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Jamie Oliver reveals how he paid £2,000 to save trainee from death threat and admits that ‘statistically, celebrities’ children don’t work out great’ as he opens up about fatherhood, marriage and 25 years at the top of his trade

Four months ago, Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools renewed their wedding vows after 23 years, in a barefoot beach ceremony in the Maldives, surrounded by their five children, aged between seven and 21. ‘She [Jools] was driving it, but when I got there I enjoyed it most,’ says the chef, TV presenter, restaurateur and food campaigner, who at 48 has been famous for half his life.

‘We wanted to do it at 20 years, but then Covid hit. Now, with the kids going to uni, it seemed like a chance to do a big family trip. We had never done a white-sand holiday because Jools doesn’t like travelling. We’d never gone further than France or Italy. I have to say, doing the vows second time round, once you’ve earned it, is really interesting. The first time they’re just words: you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, crack on: let’s get to the buffet and the disco.” Second time round every word had a story behind it.’

Oliver and former model Jools have known each other since they were both 17, long before he was spotted by a TV crew while working as a sous-chef at West London’s River Cafe and catapulted to fame by the BBC when he was given his own cooking show, The Naked Chef, which first aired in 1999. The couple have stuck together through the vicissitudes of parenting and five miscarriages, one of them nearly fatal for Jools. Fluctuations in Oliver’s popularity and business fortunes have included the collapse of his Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain in 2019 and a drop in his net worth, said to be £240 million four years ago, down to an estimated £173 million now.

‘Jools has been my rock through the whole thing,’ he says. ‘I knew she loved me before I was worth a penny. We spent years in London being skint and she loved me then, and she loved me when I sold a million books. So she has been an incredible North Star for me. She’s a nice, simple girl and quite shy. She’s not there on the red carpet. She keeps her distance. And I love her for that.’

It was Jools, he says, who nagged him to do a new version this year of his 2017 recipe book Five Ingredients, this time with a Mediterranean twist. ‘She said, “I’ve done every recipe in that book. It’s the one I always talk about with the mums at school. Just do another one.” She badgered me for years until I sort of broke.’ There’ll be an accompanying TV series, and Oliver jokes that when it was time for filming to start, ‘Mate, I couldn’t get on that plane fast enough.’

Jamie Oliver commutes from Essex four days a week and claims to know all his staff by name 'apart from the whippersnappers' Jamie Oliver commutes from Essex four days a week and claims to know all his staff by name 'apart from the whippersnappers'

Jamie Oliver commutes from Essex four days a week and claims to know all his staff by name ‘apart from the whippersnappers’

We meet in his North London headquarters, an airy, industrial-chic former stationery factory that is now home to three kitchens, a production studio, a cookery school and several sleek meeting rooms named after famous cooks. (Our chat takes place in Delia Smith. ‘My queen,’ says Oliver.) He’s all easy charm with the YOU crew during his cover photo shoot, and with the staff members scurrying around him. There are 150 employed here, engaged in research on his food campaigns and media work, his commercial partnerships with the likes of Tefal, and preparations for his new restaurant (of which more later).

Oliver commutes from Essex four days a week and claims to know all his staff by name ‘apart from the whippersnappers’. He’s a more solid and serious version of the cheeky chappie who hit our screens at 24, but remains, as his publicist tells me, ‘an open book’. He grew up and learned to cook in The Cricketers, ‘probably the roughest pub in Essex’, which his working-class parents Trevor and Sally turned into a thriving business, generating employment and buying from local suppliers. ‘If you wanted a real story of levelling up, that’s it,’ he says.

Dyslexic, Oliver left school at 16 and trained as a chef when it was considered ‘quite a sh*t job’ and also unmanly. ‘The kid that came out of school – Tourette’s-style hyperactive, with no qualifications – was nothing like the 24-year-old that became The Naked Chef and I’m nothing like either of them now,’ he says. When the TV show started, he and Jools were living in a tiny rented flat in West London’s Hammersmith. By the time they married in 2000 he’d become a global phenomenon – a culinary manifestation of young, aspirational, cool Britannia, mobbed by fans and subject to huge media scrutiny.

