Jilly is the undisputed star of the BBC Food and Drink programme that returns this week. Jilly is Drink, with the quivering gusto and the enthusiasm of a games mistress; Jilly can talk about 'a fragrance of gooseberry and cat pee' and
a 'suggestion of sweaty saddles' without a pause; Jilly will readily agree to sniff male armpits on screen: like all games mistresses and true television personalities, Jilly is absolutely unembarrassable.
She is convent-educated, married to a civil servant, has children called Oriel, Verity and Philip, and pets called Catkin, Black Cat, and Toto. She started in journalism after school, and had the option of joining either the Field or
Honey. She chose the Field: 'I wrote everything, leaders, even letters. I used to write letters from my mother. One was about how a lesser-spotted flycatcher had been jostling her tits on the bird table. We only had one letter in response, from someone saying that it was the wrong time of the year for flycatchers.'
Concentration on wine began with Food and Drink, although she had always had the nose. 'I used to be able to tell my mother what had been in a saucepan even after it had been washed. Now it's like being in training, going to a gym. The nose gets pretty finely tuned.' Some days are better than others: 'Sometimes a wine is saying nothing to you at all, so you have to work harder, and get your nose back in there and suddenly it comes back to you what it is . . . it's deja vu, coming across a smell that reminds you of childhood; the bonfire night when they had the toffee apples and one of them fell in the mud and you picked it up and washed it up under a tap . . .'
Marcel Proust would have been impressed; Jilly, however, thinks dogs have a finer sense of smell than we do. Jilly is down- to-earth: her mission is to convince people of the value of wine made for drinking rather than keeping; ones around pounds 3.50. She prefers new world wines to French: 'Their flavours are so much more up-front and accessible. European wines say 'You will like me, try harder'; the new world ones say 'Come and get me, I'm fabulous now' '.
She thinks the British now know more about wine than the French, who remain chauvinist and parochial. She sees no reason why England should not produce great wine - 'we have the same climate as Germany and the same soil as Champagne' - but believes we are no longer painstaking enough to make great products in any field. Just look at what happened to our motorbikes, she says.
She enjoys her job 'absolutely colossally' and is thrilled when 'a chap digging a hole pops his head up' to discuss Chardonnay with her. She was less thrilled when the policeman towing her car away wanted to discuss what he should buy at Sainsbury. Another tip she keeps handy is that Gewurztraminer goes very nicely with Chinese takeaways. (And, by the way, she says you should only sniff the wine when they pour you out a bit in restaurants and nod happily unless it smells of old socks.)
Jilly thought it was ''very sweet' when she was asked by breakfast television to test in situ the male deodorants being marketed by several football clubs 'on these wonderfully hunky men stripped to the waist and greased up'. She liked Leicester City the best and Liverpool the worst: 'Ghastly; I think it was corked,' says Jilly, who does not take herself entirely seriously.
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