How we met: Lucy Young & Mary Berry
'Lucy is the worst navigator when it comes to following a map: on one trip to a charity demo, we ended up in an empty field'
Mary Berry, 78
Berry (right in picture) has written more than 70 cookery books since publishing her first in 1970. Since 2010, she has been a judge on the BBC's 'The Great British Bake Off'. She lives with her husband and dogs in Buckinghamshire
After I lost my son William [who died following a car accident, in 1989], I decided I didn't want to be darting off every day to London for work, I wanted to be at home with my family, getting on with writing – and I needed help to be able to do that. I heard from a friend, who had this lovely young daughter, Lucy, who at 19 had studied at Le Cordon Bleu. She was helping with catering in a pub but was looking to branch out. I invited her round to my house for an interview.
She came over three days a week initially, testing recipes with me for magazines and newspapers. Though nothing was too much trouble for her: feeding the dog, helping with supper, doing anything that came her way. She was brought up as I was, to do anything. She knew what had happened to our family and was an enormous comfort from the beginning.
She was very nervous and raw on that first day, though. I remember saying to her, "Make some meringues." And then I went out. When I came back I could see she was upset at how they'd turned out – a little burnt. So I said to her, "Lucy, Rome wasn't built in a day."
In the early days she always seemed a bit grumpy when she'd come in on Monday mornings and one day she admitted it was because of the exhaustive list of things to do that I would present her with as soon as she arrived. So after that, I'd give her some time – well, five minutes and a cup of coffee!
If I do anything, she's by my side: we've travelled the country doing cooking demos together. You'd imagine the young would be good navigators, but Lucy is the worst navigator I have ever had when it comes to following a map: on one trip to a charity demonstration we ended up in an empty field.
When it comes to cooking, we have the same gut feeling in our view of recipes: we don't expect people to have an enormous store cupboard. Her style is more casual than mine – she's more about wraps and things eaten in the hand – but we work so well together, I said to her, what about running a cookery school? And together we built it from scratch.
Lucy has grown in stature over 24 years as my assistant and she is in control of me now. I'm not allowed to pick up the phone as I'm apt to say yes to something I'm asked to do, even if I've not got time. She'll say to me, "I know your children were at school with hers, but no more favours!" She's very protective.
I can't think of life without her: Lucy is my best friend. She's offered other jobs all the time, but she says to me, "Why would I want to leave you?" She often jokes, "When you and my mother are in a home together, I'll be here pushing your wheelchair around."
Lucy Young, 44
The Cordon Bleu-trained chef and author of six cookery books has been Mary Berry's assistant and collaborator for 24 years, helping to launch her Aga cookery school and co-writing more than 20 of her titles. She lives with her husband and two ducks in Buckinghamshire
I grew up with Mary's books. We lived near her and my mother used her Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook for dinner parties in the 1980s: pork à la crème followed by lemon flan cheesecake was a real treat. One day, when I was 19, my mum said, "I've heard Mary Berry is looking for a part-time assistant; you must apply."
The second I walked into her house and met her, I felt I knew Mary: she reminded me of my mother, so I felt quite relaxed, which is unusual for me. She said, "Did you know that I've lost a son; that's why I want to be at home more." I was shocked, but being young helped in a way, as you just go with it.
The first week was the hardest: I remember her saying one afternoon, "I'm going out, make some meringues." I made the mix by hand and they were awful: three batches in the bin, and I thought I was going to get the sack!
Mary is amazing at praise: she is so generous in her encouragement that it never felt like a boss/assistant relationship. And pretty soon we were talking about creating a cookery school together, from her home.
We've travelled around the country together and even flown to America to do cooking demos. I'll never forget staying over at one particular country house in the UK. For dinner, the hosts gave us tofu, which I'd never tried, and it looked so disgusting it turned my stomach. Mary looked me straight in the eye, from the other side of the table, knowing what I was feeling, and kicked me under the table to say, "Try it!" I ate half a square for her.
We didn't know what hit us when she came to The Great British Bake Off: people started talking about her clothes and how good she looks for her age. At first she wore pearls and tweed skirts but by the second series, she'd say, "Do I look good in bright pink?" It gave her confidence. I loved that Zara bomber jacket she wore that hit the headlines. After seeing it, my niece, who was 16, said, "I want that jacket!" Mary might feel uncomfortable about being a fashion icon, but she is one.
A lot of authors have assistants working just as hard behind the scenes, but most don't get the credit I have. It was hugely important when, with Cook Up a Feast, Mary said to her publisher, "I will do another book only if it's jointly with Lucy." Working together with my name on the cover was confirmation from Mary that we were a team.
Mary's actually desperate to push me into the limelight, but I'm shyer than she is: I get a bigger buzz from what she does. I think I will always work for Mary; I adore her to bits.
'Cook Up a Feast' by Mary Berry and Lucy Young (£14.99, Dorling Kindersley) is out tomorrow in paperback
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