‘It was bonkers – close to being in a boy band – and it blew up around the rest of the world, which was and still is highly unusual,’ he recalls, sounding both horrified and proud. ‘It was exciting for six months and then it was weird. I remember saying to Jools: ‘What are we going to do? We can call it a day and get a pub in north Essex. Or we can run with this. We chose the latter, even though we knew it would come with some awful facets. Statistically, celebrities’ children don’t work out great. Child stars don’t work out great. And even if you do well, you’re going to get battered every now and again. I get a good battering at least every three years and it’s never nice. And you might deserve it, but you might not.’

Jools is my rock. She loved me when I was skint. She’s been my incredible North star 

He’s produced at least one cookbook almost every year since then, but after three series of The Naked Chef his TV career began to embody his belief that ‘whether you like me or find me annoying, I’ve got to be useful’. First came Jamie’s Kitchen on Channel 4, which chronicled the establishment of his restaurant Fifteen, where underprivileged teenagers were trained in hospitality.

‘Still the best thing I’ve done, and it put hope in my blood,’ he says. ‘Can you take children of crime, flip the statistics and make 85 per cent of them thrive, have a job and pay tax? One of those kids, I put two grand in an envelope and paid off a drug dealer under a bridge to get a death threat off him.’ This was a learning curve for a man in his 20s: ‘I mean, how do you put that through the [restaurant’s] books?’

Dyslexic, Oliver left school at 16 and trained as a chef when it was considered 'quite a sh*t job' and also unmanly Dyslexic, Oliver left school at 16 and trained as a chef when it was considered 'quite a sh*t job' and also unmanly

Dyslexic, Oliver left school at 16 and trained as a chef when it was considered ‘quite a sh*t job’ and also unmanly

He's produced at least one cookbook almost every year since then, but after three series of The Naked Chef his TV career began to embody his belief that 'whether you like me or find me annoying, I've got to be useful' He's produced at least one cookbook almost every year since then, but after three series of The Naked Chef his TV career began to embody his belief that 'whether you like me or find me annoying, I've got to be useful'

He’s produced at least one cookbook almost every year since then, but after three series of The Naked Chef his TV career began to embody his belief that ‘whether you like me or find me annoying, I’ve got to be useful’

In 2005 he launched a campaign to improve school meals that led to a change in government policy and the series Jamie's Ministry of Food In 2005 he launched a campaign to improve school meals that led to a change in government policy and the series Jamie's Ministry of Food

In 2005 he launched a campaign to improve school meals that led to a change in government policy and the series Jamie’s Ministry of Food

His campaigns have sometimes sat oddly alongside his commercial tie-ins with the likes of Sainsbury's, Tesco and Shell His campaigns have sometimes sat oddly alongside his commercial tie-ins with the likes of Sainsbury's, Tesco and Shell

His campaigns have sometimes sat oddly alongside his commercial tie-ins with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Shell

In 2005 he launched a campaign to improve school meals that led to a change in government policy and the series Jamie’s Ministry of Food. Now that every chef has an opinion on ultra-processed food, it’s hard to remember that Oliver was a lone voice raised against Turkey Twizzlers back then. But in 2022 he protested outside Downing Street after the government delayed implementing parts of its obesity strategy, including the targeting of junk-food ads at children. Does he ever despair? ‘No, we’ve definitely achieved lots and things have improved in many different ways,’ he says. ‘But is that proportionately anywhere near to the change needed in “Food Inc”, the biggest industry in the world?’

His campaigns have sometimes sat oddly alongside his commercial tie-ins with the likes of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Shell. ‘I used to be radical in my activism… Now I see the commercial and social needs as well as the health ones,’ he says. ‘I am much more balanced.’ Members of his staff regularly monitor food, health and supermarket data to inform his campaigns, cookbooks and TV shows: people are currently buying fewer ingredients, he tells me, and the average time spent preparing meals dropped from 46 minutes in 1999 to 21 minutes in 2019.

