Why I live in ... Hadleigh, Essex

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Paul Gayler is the executive chef at The Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, London. He and his wife, Anita, a part-time midwife, and their four children aged between 16 and 24 have lived in Hadleigh, Essex, south-east England, for seven years. He has recently overseen the £2m refurbishment of the hotel’s dining room to create an Italian restaurant called Apsleys.

I always say we live in Hadleigh near Southend so it doesn’t get confused with the Hadleigh in Suffolk, which is on the fringes of Constable country. I was born in Dagenham, Essex, and my wife was born in Leyton, east London. She moved to Hadleigh with her family and the house we live in is only about 200 yards from where she used to live. We did our courting in the town so I suppose it was inevitable we would settle here. It’s a 1930s house with five bedrooms that we need for our four children, who are meant to be at university but keep coming back. We can’t seem to get rid of them. The house is on a corner by traffic lights but we don’t hear any noise when we are inside because it has a big garden to the front and back with a privet-lined drive. It’s quiet and it suits us.

Hadleigh is trying to improve itself but it’s not an easy place to make trendy or to attract young people to because it is just a small town. Going out is a busman’s holiday for me but there is one restaurant called The Bank, run by a friend called Mathew Locker who is making a nice job of it, and there are some good Thai and Italian restaurants. People ask if I’d ever live in London but I prefer to work in the city and live outside to have a comparison.

I leave for work at 5am to get to work by 6am and in the evening I leave about nine or ten. That hour in the car winds me down. I love being at home but I am always on call and sometimes work on Saturdays or Sundays if there is a special function on. I have a team of 40 chefs and can never put work out of my mind. Anita says I never relax and it’s true – I hate the idea of arrivng the next morning and finding something’s gone wrong. I’ve been lucky to have stayed married since 1979 because this trade has one of the worst divorce rates. Funnily enough, I think my long hours and her working some nights has helped.

We have put the house on the market. It will soon be too big for just the two of us to roll around in. We’ll stay in the area but I’m upset about moving because we have what I call “the gourmet garage”. It holds my 4,000 cookery books and magazines going back to 1975 and I use it as a study. My wife says that when we move the first things that are going to go are the books. I’ve told her that she’s got more chance of going than they do.

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