MY MO­MENT OF MAD­NESS

Antony Wor­rall Thomp­son on how shoplift­ing almost ru­ined him - and cook­ing saved his life

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

There are four ovens and a cou­ple of mighty, sil­ver fridges in Antony Wor­rall Thomp­son’s kitchen at home, but as the tea steeps he an­nounces: “Bad news. We’ve got no bis­cuits.” When it comes to bad news, this man has de­liv­ered far worse. For in­stance, three years ago this month he sat in the man­ager’s of­fice at a Tesco in Ox­ford­shire. He had the phone to his ear and was call­ing his wife, Jay, to tell her that he had been nabbed for shoplift­ing from the su­per­mar­ket. It was a mo­ment that led him to make front-page news, vir­tu­ally de­stroy his ca­reer – and lead him to con­tem­plate sui­cide. Life would never be the same again for the hus­band, fa­ther, celebrity chef and restau­ra­teur. How­ever, here we are, on stools at the kitchen is­land in his ex­quis­ite Ge­or­gian house in the coun­try­side not far from Read­ing. The open-bricked room is scented by or­chids and daf­fodils; the dogs – Flossie and Rod­ney – sit at our feet. Daugh­ter Bil­lie, 17, is at board­ing school and son Toby, 19, is at univer­sity. As Wor­rall Thomp­son pours the tea, he starts to talk frankly about “the mo­ment of mad­ness” and its con­se­quences. In terms of teapot con­fes­sions, this par­tic­u­lar one is a com­pelling tale of an­guish, strug­gle and self-de­struc­tion. Ul­ti­mately, it is the story of how the theft of food de­stroyed a cook, and of how the re­dis­cov­ery of cook­ing in a pro­fes­sional kitchen would re­store his san­ity and well­be­ing. The shoplift­ing, you may re­call, amounted to five episodes of Wor­rall Thomp­son pinch­ing goods from Tesco. The first in­ci­dent was a few days be­fore Christ­mas 2011, and he takes me back to that day: “I used the self-scan­ning thing, and then came home and was sort­ing through the bags. I looked at the bill and thought, God, I’ve got some items here that I haven’t paid for. Do I go back and pay? Hmm, it’s Tesco, they can af­ford it. “After that, I’m not sure. Was it a chal­lenge? Was it some­thing that sparked my naugh­ti­ness, or my de­sire to live on the edge? “I didn’t know I did it the first time, but after that I knew I was putting stuff through with­out scan­ning it. It was de­lib­er­ate – but why? I own restau­rants – it’s not like I needed the food!” On the fifth and fi­nal in­ci­dent, his booty was three onions, two pack­ets of coleslaw, a cia­batta, a news­pa­per and a sand­wich. He was no Ron­nie Biggs. “I was in the car park push­ing the trol­ley to my car when two men came up to me. They were store de­tec­tives. They had brought in the big man – the top store de­tec­tive – from London, and I later found out they had set up two ex­tra se­cu­rity cam­eras just to watch me. It was a sting. They had waited for the cam­eras to be in­stalled be­fore they pounced. They said, ‘Can we see your re­ceipt and can we look at what’s in your trol­ley?’ “I put my hands up be­fore they even looked at the re­ceipt. I said, ‘OK, fair cop.’ They said to me, ’Would you like to come to the of­fice?’ Once I was in the of­fice I phoned Jay and said, ‘I’ve been done for shoplift­ing.’ “I was taken off to the po­lice sta­tion. The po­lice were very nice, wanted to keep all the other hoods away from me. “They put me in a cell for a short time un­til ques­tion­ing me. It’s not nice. I couldn’t say to them, ‘May I bor­row a mag­a­zine, or can I read a book?’ I just lay there ask­ing my­self, ‘What have you done?’ I was think­ing of my fam­ily, what with the kids in school and my wife and the em­bar­rass­ment she’d have to go through. “I re­alised I had com­pletely screwed up.” He sighs. “I was full of re­morse.” Over the five in­ci­dents, the to­tal value of stolen goods was £70.68. He was not charged – it was his first of­fence – but he ad­mit­ted guilt and was cau­tioned and, as far as the po­lice were con­cerned, that was the end of the mat­ter. Or rather, not quite the end. “When I was leav­ing, one of the po­lice of­fi­cers asked for my au­to­graph and I said, ‘Why do you want my au­to­graph – you’ve got my fin­ger­prints?’” What fol­lowed serves as a study of celebrity down­fall. Had Wor­rall Thomp­son not been fa­mous, it is pos­si­ble that even his neigh­bours would not have known of his mis­de­meanour. Yet this was Wozza, the dinky, bearded blond of culi­nary en­ter­tain­ment; the nasal-voiced chef who, over a cou­ple of decades, cooked a zil­lion dishes on shows such as Ready, Steady, Cook! and Food and Drink and Satur­day Kitchen. He was fa­mous, posh, and rich enough not to have to steal from Tesco. His in­trigu­ing crime drew front-page head­lines such as “Ready, Steady, Crook!” “I had a group of prison of­fi­cers booked in for a din­ner party and they phoned to see if I still wanted to go ahead with it. I said, ‘Of course. I’ve got to face up to life and my life moves on from here.’” But it didn’t. Wor­rall Thomp­son was sub­jected to na­tional mock­ery. He light­ens the mood: “There was a fan­tas­tic spoof video on YouTube based on The Shaw­shank Re­demp­tion – it was called The Lamb­shank Re­demp­tion. And it was me with a Mor­gan Free­man voice-over, and I was be­ing dragged out of my cell and beaten up. I thought, ‘Some­one has spent a few thou­sand pounds do­ing this, it is un­be­liev­able.’” Off the coast of Italy a ship cap­sized, re­mov­ing Wor­rall Thomp­son from the news agenda, and there the story would seem to end. We all got on with our lives and as­sumed

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