Most of his commercial contracts are short term, he adds. ‘I’m very disposable.’

Probably the biggest blow to his ego and his reputation was the closure of his restaurants in 2019. He’d launched the first Jamie’s Italian in 2008 in Oxford and, at its height, the chain dominated the UK high street middle-market and had franchised branches all over the world. Between 2017 and 2019 various sites were sold off before the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group went into administration with £70.5 million of debt. Twenty-two restaurants were closed with a loss of 1,000 jobs. (Three outlets at Gatwick Airport continued operation and were subsequently sold. Overseas properties operated by franchisees were unaffected and this sector of his business has continued to grow, with over 70 branches currently open.) Fifteen’s London branch closed. His deli/cookery school chain Recipease and the two branches of his fine-dining concept Barbecoa had already shut.

He reportedly spent £25 million of his own money to save the business and ‘tried to do the best version of ‘bad’ that I could’, but he was criticised for not consulting with staff before they were made redundant.

Does he wish he’d done things differently? ‘Yes, of course. But I have become quite philosophical about failure or things that were wrong. Often, we don’t learn or evolve until we’ve felt pain; we don’t try to think about things differently until getting it wrong has resulted in pain.’

Four months ago, Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools renewed their wedding vows after 23 years, in a barefoot beach ceremony in the Maldives Four months ago, Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools renewed their wedding vows after 23 years, in a barefoot beach ceremony in the Maldives

Four months ago, Jamie Oliver and his wife Jools renewed their wedding vows after 23 years, in a barefoot beach ceremony in the Maldives

Since 2022 his only new outlet in London has been a pop-up in Soho to promote his delivery service, Pasta Dreams. But this November he will open his first new restaurant since Jamie’s Italian went under. Housed in a Grade I listed building in London’s Covent Garden, it will be called Jamie Oliver Catherine Street.

‘I wasn’t planning to do it for a couple of years,’ Oliver says. ‘But through having probably the best mid-market restaurant group on the planet for seven years, then losing it over four years and everything involved in that… I think trusting my instinct and my gut is the right thing to do. The Naked Chef is naked without a restaurant. Without it I’m not fully happy, I’m not fully complete.’

The one constant in Oliver’s life has been his family, but that too is changing.

His dad Trevor has retired and his two eldest children are flying the nest. Poppy, 21, has just completed an English degree and he proudly tells me Daisy, 20, is training to be a nurse. Petal, 14, Buddy, 12, and River, who turned seven this month, still live at the family’s sumptuous home in Spains Hall, Essex. Today Oliver describes himself as a ‘weathered parent’.

‘I found the first 12 years easy and I was enthusiastic. But all the versions of enthusiasm of the Jamie that you think you probably know didn’t prepare me enough for a 14-year-old.’ He laughs bitterly. ‘That was interesting – almost like a bereavement. When they get to 14 they are embarrassed of me. It’s like a chapter closed and you just have to last it out till they get to about 20. We all want to be the cool dad, but it’s just not the case. And I do get it. When you’re 14 you want to fit in and be the same as everybody else. Having Jamie Oliver as your dad is just so embarrassing.’

Our time is almost up so I ask him the secret of his and Jools’s long relationship. 

Jamie and Jools with (clockwise from top left) Poppy, Daisy, Buddy, Petal and River. The one constant in Oliver's life has been his family, but that too is changing Jamie and Jools with (clockwise from top left) Poppy, Daisy, Buddy, Petal and River. The one constant in Oliver's life has been his family, but that too is changing

Jamie and Jools with (clockwise from top left) Poppy, Daisy, Buddy, Petal and River. The one constant in Oliver’s life has been his family, but that too is changing

I have become philosophical about failure. Often, we don’t learn or evolve until we have felt pain

‘Bloody hell! At its core I completely adore her and if she’s happy then I’m happy. It just works. I go to work, she looks out for the family. I couldn’t do it without her and I don’t think she could do her bit without me, so it’s a good team. We don’t hold grudges. And contrary to the obvious shock and horror of looking in the mirror every day thinking, “Who is that? Oh, Christ it’s me!” I have really enjoyed being young with her and getting old with her. I still think she is beautiful… and you are allowed to get old, you know.’

