Jamie Oliver: ‘Jools and I have struggled at times’
Jamie Oliver opens up on the toughest year of his life – and how his family have helped him through those challenges
‘I’ve got enough light in my life to balance the not-so-nice darkness’
By his own admission, Jamie Oliver has had a tough year. Although his
5 Ingredients book was the UK’s best-selling cookbook of 2017 and the accompanying TV show sold to more than
120 countries, the celebrity chef’s magic touch has faltered a bit when it comes to his restaurants. A slump in the high street has affected his Jamie’s Italian chain of eateries, forcing him to close 12 of the 37.
So it’s a slightly wearier Jamie we meet at his trendy open-plan offices in north London. He admits he’s been working evenings and weekends since the restaurant group got into trouble last October, but he still manages to be the funny, upbeat celebrity chef we know of old.
He’s determined that Jamie’s Italian will flourish again, as he
celebrates 10 years since the first one opened.
‘I’m very proud of having survived 10 years,’ says Jamie, 43, settling onto a sofa. ‘Restaurant years are like dog years, so 10 years is a very long time. It’s been a dark time, but I’ve got enough light in my life to balance the not-so-nice darkness.’
The light in Jamie’s life to which he refers, and which lightens his load after a long day spent crunching numbers in the office, is family.
‘I go home and see my kids, and that always cheers me up,’ he says, referring to his five children with wife Jools – Daisy, 16, Poppy, 15, Petal, nine, Buddy, eight, and 22-monthold River. Home is a big, period house with a large garden in Highgate, north London.
‘The idea is just to be there and play with them,’ continues Jamie. ‘With the teenagers, I just keep telling them I love them. With Buddy and Petal, I spend lots of time bouncing on trampolines and trying not to get shot by Nerf guns – they think it’s funny to try to get me in the nether regions!
‘To go back home to a 2-year-old baby asking for an apple is just utterly sweet. It works, it helps.
‘I’m fairly tough when it comes to business and getting knocked back, but when it gets to me, kids are an amazing remedy.’
Jamie adds that his wife of nearly 18 years has been ‘massively helpful’ throughout the recent turmoil in his restaurant business, providing stability, kind words and personal space when needed.
‘If I had a magic wand I couldn’t have invented a more supportive and kind wife,’ says Jamie. ‘I’ve never been happier.’
Jamie’s house is a junk-food-free zone, of course. Jools, 43, tends to cook for the children, then he cooks for Jools in the evenings and for the whole family at weekends. But Jamie says he wouldn’t tell off the older kids for visiting burger joints with their mates.
‘If they’re eating good stuff at home the majority of the time, that’s what matters,’ shrugs Jamie. ‘I think Jools would be more bothered than me, to be honest.’
But dealing with teens has been a bit of a challenge for them both, admits Jamie with a laugh.
‘Jools and I have struggled at times,’ he says. ‘You have to re-tune from having a child to a young woman. Whether we’re pulling back or tightening up. That’s in our gift and we’re always finessing that, especially with social media. We’re the first generation of parents having to feel our way through that. If we have too many blips at home, I’ll take their phone away for a day.’
Jamie explains that he’s also suffered personal heartbreak – illness and death among family members and in his circle of friends – details of which he doesn’t want to share. ‘I’ve had a handful of people I grew up with and family getting unwell or dying and it’s just been rough,’ he sighs. ‘You know what they say: when it rains, it pours.’
But even going through a difficult time with his restaurant business hasn’t prevented the indefatigable Jamie from launching a new campaign against junk food. Called #AdEnough, it’s a bid to get the government to ban junk-food adverts before the 9pm watershed on TV. The current 6pm ban doesn’t go far enough, he says, when millions of youngsters are watching shows like Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor after that time.
‘We’ve had amazing support from people like Amanda Holden, Bear Grylls and Richard Branson,’ Jamie says enthusiastically.
He’s also proud that Jamie’s Italian serves only sustainable fish and higher welfare meat and pays staff higher than the minimum wage.
‘Ten years ago, we stormed in and had an unbelievable response and queues,’ says Jamie. ‘For the last five years, the market has just become really competitive and the environment has changed. There’s tough competition. With optimism and enthusiasm and with all the right things in place, I’m trying to save the business, which is about 2,000 jobs.'
Through it all, despite the difficult times at work, Jamie says he doesn’t lose sight of what really matters. ‘I’ve got great kids, and Jools has helped a thousand per cent,’ he smiles. ‘That’s what it’s all about when this stuff happens.’
The new summer menu is available at Jamie’s Italian restaurants now. See jamieoliver.com/italian
August 2016: the family greets baby River Jools is Jamie’s mainstay in tough times The young chef in 1999