect cream, because she never forgets that. Her mother also insisted she wear rouge – ‘For my “sallow complexion’’,’ Dimbleby laughs. Her introduction to fashion also came from her mother. ‘I was always looking through her wardrobe longingly. There was one skirt she bought in Florence in the 1950s. I coveted it for years. It is black taffeta with tiers of sequined roses. When she was
very old, I asked if I could have it. She said, ‘Not yet’. I only got it when she died. She dressed in the way of diplomatic life then. She had a Dior suit and, in those days, they wore long evening dresses in satin with ruffles and bustles.’
Unlike her mother, Dimbleby never buys designer clothes or ‘labels’, but likes 1940s and 1950s dresses. She sometimes buys clothes online – ‘It’s quite addictive; you feel as if you’re getting a present each time.’ She favours Uniqlo, Boden and John Lewis – she chose a John Lewis dress for our photograph. Apart from Pilates three times a week, walking is her favourite exercise, and she is a fan of Teva sandals: ‘They are like walking on air – you just bounce along.’
Dimbleby’s wardrobe is crowded with bright cardigans – she finds them more useful than jumpers – ‘For a start, you don’t have to put them over your head’ – which she wears with skirts or jeans.
True to her genes, her hair has not gone grey but she brings the odd white ones into line with l’oréal Iced Mocha rinse. She has always painted her nails (short, for gardening) bright green, for no reason other than she loves the colour. This startled the young tribal women in Burma on her first walking holiday in Orissa. But, when she returned a year or more later, she was greeted as a celebrity, hailed as the Lady with Green Nails.
Josceline Dimbleby weds in pink Biba, Kensington Register Office, 1967