‘Living in the moment just makes sense’ — The Big Interview with Jamie Oliver
Keeping up with Jamie Oliver is a tricky business. It’s the first glimpse we get of the extraordinary mind behind the face we all know so well.
It should come as no surprise, really, that he’s the master of quick thought when you consider he’s one of the most successful chefs the world has ever seen.
In the 20 years since he first graced our screens as The Naked Chef we’ve seen him cooking endlessly for an incredible 23 recipe books, travelling the world filming, opening restaurants galore and adding husband, father-of-five and government health campaigner to his CV.
By his own admission he’s an ideas man and reckons what sets him apart from others is he’s stupid enough to give his theories a shot. It’s a humbling excuse for a man who, despite all he’s achieved, is still only 42.
RETIRE? NOT YET…
Jamie Oliver has already changed the way we eat as a country, his recipes surely gracing almost every dinner table. Now tackling childhood obesity is his number one goal.
For a man who cooked his first omelette at seven and who had six years of kitchen training by 14 it’s pretty normal, right? At least it is to him.
So, will he ever stop, especially now he has five children, ranging in age from 15 to one, and a wife who would surely like to see him a bit more?
‘I have made a decision to go all out for the next 12 years to get things where they should be,’ he tells Balance.
‘And then I will happily f*cking retire. I could throw the towel in now and see my kids growing up and that would be lovely.
‘I like to think that I’m not mad and if I fail while trying, that’s not bad. I’d like to think we are doing the right thing at the right time.’
Jamie’s 12-year plan to halve childhood obesity aims to get junk food ads off TV and stop energy drinks being sold to children, and he and his team won’t stop at anything to see real change.
‘We would rather be your best mate and do something together but if you are just a bag of sh*t we will make a documentary about it and be a real pain in the a*se,’ he says. Sounds exciting, although also quite terrifying.
‘The statistics are really frightening. One in three step into secondary school as obese. And 85% of those will be like that for the rest of their lives.
‘You could easily go “Oh I don’t give a f*ck”. But, I do. It’s not because I am kind or clever but when you witness things, it changes you.
‘I also think when you’ve said you’re going to do something on TV, you look a proper d*ck if you don’t.’
Joking aside, mudslinging in the media is nothing new to Jamie and he confesses he’s become quite hardened.
‘I think in Britain, being enthusiastic and having an opinion and, God forbid you earn a couple of quid; that puts me on a high level of being disliked.
‘To be honest. I just feel like I am 20 years in and battle hardy. I am fairly sensitive and I am quite hard to crack. But once I am cracked, I am in bits.
‘I still get “Where’s my Turkey Twizzlers?” – someone thinks I took something away from them. I didn’t. We put standards in and we put more meat in your sausage, gave you a better one.
‘It’s perception to say I’m middle class and telling people what to do. To be honest I haven’t spent 20 years doing that; I’ve spent 20 years getting passionate about things I think are wrong. And I have some solutions. But generally unless I’ve f*cked up, I don’t tell anyone what to do.’
Sleep is now high on the agenda, but it wasn’t always. Jamie struggled so long with so little he was forced to call in expert assistance. Now he’s running sessions for teens facing GCSEs, his eldest daughter, Poppy, being one of them.
‘I went through six years of about three hours sleep, just working too hard. Then I went through a revelation and over the last eight years have started spending time with sleep scientists,’ he reveals.
‘I’m getting a pretty solid six (hours a night now) which is on the cusp of acceptable. I have reversed life a bit.
‘Basically I consider work my hobby and sleep my work. I wear the campest velvet eye patch and I look like a proper d*ckhead and I don’t give a f*ck’.
An extraordinary upbringing above his parent’s pub in Clavering, Essex, and seeing a working kitchen with eight professional staff goes some way to explaining just why Jamie has proved to be so exceptional, and he now admits that his mum and dad were his gastro inspiration.
‘We moved to the sh*tty little skanky pub we grew up in that my Dad turned into a posh pub. He was a chef. I didn’t know then but he was one of the early pioneers of gastro pubs,’ Jamie says.
Battling dyslexia, Jamie faced ridicule from mates and an education system woefully inadequate at dealing with him.
‘I just stuck to the cooking because it kept me safe mentally. I went to special needs all through secondary school, it was not the greatest.
‘Their way of fixing me was to put me in front of the whole school, 800 boys, and get me to read out five pages of Shakespeare. Can you imagine?
‘“We’ll smash it out, there’s nothing wrong with him,” they said. To be honest it didn’t bother me because home was so great and in a family business there’s always a pound an hour to be earned washing up, peeling veg. At the weekend I was working and I’d get praised a lot, so I just stuck to it a lot.’
LIVING FOR NOW
So how does he keep his sanity, with fingers in so many pies? Does the fear of mortality drive him forward?
‘I never used to be spiritual but I f*cking am now,’ he replies. ‘I think nutrition has made me spiritual. The more I have learned.
‘There’s no such thing as perfection and anyone who tells you they’ve got it is a f*cking liar. I think questioning things is always good. Knowing you could always do better feels like a good place to be.
‘Self-care and self love is a concept I’m warming to,’ he adds. ‘I quite like the Ayurveda stuff, Chinese medicine. The concept of mindfulness. We know so little, so that leaves it open.
‘It’s quite hard to prove health benefits about herbs and spices because the money is not spent on it but we know about antioxidants.
‘I’m all over herbs and spices like a rash. I love the medicinal flavour. I know that if you get that, it’s good for you.
‘Placebos and the capacity to heal yourself, we know that’s beyond powerful, too.
‘And that thing about liking yourself. I’d love to be religious – I am not religious, but I do find myself talking to myself and I think it’s really important to do that.
‘I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and when you get older you feel more vulnerable.
‘That whole thing about living in the moment, well, it just makes sense.’
Jamie Oliver supports the 2030 Project, which aims to halve childhood obesity within 12 years.