He’s a star chef, restaurant owner and bestselling author, but Jamie Oliver has faced his share of setbacks. He tells us more about his childhood.
“I grew up a real country boy in Clavering, in the county of Essex, about 18 miles from Cambridge. By age five, I was already helping out in my parents’ pub The Cricketers, washing glasses and chopping veg for £1 an hour. I was really good with the knife even back then, and to be honest, I cooked up some really good grub, even as a kid. But my parents taught me something else really important: a great work ethic and how to treat others with respect and friendliness, and how to stay polite even when you’re stressed and your feet are killing you. I sometimes wish my own kids could help their grandparents out now and again, and learn all that. Back then I soon understood: if you want to get anywhere, you have to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.
My parents were working class; I have no idea why all these people I met later with my food show The Naked Chef on TV thought I was some privileged rich kid who went to a private school. Actually I was a chubby, thick kid who was so bad at school I needed extra lessons for the simplest things.
The magic of food
I found out for the first time that you can do magic with food when I was young. I went into the woods for a picnic with some friends and gave one of them his first ever smoked salmon sandwich, which I’d squeezed some slices of lemon over. I’ll never forget the look on his face when that combination of salty, smoky, soft bread and lemon hit his tongue. That was a real ‘aha!’ moment—for him, as well as for me. I’ve given each of my children exactly the same sandwich at one time or another. It’s a really special occasion, every time.
I met my wife Jools—her name’s actually Juliette—when I was 17. We’ve been together ever since. I’m a romantic guy: When Jools went to Tokyo for three months once for a job, I sent her a love letter every day. She kept them all. After secondary school, I left Essex and went to Westminster College, to study catering. Jools worked as a waitress. I was as poor as a church mouse; at the end of the month, I’d hardly have £100 left, and without Jools’ tips things would have been really grim.
We both had a clear idea of our future: I wanted to spend five years cooking in different restaurants in London, then we’d open a good pub back home and live above it with our family. Jools already wanted a lot of children back then. I thought she meant like two; turns out I was wrong. We’re now up to five children. Living above the pub like that could have been enough for us. In fact, I think Jools would have liked a more modest life. At least, she never pushed me career-wise.”
- Read more about Jamie’s life and career journey in Issue 27.
Text Silke Pfersdorf Photography Getty Images