The haute cuisine expert on the fun you can have dressing up at sea, and why cruise chefs are the unsung heroes of the cookery world
You’re an old hand at cruising, having been a guest speaker on several ships. What was your first sailing experience?
I have vivid memories of a trip to South Africa in the Fifties. I would’ve been around six years old and we were on one of the passenger cargo ships that plied the Atlantic route to Cape Town. There was great jollity: I have a photo of me precariously dangling over the swimming pool on a pole. When we crossed the Equator there was a fancy-dress party themed for Neptune, god of the sea. I dressed up in all the regalia with a blue wig and a trident and some of the other guests were pretending to eat raw sardines from a barrel. It was an absolute hoot!
Did you ever cruise as a young adult?
I remember a fabulous trip on the ocean liner SS Canberra, sailing the London port of Tilbury, to Brisbane. It was the Seventies and the ships still had first and second class and terribly bland food. My sister and I found first class deathly dull, so we always tried to sneak into second, using all sorts of ruses and disguises. Disco was all the rage and we usually managed to have a bit of a dance before the steward found us and frogmarched us out.
You were a guest speaker on board a Princess Cruises ship last September. Have cruises changed much since your youth?
Yes, hugely. Ships do smart and casual dress now, and there are marvellous play areas for children. I think it’s the ease of it all that’s so attractive though. You unpack your case and that’s it. Saying that, some modern ships are vast. I went and had a good rummage around Sapphire Princess and always got lost. Why is it that every time you fathom it out, it is time to leave?
This one’s closer to your heart. How’s the food?
I really believe that cruise chefs are the unsung heroes of the cookery world. Think about it: they feed thousands of passengers – not just for three meals a day but for afternoon tea too, plus around-the-clock snacks and all this specialist global cuisine. Inside the kitchens it’s like a military operation – there are vast rooms where chefs prepare, say, just beef; chicken in another; bread in a third. For what they have to achieve it’s brilliant.
You’ll be a guest speaker again in September, sailing in the Mediterranean. Are you looking forward to it?
Oh yes, tremendously; and this time I’m hoping to travel in style on Sapphire Princess. Last year they wouldn’t give me a suite because I’m only a celebrity, so I’ve challenged Tony Roberts (the line’s vice-president) to a table tennis match. The deal is that if I win I get upgraded to a suite. I’m having twice-weekly table tennis lessons on the sly.