What's eating Antony Worrall Thompson?

The TV chef's police caution for shoplifting from Tesco five times in two weeks marks the end of a difficult couple of years that saw his restaurant empire fall into administration, says Tom Peck

Every little helps, so the supermarket chain says, but that doesn't mean helping oneself. Staff at Tesco in Henley-on-Thames called police after catching celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson apparently acting out his own festive recipe for Porridge – shoplifting cheese and wine no fewer than five times over the Christmas period.

Mr Worrall Thompson, 60, repeatedly failed to scan items while using the self-service checkouts in a two-week spell from late December. After using a store CCTV camera to watch Worrall Thompson, staff challenged him last Friday as he left the store and then called the police.

Mr Worrall Thompson was eventually released with a police caution, and yesterday posted a heartfelt statement on his website, apologising for his actions: "I am of course devastated for my family and friends, whom I've let down, and will seek the treatment that is clearly needed," the chastised chef said.

"I am not the first and I certainly won't be the last person to do something without rhyme or reason – what went through my head, only time will tell. Of course, I must also apologise sincerely to Tesco, with whom [I've] had a long and genuine working relationship, and to all the staff at the Henley branch, many of whom I got to know over the years. I am so sorry for all my recent stupid and irresponsible actions. Hopefully in the future I can make amends."

Mr Worrall Thompson is certainly not, as his statement suggests, the first person whose nimble fingers have landed them in hot water for no clear reason. The possible circumstantial and psychological causes for such seemingly unnecessary theft are manifold, from a "cry for help" to a quest for adrenalin.

Whatever the explanation in this case, the past couple of years have not been vintage for the restaurateur. In 2009 he was forced to put his chain of six restaurants, pubs and cafes into administration, blaming his bank for being too cautious with credit, a topic on which he was particularly outspoken throughout the "credit crunch". He used his own funds to keep open two restaurants, in Kew and Windsor, and has since bought back and reopened the Greyhound, a gastropub in Oxfordshire, and the Windsor Larder, a delicatessen and cafe.

Mr Worrall Thompson's background is both eminently respectable and financially comfortable. The chef, who was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon and now lives in High Wycombe, grew up with actor parents and has described his family as "posh, in a way". His godfather was Richard Burton, his father's understudy at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Little Anthony – full name Henry Antony Cardew Worrall Thompson – was sent away to boarding school at the age of three. His parents separated soon after and he was 21 before he saw his father again.

He learned to cook at various restaurants in Essex – much to the horror of his grandmother, who apparently refused to write to him because she could not bring herself to write the word Essex on the envelope – before opening his first restaurant, Ménage à Trois, in London's upmarket Knightsbridge in the early 1980s.

The boom in cookery programmes in the Nineties made him a household name, and he has since made appearances on Question Time, The Weakest Link and I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

But his career has taken its toll on his personal life – something about which the three-times married father of four has spoken candidly. In 2003, he told a newspaper interviewer: "I've lost two wives to restaurants, and a fantastic Japanese American girl.

"I mean, some of it was my own fault – too much dabbling in other women. But it's like a drug: you finish work, you can't sleep because the adrenaline is rushing round, so you end up in a club. You're never at home. Things start to fall apart."

A spokesperson for the British Retail Consortium said yesterday: "No one should feel they can get away with shoplifting or think it's a minor crime. When people take goods without paying the costs are felt by customers, who've budgeted carefully to treat themselves at Christmas."

A Thames Valley police spokesman confirmed the arrest. "Thames Valley Police arrested a 60-year-old man following a report of shoplifting offences in Tesco," he said. "The man has been issued with a formal caution." Tesco declined to comment.

Both Tesco and Sainsburys yesterday refuse to divulge whether the introduction of self-service tills has led to a rise in shoplifting.

Nimble fingers: the stars accused

In December 2001, the American actress Winona Ryder was accused of shoplifting more than $5,000 worth of designer clothing in a department store in Beverly Hills, California. She was convicted of theft and shoplifting. Ryder paid a hefty fine, served 480 hours community service and stayed on probation until December 2005.

Sue Terry, the mother of Chelsea and England football captain John Terry, was cautioned along with his mother-in-law in 2009 after stealing £1,450 of goods from a Tesco and a Marks & Spencer in Weybridge, Surrey. The items, found when they were arrested in the car park outside, ranged from pet food to watches and clothes.

Peaches Geldof has faced four accusations of shoplifting, but has never been arrested for any of them. Last October, staff in a London branch of Boots said the socialite was caught trying to leave with £60 worth of make-up. In March, staff in a Camden clothes store accused Geldof after a dress went missing. In 2007 and 2008 she faced more accusations of stealing clothes.

JOSHUA CARROLL

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