How We Met: Jilly Cooper & Josceline Dimbleby

'A man followed me to the hall and tried to kiss me. I thought, "What goes on in this house?"'


Josceline Dimbleby, 67, is a cookery writer. Her 16 recipe books have sold more than two million copies. She also writes on travel and, in 2004, published the biographical family mystery 'A Profound Secret'. She has been actively involved in the Leon restaurant chain, founded by Henry Dimbleby, one of her three children with her ex-husband, the broadcaster David Dimbleby. She lives in west London

David and I moved to Putney Common in 1970 and I think Jilly and her husband Leo arrived one or two years later. Everybody knew each other, and you couldn't help but feel attracted to Jilly because she was so friendly and warm. We both love laughing, sometimes a bit wickedly, and I think we immediately saw that in each other. I loved the way she is so good at observing other people – their strengths, weaknesses and eccentricities.

I wasn't writing at that stage. I had trained as a singer, but started having babies and strongly felt I wanted to bring them up myself. Jilly was writing and writing and I remember being so impressed when I walked up her road every afternoon and she'd be sat in the window, furiously tapping away at her typewriter. I used to think, "Goodness, she's a professional person. Will I ever be one of those?"

We had a lot of street parties and concerts in the church, and we went to each other's houses for drinks parties and dinners. She wrote a funny thing in The Common Years about me going round at a street party saying, "Have some of my curried balls!" I remember them, in fact, and they were curried meatballs, but she left out that word. Jilly was always the life and soul of everything, but I like that she has a slight shyness too.

I once went to dinner at their house while David was away. It seemed a terribly sophisticated media crowd. I felt quite shy and gauche. I went to the loo in the middle of the evening and a man followed me into the hall and tried to kiss me and I thought, "My god, what goes on in this house!"

Jilly and Leo stayed for about 10 years before moving to the country and those years were a terribly happy time. It was later that someone got cancer, marriages began to split up and it all began changing.

I did go to see her in Gloucestershire soon after she moved but we have since stayed in touch mainly with cards and letters. She has been terribly encouraging with my writing. I remember every time she saw me she would say, "You are such a star," and I'd think, "Ooh perhaps I am!" I knew that she said it to other people too, but it didn't matter. It's such a talent to make other people feel like that.

Jilly Cooper OBE, 73, began her career as a journalist. She has written more than 30 novels, children's books and non-fiction works, but is best known for 'The Rutshire Chronicles', her series of bestselling bonkbusters that includes 'Riders', 'Rivals' and 'Polo', each of which have sold more than a million copies. She lives in Gloucestershire with her husband

Jossy and David were the king and queen of Putney. It was known as Media Gulch in those days. David was already very famous – people used to sing "Once in Royal David's Putney". I'd heard he had a very beautiful wife, then we met them and I thought how glamorous they were as a couple.

Jossy was adorable – stunningly beautiful and talented. Wonderful house, wonderful garden, terrific mother. She always sang like an angel at the local concerts and she cooked wonderfully, obviously. It was heaven going to eat there because she'd try out all her recipes on us.

It was an idyllic time. The common was beautiful, the fair came every year, there were concerts at Christmas. And we had a lot of fun – a lot of people behaved very badly, husbands hitting husbands over the head for getting off with their wife, a lot of that going on. But Jossy was above all of it.

She is incredibly shy and private, so she didn't gossip like the rest of us. We had what Leo called the "nanny mafia", who were all great chums and they all used to sit in our kitchen screaming with laughter, but she wasn't one of them. She had one or two close friends and worked very hard at everything she did. David is divine, but I think marrying into that family was a bit like marrying into the Kennedys. There was Bel Mooney as sister-in-law, while David was very impressive and powerful and Jossy had to live up to all that.

The Sunday Times once asked me to write a piece on friendship and I handed it in and they liked it and said, "Why don't you to have a party and invite your friends so we can photograph it and we'll give you a couple of crates of champagne?" I rang Jossy and invited her and she said what a great idea and that she would love to come. Then the poor angel rang back an hour later, I could almost see her curling the telephone wire with embarrassment, and she said, "I'm terribly sorry, Jilly, David says friendship is private; he doesn't want to be in your photograph." She was so embarrassed and disappointed. I love David but I think he was quite exacting.

I cried and cried when I left Putney. I wrote a book, The Common Years, based on that time, and everybody says it is my best. I think people were quite sad when we went but I expect it was a relief – they could speak easy at last without me putting it in my column or books.

'Orchards in the Oasis: Recipes, Travels & Memories' by Josceline Dimbleby is published by Quadrille, priced £25. 'Jump!', Jilly Cooper's latest novel, is published by Bantam, priced £18.99

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