Janet Street-Porter: Leave your wife out of it, Jamie

Mr Oliver is an extremely ruthless man who fits in his family after his work, like most men in Britain
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The Independent Online

As her husband's fame receives the ultimate accolade, an endorsement from Prince Charles, Mrs Jamie Oliver is the focus of much media attention as she promotes her new book, subtitled The Diary of an Honest Mum. Jools Oliver is the Jade Goody of the moment, an engaging "ordinary" person we have only ever met through television, but who many people still find extraordinarily interesting.

As her husband's fame receives the ultimate accolade, an endorsement from Prince Charles, Mrs Jamie Oliver is the focus of much media attention as she promotes her new book, subtitled The Diary of an Honest Mum. Jools Oliver is the Jade Goody of the moment, an engaging "ordinary" person we have only ever met through television, but who many people still find extraordinarily interesting.

In Jamie's School Dinners, Jools loudly denounced the cameras intruding into her domestic life, wept buckets in front of millions of viewers over untrue allegations about Jamie and other women, and bickered with him over the amount of time he spent with the family.

He chose her name - she apparently hates it. He loves being on show, and is clearly a workaholic; she's a private person who says that she only wants to make a perfect home and bring up a family. But isn't that a carefully constructed myth devised by Jamie Oliver Inc to promote his brand even further by revealing every aspect of his life, right down to his sperm count and his wife's home-made fertility charts? Isn't Minus Nine to One, Jools's account of her pregnancies, less a useful to guide to having a baby in modern Britain and more a marketing opportunity on a par with Jamie's Sainsbury's ads, cookery books and restaurant?

I should think that Mr and Mrs Oliver are worth many millions, and they are still very young - she is 30 and he's 29 - so all this has been achieved in a very short space of time. Jools stopped work when she was 25, and has made no secret of her desire for a large family.

In many respects, they are completely untypical of young people in Britain today: they are financially secure, debt-free, married, faithful and devoted to each other (they have know each other for 14 years), and have supportive parents.

Jools has had her children in her twenties, when more and more women are choosing to start a family later - and one of the results of putting work over babies is that more younger women, like Kylie Minogue, are at risk from breast cancer. Most young mothers in Britain do not have the luxury of spending the weekend in a second home in the country, or a full-time paid helper. Jools employs her sister each day from 8.30 until 6pm, which is how she was able to write 500 words of Bridget-Jones style musings a day.

And why write a book and fill it with snaps of intimate family moments taken by your husband, if you so value your privacy that you loathe tabloid editors and the paparazzi? Why invite journalists into your new home (the seventh home in five years) for a chat about your literary efforts so they can note that there are absolutely no books whatsoever there, as Jamie doesn't like reading.

The answer is, of course, that Jools's book was Jamie's idea. At this point you want to scream, "For God's sake, woman, stand up for yourself! You've got plenty of money, and you're not short of self esteem, you look more gorgeous than 90 per cent of the mothers in Britain, why allow yourself to be exploited in this way? Why not tell hubbie, in the colourful language he favours, to get lost?"

Jamie may be rightfully basking in all the accolades from everyone from Tony Blair downwards for single-handedly drawing the nation's attention to the appalling state of school meals. He has been given god-like status by television executives, education authorities, nutritionists and concerned parents.

By sheer strength of personality, he has forced something to the top of the political agenda, where it could not be ignored. The School Dinners television series was made by his production company, and more than promoting a worthwhile and timely campaign, it also further enhanced brand Jamie in all its myriad forms.

And we saw that Mr Oliver is an extremely ruthless man, who puts his marriage and family under huge pressure, who fits them in after his work, like most men in Britain - the difference being that he allows them to be used for entertainment value. That comes across in Jools's book: when she enters hospital to have her baby, her husband is faffing around in Borough Market and roasting chickens.

All of which makes me ask: just why does the most famous chef in Britain feel the need to go to a south London farmers' market (no better than many others all over the country) on a Saturday and submit his two children to photographers and the curious stares of the public? It's not about being pukka and ordinary, it's about a giant ego that needs feeding with recognition every day. There's nothing inherently evil about that - just leave the wife and kids out of it.

So Jamie has encouraged Jools to pen a book that is a bit of a fun babble about their lives, but is zero use to anyone having a baby. In fact, it could easily have less lucky mums-to-be reaching for the antidepressants out of sheer envy. The press release claims that "this is the book no aspiring mother will want to be without", but it is nothing to do with having a baby and everything to do with celebrity culture.

If Jools and Jamie really wanted to help young women who are considering having a baby in Britain today, then perhaps he could make another television series in which he sets out the best environment in which to procreate. I don't mean sea-grass floor covering or linen sheets, but the necessity, whenever possible, of having two full-time committed parents, a stable relationship, and a total commitment to nurturing your offspring morally and spiritually.

Not a day passes without more patronising and doomed initiatives aimed at dealing with yob culture. We won't solve anything in the long term by issuing Asbos and dreaming up silly uniforms for youths to wear when they break the law. We need to focus on how to help young parents to recognise that they have a huge responsibility to their children beyond providing material things.

We need to address the time-bomb of young mums and dads who simply don't have a clue what to do with their kids - the disruptive schoolchildren who will become the young criminals of tomorrow. Jamie and Jools obviously have this skill in spades, and, when it comes to parenting, are excellent role models.

Jools could have used her book to explain to her millions of young admirers that being a good mother is not about having a famous source of sperm or a beautiful home, but about taking the job of being a parent seriously. Sadly, it's an opportunity lost.

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