How We Met: Mark Sargeant & Al Murray

'There are things I'm happier talking about with him than with mates I've had since I was 11'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Al Murray, 42, is a stand-up comedian best known for his loudmouth alter ego The Pub Landlord. Out of character, he has also produced his own sketch show, 'Al Murray's Multiple Personality Disorder', and fronted a number of acclaimed documentaries, including the recent 'Al Murray's German Adventure' for BBC4. He lives in west London

I met Mark on the reality TV show Hell's Kitchen in 2004, where he was my team leader. I was approached to do it as Harry Hill had said no, I think. My manager thought it would be a good opportunity to get tables in [the host] Gordon Ramsay's restaurants, and I thought I might learn how to cook. Before the show started, they put us through catering college for a couple of days: we had a book of recipes to learn, and on the second night we had to do a service. I remember Gordon shouting, "Are you ready with that coq au vin?" and I said, "Yeah, yeah, course I am," and then Mark said, "You need to be careful, mate!"

From there, we just got on really well. It was a really intense experience – the producers want personalities to clash and moments of collision, but I just hung on to Sarge and he kept me sane. Where Gordon was very alpha-male, Mark had a completely different energy: open to being talked to and infinitely patient. Our team fell apart, and there was a point where it was really awful and I wrote him a letter to say thanks for being a decent guy in the middle of it. It was like we went through this terrible thing together and formed an unbreakable bond [as a result].

What I find compelling about Mark is that he's an expert: we live in an age with this "everyone can have a go" philosophy, but he really knows what he's doing. Some of the best nights out I've ever had were at the chef's table at Claridge's, when Mark was running it. It was just an incredible experience, like theatre.

We like to go out for a drink and a gossip, and I've had him round my house; he's ready-steady-cooked my fridge, so he's definitely useful. Recently, I've been away a lot touring, and he's been busy setting up his new restaurant, but we continue our relationship through texting and Twitter banter. We talk about personal things as well, and he's given me good advice; we both went through divorces at the same time and it was a help to "compare notes".

He's a bit of a charmer, too: at a [fancy-dress] party at my house, he came dressed as a cad and danced with everyone; he's very fleet of foot. On Monday morning, all my friends were like, "Who the hell was that, stealing away my wife?"

Mark Sargeant, 37, is former head chef of Gordon Ramsay's then-Michelin-starred restaurant at Claridge's in London. Having worked for the Ramsay Group for 13 years, he resigned last year and is preparing to open his own restaurant in Folkestone next May. He has appeared on numerous TV programmes including 'Hell's Kitchen' and 'The Great British Menu'. He lives in London

I didn't know that much about Al before Hell's Kitchen. Early in my career, all I did was work and a whole period passed me by culturally. Lots of people had ulterior motives for being on the show. But there was Al just standing there, saying, "Show me how to cook," which was brilliant.

The show was one of the hardest things I've had to do – I had a month without a day off, with 18-hour days the whole way through – and I think I would have gone mad without Al there. We just bounced off each other really well, and there was lots of odd banter: he called me Frodo Baggins because he's tall and I'm short and he gave me a Gollum toy on the last day with this letter saying, "Dear Frodo... blah blah blah... lots of love, Legolas."

I used to live over the road from Al in Chiswick, and we'd go for pints and meals, but I moved about two years ago, and we're both very busy, so we don't get to see each other that often. But we have a very strong relationship from afar. He's definitely a confidant, and we've both been through reasonably tough times recently, so there's an understanding between us that means there are things I'd feel happier talking about with him than with mates I've known since I was 11.

Our backgrounds are quite different – Al had a silver spoon, whereas I had more of a rusty one. But personality-wise, there are a lot of similarities between us: we're both very silly and cheeky and we both like comic-book-style films and the same TV series. The great thing about Al is that he's not someone who sits and there and reels off joke after joke. He makes me laugh, but in a more conversational, off-the-cuff way.

One of my favourite memories of our friendship is from Gordon's 40th birthday. I had asked Al if he could do something on stage, and he came on and took the mickey out of everyone, then I came out wearing the Gordon mask from [Channel 4 comedy show] Bo' Selecta!. It was just really funny.

Would I try comedy now he's tried cheffing? I love a challenge, and if someone asked me to do a Faking It-style programme following Al around and trying to be a stand-up, I'd go for it. It will never happen, but it would be brilliant.

Al Murray's 'The Pub Landlord's Great British Pub Quiz Book' and 'Barrel of Fun Live' DVDs are available now ( Mark Sargeant's book 'My Kind of Cooking' will be out next September