Prue Leith, 71, was born in South Africa. Her career spans the Michelin-starred Leith’s restaurant, Leith’s School of Food and Wine and many cookery books. She chaired the School Food Trust and was awarded an OBE in 1989 and a CBE in 2010.
What was your earliest ambition?
Successively, to be an actress, a painter, an architect, a French translator and, finally, a cook. Bingo.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
Independent school in Johannesburg, with a few years at private boarding school in England from the age of seven.
Who was your mentor?
Sir Peter Parker. He was the perfect renaissance man and delightful with it.
How physically fit are you?
Not bad for a septuagenarian. I have always hated exercise for its own sake. I like walking, riding or tennis because there is a point to them.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
Yes. I was neither Mensa-level nor thick as two planks.
How politically committed are you?
I’m the original floating voter. But I am very interested in politics, not the Westminster kind, but social policy, ethics and so on, hence my obsession with vocational training and school food.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I am totally erratic. I built my new house with a heat exchange system in the ground, rain harvesting, double glazing, solar panels – then imported the stone for the terrace from India.
Do you have more than one home?
Yes, I have a flat in Cape Town.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
A 26-in waist.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
In what place are you happiest?
My house in the country, especially with my family. Or in bed with my grandson tucked into my arm with a bottle – the bottle for him, not me.
What ambitions do you still have?
That my latest novel be sold to Hollywood, that my memoir (out next year) be a bestseller, that my daughter marry a lovely guy, that my son become prime minister, that I make a good granny and that we all live happily ever after.
What drives you on?
Enjoyment? Energy? Ambition? But this last is tailing off. I used to have entrepreneurial ideas all the time, but I no longer want to run things.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
To have done all those things, and a lot more, without, I hope, becoming a complete egomaniac.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
In business, failing to make a go of catering in Hyde Park and Kensington. Three years of poor summers and the British public’s (then) addiction to cheap burgers and chips did for me. In my private life, to have failed to write a blockbusting bestseller. My novels have sold well, but compared to Joanna Trollope, I’m a minnow.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?
“Who is that old trout fussing about children’s diet and governance of companies and spending Sunday mornings listening to The Archers? She can’t be anything to do with me. I’m going to be a world-famous actress or painter.”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
Go into an old people’s home and start a revolution to get half-decent meals and allow the residents to cook.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
Ten. I have had far more than my share of good luck, happiness, riches and love.
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