Laddie and the tramp: I went to school in Brighton, where my mother then lived; it was a boarding nursery where theatrical types dropped their kids. At the age of five, I wandered down to the beach in my sleep and was put in the coalhole as a punishment. It didn't work. I climbed out through the manhole and ran away for four days with a tramp.
Blackboard duster jungle: I passed the entrance exam to what in those days was Milner Court, prep school of King's School, Canterbury. The guy who ran it, a reverend, was like a little Hitler; it was a highly disciplined school and I was definitely the rebel; when the teacher threw the blackboard duster at me, I used to throw it back. The headmaster told my mother "He's not bright enough for King's", but I had the ability to revise quickly and I passed the exam. On the first day at King's they said, "We're going to break this boy's spirit", and I became an immediate hero to other new boys. With some other boys, I pushed a teacher's car into the swimming-pool.
Sweet Fanny Cradock: My mother went into television and became floor manager for Fanny Cradock, which is when I got my first insight into cooking. My mother was quite a good cook until I started - when she fell apart. I started cooking in my school holidays, because the au pairs looking after me were absolutely lousy at cooking. I had a surrogate aunt who ran the Duck Inn at Pett Bottom in Bridge, near Canterbury, and after church I would cycle out illegally and work in her kitchen. At school I used to cook for the monitors and used to get double the rate. It was mainly steak and fried egg sandwiches over gas rings. It was very simple; I used to get excited by a block of Echo margarine in those days.
Devil take the HND-most: I got economics and English A-levels and left King's in July for five months in a crammer in Victoria; I re-sat French (which I'd failed) and took politics (I was a great fan of Harold Wilson and wanted to be a politician). I was desperately keen to be a chef but my grandmother was horrified. She was a powerful lady - ex-Army, actress - who had paid for my education, so for her I took the first HND in hotel management. It was very, very dull: textures of carpets, how to make beds and clean loos.
Steamrollered: I just got on with this hard work, while my friends were out drinking and chatting up girls. I had my face smashed up in a rugby accident and although it was patched up, it couldn't be rebuilt until my bones had stopped growing when I was 21. I couldn't look at a girl, let alone talk to one. I still look as if I've been squashed by a steamroller.
Interview by Jonathan SaleReuse content