Chef laughs off verbal mauling by 'bitchy' Delia

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The Independent Online

The carving knives are out again. Two years after Gary Rhodes and Antony Worrall Thompson dared to criticise the "Goddess" of cookery, Delia Smith has responded with a scathing attack.

The carving knives are out again. Two years after Gary Rhodes and Antony Worrall Thompson dared to criticise the "Goddess" of cookery, Delia Smith has responded with a scathing attack.

"I am not some Brownie pack leader - in fact, I am a bit of a bitch," she said proudly, explaining that she hated Gary Rhodes's programmes and that Mr Worrall Thompson, a fellow BBC presenter, was "dreadful, repulsive".

And she didn't stop there. Food and Drink, one of the programmes that Mr Worrall Thompson co-presents, is "disgusting", Jilly Goolden "awful" and, as for Michael Barry: "Yuk. He's all sweaty palms."

Delia, who has never before deigned to respond to her critics, did not hesitate to pour vitriol on her colleagues. "I hate Gary Rhodes's programmes and I think that Antony Worrall Thompson is worse; he is dreadful, just repulsive," she said.

"I think that Food and Drink, the show that he is on, is the most disgusting programme on television. I will never, ever know as long as I live, how the BBC or the general public can tolerate it. When we finish recording my shows the crew and I always sit down and have a good giggle at Food and Drink. So I'm not too nice, really. See how bitchy I can be?"

Delia, 59, first came in for criticism two years ago with her How to Cook series in which she not only taught people how to boil an egg but showed them what boiling water looked like and led them step by step through the toast-making procedure.

Gary Rhodes scoffed that it was an insult to the viewers' intelligence and Worrall Thompson said her scrambled eggs looked "disgusting". Even Egon Ronay stepped in and called her the missionary position of cookery.

Through it all, Delia has kept her counsel - until now. Worrall Thompson appeared amused by her tongue-lashing yesterday.

"I can't be doing badly on Food and Drink if I get a reaction like this from the coldest woman on television," he said jauntily.

"I think her comments are marvellous. It shows there is spirit in the old duck yet. I think she is a fantastic lady and has done marvellous things - but if she doesn't like watching Food and Drink she should just turn it off. I know she is only having a go at Gary Rhodes and myself because we are the only two chefs who have ever stood up to the Goddess of Cookery.

"I called her the Volvo of cooks because she is the safest chef on TV. Now it appears she has gone to the Gordon Ramsay school of charm classes."

Katie Nicholls, a spokeswoman for Bazal Productions, which makes Food and Drink for BBC2, said: "It is a shame she is saying these things about the show, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

"I am sure the millions of viewers who watch the show regularly will disagree with her. Food and Drink is the longest-running cookery show on television."

But Delia did not stop there. Rather like William Hague's recent admission of drinking 14 pints in a day as a teenager, she acknowledged she too likes a tipple. "I do like to drink wine. Lots and lots and lots and lots of wine," she said, adding that she has been known to wake up with a hangover every once in a while. I like sherry and I like Campari sodas, a gin and tonic now and again. If I'm in Scotland, I'll have a big glass of malt whisky every night."

And why not? After all, 11 million people have bought her cookery books, and the sale of eggs went up by 54 million the day after she cooked them on prime-time television. The reality is that Delia has no need to spend time caring what her peers think.