Fearne Cotton’s Cook Happy Cook Healthy

Kerry Fowler went to meet the radio DJ and TV presenter whose cooking habits have run the gamut, from making jam tarts with her gran as a youngster to subsisting on cola and cheese slices as a young professional to discovering the joys of healthy cooking and eating in  adulthood…

Fearne Cotton’s Cook Happy Cook Healthy

Within 10 minutes of sitting down to lunch with Fearne Cotton at Bernardi’s Italian restaurant I find out: a) her weirdest food memory – see below*; b) her labour playlist – her son and daughter were accompanied into the world by Rocket Man; c) why she has given up refined sugar – new chapter in her life; d) she, unlike some she could mention, never drinks on the comedy panel show Celebrity Juice – “I’m not good enough to be drunk and sharp. I go quiet, shy, insecure”; and e) her father-in-law Ronnie Woods has a passion for fruitcake – there’s a recipe dedicated to him in her new cookery book.

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This is one articulate, gregarious, honest, open, family-centric woman – and one who, these days, would rather not leave home at all, as she can’t bear to be apart from her children.

Fearne, one-time long-term Radio One presenter and gig-girl-a-go-go paints a domesticated picture of life at home in Richmond, west London. On any given day you could find her knocking up Mexican eggs for her husband Jesse and his band-mates, helping their three-year-old son Rex make his signature cakes with ice, flour and sprinkles, or having a dance-off with her step-daughter Lola as cool teenage stepson Arthur and seven-month-old daughter Honey look on from the sidelines.

On the home front
“I always had a vision of a busy, noisy house, everyone constantly coming and going, and we certainly have that,” says Fearne. “I had a chat with Arthur when he was here recently and asked if he thought of Honey and Rex as his half-siblings or full siblings – absolutely full, he said. That is all we ever wanted for them.”

There is a seam of solid care and consideration about her that’s patently been bolstered by a newfound and touching awareness over the past few years. “I had a lovely childhood thanks to my parents working hard. My mum was a dental nurse, a cleaner, she did deliveries for shops – she had about five jobs at once – and my dad was and still is a sign-writer. We always had a holiday every year and I look back now and think ‘How did you do it?’ When you have children you begin to see your mum and dad as humans rather than parents who you think are always right, invincible, don’t have any secrets. These mythical creatures. Then you see they are people who have to deal with arguments, worries and struggles, juggling money. They are my biggest inspiration.”

Pizza dinners
Fearne’s mum didn’t have the time to be a creative cook: “It was never going to be, ‘I’m going to come home and serve up a freshly made shepherd’s pie.’ It was. ‘Here’s a pizza and jacket potato’.” There are, she says, few romantic family stories about an early enchantment with cooking.

“I lived in the suburbs in the Eighties as part of a working-class family,” she says. “When I was about 10, I would go to my Nan Ruby’s house and we would make jam tarts. But that’s about it. My other grandparents used to make weird things. Grandad was a real character and had the tastebuds of a teenager. He liked cream-soda drinks with cherries on top or ice-cream sandwiches.”

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Blue food
Fearne went on to teach herself to bake, had a foodie crush on Nigella in her Domestic Goddess years, and along the way discovered an interest in cooking – although how much she actually did it depended on what was going on in her life. “Growing up in my era in the Eighties everything was bright blue and we all went into sugar overload – a funfair of food. Living on my own when I was in my 20s I didn’t want to be at home cooking. I worked extremely long days, I had no one I had to be at home for and would go to gigs or out to party. Healthy food was the least of my worries.

“When I met my husband in my late-20s, then the whole hitting 30 thing, I started thinking, ‘I want to feel better than I do right now and have more energy.’ I began to eat more healthily and was much more aware of how food affected me, but when I was pregnant with Rex I went to town on sugar – I’d sit doing radio with three cans of Coke and a pack of sliced cheese. Scott Mills would come into the studio after me and go, ‘How can you eat that, you are vile!’ Then after I’d given birth I kind of lost my mojo. I felt so sluggish.”

The healthy cook
Now Fearne, picture of sunny health and vitality – despite the early child-heralded mornings and promotional push for her first cookery book Cook Happy Cook Healthy – has turned her back on refined sugar, is pescatarian and loves cooking up a storm with Jesse.

“We are both great at cobbling together what we have in the fridge – a fish dish with lots of veg cooked in ginger or tamari and lemon,” is a favourite, she says. “I love baking and I’ve started using honey and dates instead of refined sugar.”

In our last five minutes as we talk about the Ian Dury Memorial Bench in Richmond Park where, pre-vandalism days, you could plug in your headphones and listen to Ian’s Desert Island Discs (such a brilliant idea), I find out that Fearne Cotton is no Bear Grylls: “Me on a desert island? Forget fending for myself, I’d be talking to trees: I hate being on my own.” If she had no choice but to go all palm-tree, she’d take Led Zeppelin, The Stones, Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac – “Seventies stuff my parents love.” Listening to her chatty so easily and happily, it’s clear life has never been so rosy.

“For years I was doing a job I loved, interviewing people I admired, doing loads of gigs. Now it’s calm and much simpler. I want it that way. That sort of craziness terrifies me now. I am happy cooking, pottering and being with the kids: that to me is contentment. I haven’t got that fear of missing out any more.”

Fearne’s book Cook Happy Cook Healthy: Delicious Recipes to make life just that bit healthier and a lot easier (£20; Orion) is available to buy here.

You can find Fearne’s salmon fish finger recipe on the delicious. website here…

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To book a table and for more information about Bernardi’s Italian Restaurant & Bar visit bernardis.co.uk.

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