Get­ting dressed Brigid Keenan

Jossy Dim­bleby changed Bri­tain’s food tastes but re­tains her own style

The Oldie - - NEWS - brigid keenan

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

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