Prue Leith: 'Tokenism doesn't bother me'

The Great British Bake Off star on being the first woman to run a 'serious restaurant', ageism and that unfortunate tweet.

by Kate Bassett

On her childhood:

I grew up in a very white, privileged, old-fashioned society in South Africa and went to a boarding school run by nuns. My father was a company director and my mother was the country’s most celebrated actress – so my main influences were business and the arts. I had two brothers and my parents expected us all to do well. They were wonderfully encouraging. I was always climbing trees or riding the wild donkeys that strayed down road but I never once heard them say ‘don’t do that’.

On picking a career:

My parents were amazingly tolerant. I went to drama school but soon realised I was terrible at acting, so I ditched drama school for art school. I remember the director of the art school telling me: ‘You should give up now – you have absolutely no talent.’ Of course you’re not allowed to say things like that these days but it was very useful; it stopped me from wasting years on a failing trajectory. Next, I decided I wanted to be an architect. That didn’t last long either as I was no good at maths. In the end, I persuaded my father that I should go to Paris to learn French. It was there I discovered a love for food.

I’d been brought up in a society which didn’t talk about sex, food, money, religion or politics. Those things were all deemed slightly rude. (God knows what they did talk about.)  I could have learned to cook at our Zulu cook’s apron strings but no-one ever thought a white young woman would end up in the kitchen. You just never saw that. In France, everyone talked about food. I thought ‘I’ll be a cook’. That’s the profession that stuck.

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