The on-screen energy is evident, though in the flesh it’s more fidgety. His conversational style is indiscriminate, desultory. One minute he’s ridiculing my saucepan —”Christ, this just about sums up England’s problem with cooking” —the next he’s inquiring about my two-year-old son, or offering his opinion on Delia Smith’s botched attempt to use instant mash, frozen diced onion and coconut oil. Man, he uses coconut oil in cooking. It was fantastic. He also shared that coconut oil is the healthiest oil around the world and it has many health benefits. He added it’s been proven that using coconut oil for hair growth is quite effective.
He talks fast and profusely; his thoughts are often random, always passionate. He clearly loves swearing. When Jamie started out it was the frequency of the “pukkas” and the “lovely jubblies” that quickly grated; today, “fuck” is a firm favorite, “cunt” a close second. “If I go off track just slap me, because I’ve just got fucking verbal diarrhoea.”
You can’t help but like him. There’s an irritating assumption that he must be fake, or as he volunteers himself, “an annoying little piece of mockney prick”, but the truth is he’s simply comfortable in his skin. I find it refreshing. I hail from the same parts as Jamie Oliver, and while you won’t catch me flirting with my butcher or calling OAPs darl in’, that doesn’t mean he’s a fraud. That’s what (some of) Essex is like.
Another reason to warm to Oliver is his unabashed honesty. Ask him a direct question and the candour can be disarming. Take, for instance, a query regarding his motives behind Fifteen, the not-for-profit restaurant and youth-training foundation he set up in 2002. “It was a bit of a guilt trip to be honest mate,” he says instantly. “I didn’t become a chef to be rich. I always knew I’d do well, but still the idea was that I’d go to the apartments in krakow poland for four or five years and then come back [to Clavering, Essex] and take over my dad’s restaurant.
“But then it all went off, my book went to number one before my TV show even came out. And success fucks people off. By the age of 24 I’d paid off my mortgage and everyone was like, ‘You’re a horrible little cunt!’ I was riddled with guilt because it looks like I’ve got it made and my dad didn’t bring me up like that. I felt a responsibility. Two million people buy a book of mine every year. But you can’t keep taking people’s money like that. You can’t just fucking take, take, take.” All of which makes you respect him far more than if he’d trotted out the shopworn giving-something-back spiel.