‘Oh those two mimsy psychopaths in Downing Street; I knew them quite well.  We were all young barristers together.  We used to call Tony, Miranda after Prospero’s daughter in The Tempest.  You know the speech when she sees the shipwrecked sailors stagger naked out of the waves,  ‘Oh brave new world, what delights’.  And as for Cherie, it just goes to show how you can get on by jumping on your Head of Chambers and how the biggest alcoholic in the Inns of Court eventually became Lord Chancellor.’ 

Clarissa Dickson Wright is a rebel. There are also historic connections.  In 1605 John and Christopher Wright, ancestors on her father’s side conspired with Guy Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot. ‘So who knows what might have happened if I had accepted Tony Blair’s invitation to cook for him – I could have finished the job off’. 

Clarissa is in Ilkley to publicise her autobiography, called ‘Spilling the Beans, in which she chronicles the events in her very eventful life.  The daughter of a famous surgeon and an Australian heiress, Clarissa was born into a life of privilege,  but it was not all buns and pretty frocks; her father was an alcoholic and could erupt into the most violent of rages. ‘You don’t always appreciate the priceless enamel handle of the poker when you were being hit with it.’ 

No doubt Clarissa provoked his fury; she was out to shock even then,  ‘I got thrown out of the Brownies for putting anchovies in the chocolate cake,’ she announced proudly.  If she couldn’t get noticed for the good things, she was noticed for the bad.  ‘When you’re brought up in an alcoholic household, you don’t know what the rules are.’   

Clarissa likes to shock.  Dressed in a voluminous red trouser suit over a green and white flowing top, she sits like a little girl who has been asked to do her party piece – only she is going to be naughty!   She says all those things that  others think but are too polite to say.   

‘I had sex with an MP once behind the speaker’s chair,’ she exclaims. ‘I’ve no idea who he was.’ 

‘Gordon Ramsay should have stuck with football – the language is better suited.  And I can’t stand Jamie Oliver; he has sold out to supermarkets.’  

Clarissa had a devastating intelligence, even when she was very young.  Her father wanted her to go into medicine, but she took up law instead.  ‘My father hated lawyers and I hated my father. It seemed a natural choice.’ She became the youngest person ever to be called to the bar.   

Her father served his wife the divorce papers at the breakfast table and then left.  Clarissa stayed on with her mother, but her life was devastated when her beloved mother died.  Clarissa took a very large drink and then another. ‘It dulled the pain and seemed the answer to  everything.’  She left the law and became an alcoholic.

Hers is not a rags to riches story.  It’s the other way round.  Left with an inheritance of £2.8 million, Clarissa blew it in 12 years – chartering yachts in the Mediterranean, private jets to take friends on holidays in the Caribbean and booze. ‘After a year of two bottles of gin a day, I ended up sleeping on The Embankment.’

 ‘Oh I come from a long line of alcoholics,’ she proudly announced.  One of my ancestors was thrown out of Cromwell’s model army through drunkenness, but he was taken back for the Irish campaign!’     

Cooking saved her ‘I like to believe we all have one gift in life and mine is cooking.’   She had learnt to cook from the comfortable cook, her father employed. The kitchen was a safe haven away from the storms upstairs. Later she cooked the dinner parties for her mother and her guests.  And after her mother died, she did the catering for the drinking club which was part of her mother’s inheritance. It was while she was in rehab that she got a job running ‘Books for Cooks’ on the Finchley Road.  She then became passionate about cardoons, edible thistles, and attracted the attention of Pat Llewellyn, the television producer.  She was a natural. A few years later, she was invited to join Jennifer Patterson as ‘Two Fat Ladies’.    

‘You might think that two middle aged ladies would be intensely competitive.  We never were.  We became best friends.  It was all such fun.’   Two Fat Ladies became the most popular cookery programme, there had ever been. ‘In Japan, I was dubbed with a male voice.’  She gave an imitation,  accompanied by vigorous chopping gestures.  ‘And Jennifer and I were the sixth most popular icon or Biker’s magazine.’           

Clarissa has survived the chaos of her childhood, dicarded the privilege, and found her own identity as a cook and a determined supporter of the countryside values.  She enjoys the celebrity.  An old friend recently told her that  ‘You always believed that when you walked into a room, people knew you.  Reality has just caught up.’

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