Jamie Oliver’s new TV series, Jamie Cooks the Mediterranean, will start on Channel 4 next month.

For our selection of delicious recipes from his new book, turn to page 27.

HOW JAMIE ADDS UP

5.83 million

The number of subscribers he has on his YouTube channel. His most-watched video, strangely, isn’t of him. It’s a five-minute clip of Antonio Carluccio making carbonara, which has 22 million views. His own version of carbonara ranks as his third most popular video, with 15 million views.

35

The age Oliver, who suffers from dyslexia, was when he read his first novel. This year he published his first piece of fiction: a children’s book called Billy and the Giant Adventure.

5am

The time he wakes up every day. In 2014, he told reporters he only got three and a half hours’ sleep a night from the ages of 30 to 40. These days, he aims to be in bed by 10pm.

£6 million

The amount of profit he and Jools made when they sold their eight-bedroom London home this June. They bought the house for £8.95 million in 2015 and sold it for £15 million to the estate of the late porn baron Paul Raymond.

BUDDING CHEF BUDDY WHO, LIKE HIS DAD, HAS HIS OWN YOUTUBE COOKERY SHOW BUDDING CHEF BUDDY WHO, LIKE HIS DAD, HAS HIS OWN YOUTUBE COOKERY SHOW

BUDDING CHEF BUDDY WHO, LIKE HIS DAD, HAS HIS OWN YOUTUBE COOKERY SHOW 

133,000

The number of subscribers his 12-year-old son Buddy has on his YouTube channel Cooking Buddies. Buddy’s most-popular video is of his dad making a lasagne; it has 2.6 million views.

25 million +

That’s how many pots and pans Oliver has sold through his collaboration with Tefal.

13

The number of education secretaries there have been since he started campaigning for better school meals. The chef says Tony Blair is his favourite politician and the feeling is mutual; the former PM said Oliver ‘is undoubtedly one of the most gifted and inspirational people I’ve met’.

WITH HIS FAVOURITE PRIME MINISTER, TONY BLAIR, 2005 WITH HIS FAVOURITE PRIME MINISTER, TONY BLAIR, 2005

WITH HIS FAVOURITE PRIME MINISTER, TONY BLAIR, 2005

65%

The proportion of Oliver’s recipes that he revealed in 2017 are vegetarian. In that same year, vegan lobbyists protested outside one of his Jamie’s Italians. In response, he described them as ‘20 scruffy, weird-looking fellas putting iPads of slaughtered animals in front of kids having spaghetti bolognese on a Saturday lunch’.

9.5 million

The number of his Instagram followers. One of the most-liked posts shows Oliver and Jools in the Maldives this Easter renewing their vows after 23 years.

1%

The part of Oliver that’s Sudanese, apparently. According to the chef, he traced his ancestry in 2009 and found out he is sixth-generation Sudanese on his father’s side.

648,900

Number of TikTok followers.

2

How many GCSEs Oliver has – in art and geology.

100,000

The number of people who’ve undertaken his eight-week community cooking course, Ministry of Food, which teaches you how to make healthier meals.

7.5 million

How many meals were served a year at his restaurants at the height of his success.

£64

The cost of a Pasta Master class at The Jamie Oliver Cookery School in London. This two-hour course will have you making and shaping the perfect pasta dough, then creating a sauce to accompany it – there’s also plenty of time to eat your Italian masterpiece.

35

The number of cookbooks he has published.

4.8 million

The number of views of the Instagram reel of him cutting a 12-layer chocolate cake (above) got, making it his most-liked video.

THE CAKE THAT EARNED HIM 4.8 MILLION VIEWS THE CAKE THAT EARNED HIM 4.8 MILLION VIEWS

THE CAKE THAT EARNED HIM 4.8 MILLION VIEWS

2

The number of Ukrainian families Oliver and Jools took in to live with them after Russia invaded.

£173 million

Oliver’s estimated net worth.

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