Fringe Box



Prue Leith’s Biography Lays The Cupboard Bare

Published on: 22 Oct, 2012
Updated on: 22 Oct, 2012

Prue Leith

By Flora Windebank

One of the biggest names to visit the book festival this year is chef, novelist, businesswoman and entrepreneur, Prue Leith. She talked about her explosive new autobiography. Relish: My Life on a Plate at the Electric Theatre on Thursday (October 18).

Prue’s phenomenally successful career achievements have covered a huge range of areas over many years. For those less familiar with Prue’s work, she set up her own catering business which became Leith’s Good Food in 1960, followed by a Michelin starred restaurant Leith’s opened in 1969. Having conquered the culinary world, she decided to pass on her wisdom to amateur and professional chefs by setting up Leith’s School of Food and Wine in 1975.

If all these achievements were not enough, she has spent time as director of incredibly large business such as Halifax, British Rail, Safeway and Woolworths.

In later life she became more interested in writing, and she has not only been a cookery editor and food columnist at many big newspapers, such as the Guardian, The Mirror and the Daily Mail, but she has written many novels, often about passionate love affairs. They have such titles as A Serving of Scandal and The Gardener which may have been the first hint that Prue Leith’s fantastic career was not all there was to this already fascinating woman.

Prue Leith’s autobiography

But career stories are not the reason most people are hungry to get their hands on new autobiography. For most of her life, her private life was a subject of much speculation, some people even wondering if she might be gay, for no relationships ever seemed to be present in her life.

As she tells us in detail in the book, what was actually happening was that she had a 13 year affair with a close (and married) family friend, Rayne Kruger, 18 years her senior. For that reason they had to keep the affair a deep secret, until he finally left his wife to marry and start a family with her in 1974.

The part the public knew was after this date, they had one birth and one adopted child and lived happily together until his death nine years ago. This book is the first to really tell the deep personal story behind their relationship.

Hungry for both career success and success in love, Prue’s autobiography promises to be a fascinating read for any woman interested in the idea of ‘having it all.’

In an interview with Guildford Dragon, she told us all about her choice to write the memoir, and the story that it tells:

FW: Your new memoir has been described as candid. Did you feel compelled to put all the details of your life into it?

Prue Leith: No, not all, it was definitely a choice. I included the more interesting or amusing  stuff I think. Which, obviously, since we are all interested in love, includes the men in my life.

FW: What inspired you to write a memoir at this point in your life?

Prue Leith: My publishers said I should do it while I am still on telly all the time as that means sales. Also before I am so ancient, when I will have forgotten it all!

FW: Were you ever tempted to write one earlier in life?

Prue Leith: No, I thought it would be boring reliving a life I had already lived, but in fact I found it fascinating. I’m such an egotist.

FW: Were you more interested in writing about your private life or your career achievements?

Prue Leith: Both. I am very interested in business and charity work, but I guess the personal stuff, like grief, adopting a Camabodian child, a partner with bi polar, the love of my life etc are written with more feeling.

FW: Were you ever nervous some things you revealed might draw criticism?

Prue Leith: Yes, but if you are going to write your life it should be as you genuinely remember it, not airbrushed and gilded.

FW: You have achieved some incredible things…which one makes you most proud? (If it is possible to pick just one!)

Prue Leith: I definitely am most proud of the work I have done to get younger people more into cooking, such as the School Food Trust’s achievements in improving school food and changing parents attitudes to what their children should eat, and setting up 5000 Lets Get Cooking clubs in schools.

FW: Would you do anything in your life differently?

Prue Leith: Yes, I’d have liked a third child, and to have got interested in classical music earlier

FW: How do you prefer to be thought of? A chef? A novelist? An entrepreneur? Or a mix of all three?   

Prue Leith: A novelist

FW: You have been described as ‘greedy for life.’ Do you think that has to be an essential quality in a woman who wants to be a high achiever?

Prue Leith: Well yes, or at least enthusiasm or drive.

FW: Do you think there’s anything holding women back from getting to the top in modern times? Do you feel the ‘glass ceiling’ is a myth?  

Prue Leith: No, women are still paid less than men and less likely to be promoted but its no good telling war stories. Now you need to just do the job and get on with it.  Times are a-changing.

FW: Did you ever feel like having a career and having a baby were things you couldn’t do together?

Prue Leith: No, anything is possible but it’s not all roses. Having what you want comes with a price, like constant exhaustion.

FW: Do you feel that you could still have built up such an empire if you had taken the conventional route and married and had children younger than you did?

Prue Leith: Probably not

FW: Now you are involved in so many different things, is it hard to juggle them all?

Prue Leith: Yes, but I’m currently, at 72, on a gap year from writing so have been travelling a  lot.

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