Cocktails and a slurp or two - Keith Floyd's final day

Jerome Taylor,Rob Sharp
Tuesday 15 September 2009 16:48

Keith Floyd quaffed champagne cocktails and a fine bottle of Cote du Rhone just hours before he died, despite a warning from his doctors to reduce his drinking, The Independent has learnt.

The pioneering television chef, whose crooked bow ties, statutory wine glass and infectious joie de vivre endeared him to millions to fans, was seen tucking into a roast partridge with a female companion yesterday afternoon, hours before he collapsed and died at his partner’s home in Dorset.

Fellow television chefs and friends paid tribute to the 65-year-old, praising him for being the first truly popular TV personality to take the art of cooking out of the kitchen and into the streets. Rarely seen without a wine glass in his hand and famed for his four turbulent marriages, many friends expressed little surprise that the chef’s final day was spent enjoying a good bottle of wine in the presence of female company.

According to eyewitnesses, Floyd arrived for lunch on Monday afternoon at the Hix Oyster and Fish House, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, which is owned by The Independent’s food columnist Mark Hix.

“I do these cookery demos in my lodge at lunchtime two miles from the restaurant and the boys phoned up and said Keith had been in for lunch and had just been to the doctors and been told to lay off the booze,” Hix said. “He started with a couple of Hix fixes, which are these champagne cocktails, had a few glasses of white burgundy and then had half a bottle of Cote de Rhone which he and his lady friend took with them to finish elsewhere. He ordered grouse and the boys delivered him partridge by mistake; though I think he saw the funny side.”

Floyd was visiting the restaurant to celebrate his confidante Celia Martin’s birthday. The pair later returned to her nearby home to watch Floyd’s last television appearance, “Keith on Keith”, where the flamboyant chef reminisced about his long career with the actor Keith Allen and had an emotional reunion with his daughter. But he collpased and died from a heart attack that evening. The Channel 4 production drew in more than 900,000 viewers who would have been oblivious to the main protagonist’s fate as news of his death only broke this morning.

According to the ghost writer James Steen, who had recently completed an autobiography with Floyd, paramedics battled for 45 minutes to try and save the gastronome’s life.

Although Floyd had spent much of the past five years living abroad he had recently returned to Britain to seek chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer which had been in remission at the time of his death. But his love of drinking was well known and he was rarely seen on camera without his trademark glass of red wine. In 2002 he suffered a small stroke and in 2006 he was diagnosed with malnutrition, which he blamed on his hectic filming and travel schedule. He had a number collapses in recent years and in 2004 he was banned from driving for two and a half years for crashing his car while more than three times over the driving limit.

But friends and fellow celebrity chefs were quick to point out that it was Floyd’s jovial demeanour and his relaxed, often shambolic, approach to cooking that made him so popular.

“All of us modern TV chefs owe a living to him,” said Anthony Worral Thompson. “He kind of spawned us all. He turned cookery shows into entertainment. He made cooking approachable and fun. He made us relax about food. Until Keith came along, people were very uptight about eating out, and he helped us to chill out about it.”

River Cottage chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said he was inspired to cook after watching Floyd on television during his student days.

“He did something fresh and important, which was to take cooking out of the TV studio and introduce his audience to food producers, fishermen, farmers etc. so they could see where the best food was coming from,” he said. “He then cooked his ingredients with the love and passion of a gifted amateur, rather than the fussiness of a trained professional – the way he directed his own camera man, Clive, during his cooking sequences was a stroke of genius. That’s what made his shows so charming and accessible.”

After brief stint as a journalist and then in the army, where he quickly earned a reputation for creating culinary masterpieces out of standard army rations, Floyd went on to open his first restaurant in Bristol during the 1960s. He went on to open several more restaurants further a field but often suffered financial problems and in 1996 he was was declared bankrupt. His first foray into television – Floyd on Fish – began in the mid-1980s after a BBC producer dined at one of his restaurants near to the BBC studios and decided that the chef was a natural entertainer.

Over the next two decades Floyd went on to produce cookery programmes from around the world. Rather than cook in a kitchen, he would often prepare his meals on location or on the roadside, routinely sipping from a glass of wine as he went. His most recent cookery show, Floyd’s India aired in 2001.

He is survived by two children, his daughter, Poppy, and a son, Patrick.

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