8.40pm on Good Friday. I have so many bunches of flowers I feel I am present at my own funeral.
The truth is we pre-recorded today’s show, and now I realise why.
After five and a half years, 5,942 recipes, a stable of exhaustingly generous chefs and a team of undyingly committed GoodFoodLifers, it would’ve been impossible to do it live.
The tears started on Wednesday when I recieved a bottle of Champagne and a card written by our Polish caff-ertiers. When they first started serving up breakfast not one of them had a word of English. Now they can argue with you, in perfect Blighty, about how much you owe on your tab. I cried as one immigrant to another.
When the wreaths started arriving, I was minus mascara. After make-up, fully painted, lashes as long as you like, and yet more flowers, I was still minus makeup. Poor old Carolyte had to be on hand with her makeup bag and a few well chosen shovels and trowels to reapply the camouflage – the old face needed re-landscaping every few minutes.
All my clothes had been packed up by the lovely Anjelina on Wednesday so I had only a few garments to choose from, and since my booze and carb intake over the last few weeks has been equivelant to that of a hibernating grizzly, I could only fit into the loosest of apparel.
When everybody scrubbed up in their penguin suits and finery I felt like the old aunt who wore her favourite outfit from 1909, but had the approval of the whole family just because she was still alive.
But alive I felt even though my black trousers developed holes in the waistband and my black vest had stains of unknown origin. I was too emotional to change so on the last ever GFL I was held up by invisible mending and emotional support.
A car arrived at 9.10, a lovely Polish driver who talked all the way to the studio. When I arrived there was an air of mystery about the place. Normally we would have a meeting, but what was the point? They had devised a show that was full of surprises. I was utterly out of control.
The first bunch of flowers arrived from Paul Gaylor, from the Lanesborough Hotel, with a wonderful card. A massive chocolate cake appeared much later. Piped in white icing, it read ‘TO CELEBRATE THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GREAT FOOD LIVE’. There was a chef’s hat and an assortment of kitchen implements made out of icing and marzipan. It was truly stunning. 2ft by 1ft – enough to fill a galley kitchen and feed all its slaves. I cut the cake in the pub at 11 o’clock that night with a big sharp knife, made a wish then one of our directors handed out slices to the extremely boozy crowd.
More flowers, more tears. I was literally held up in the dressing room by Alan Coxon and Paul Bloxham who told me not to worry and that everything would be okay. Not so their collars – I smothered them in orange lipstick and powder.
The studio was packed with people, a choir, booze, every known super chef, boxes of tissues and secrets.
We rehearsed until 1.20pm and then we recorded, as live, at 2.00pm. Apart from Ed Baines’ Fruit der Mare, Bloxham’s Wagyu beef hamburger and Andrew Nutter’s unbelivably silly chocolate egg that exploded with a full marzipan version of me, complete with left breast mole, we had loads of bubbly. A beautiful silver Victorian drinking cup was given as a gift from Wayne Collins.
And here I must tell you the circular nature of my life.
Way back in 1977 Jim and I lived in Queens Crescent, in North London. We were very poor actors with families to support. We lived on 7 quid a week, optimism and new love.
Each week I would go to the market. The Irish boys on the greengrocer stall saw me coming. ‘Here she comes’, they would holler as they reached under their fake turf and pull out a box. They supplied me with perfectly edible fruit and veg free and gratis. Thirty years later an Irish boy called Wayne Collins, his Irish eyes, black hair and Camden Town lilt familiar to you all, well not you who don’t know the show, but all of you who do, came on as a guest. We started talking and we established certain coincidences resulting in the incredible truth that he was related to the very costamaongers who had kept Jim and I alive 30 years earlier. He, as a young lad, had worked on the very stall that supplied those squashed tomatoes. It felt like I was giving something back, so when he gave me my silver drinking cup, the circle was squared.
There are loads of those stories from the show. When people say it was like a big family, it really was. Cutesy, one of our camera ops, tearfully told Jim and I in the pub later that night that he was so sad not to be coming back to what he felt was his real family. I know what he means.
Five and a half years of making real relationships, arguing and forgiving, complaining and laughing. We did it all.
I have told my kid that love is like a chain of continual forgiveness, forever forgiving and renewing the link of love. It may sound like a load of old sentimental tosh but GFL, and the incredible Nicci Cooper, seriously taught me about patience, change, forgiveness and how to make a bloody good risotto.
So there we are with all the boys helping out, laughing and me being as rude as you like because we were pre-recorded and anyway, who could do anything to us now, when the Rimmer announced that I had talked about Jim so many times… and here he was. My eyes widened, my stomach lurched but on walked a big naked kissogram with a loin cloth and skin covered in oil. He may have been beautiful, and it was funny, but I wanted my old man, although I didn’t say so at the time.
The show swung along until the final few moments when Rimmer announced again that I had talked about Jim so many times that here he was. And here he really was with the BeeBee girl, looking all grown up. And Jim coloured with pancake. That was it – I could not hold back the tears. The two most important people in my life had bothered to drive all the way to Wandsworth and reveal themselves on national TV. With my daughter so shy and Jim never wanting to hog the limelight, I cried.
I tried not to but the whole thing of silver ticker tape coming out of the Gods, the choir singing, the wonderful generosity of the whole team from Barry and Tony, who own the studio, to Jackie in reception who keeps it running, from Lou who pays us and Ali who takes it away; From Tom in Lighting to Andy in sound, to Norman who started out as little Norm and has turned into Big Norm; To Mel who hasn’t had excema for 13 years but got it back trying to keep everything together, to Paddy, who is light weight and looked at a bottle and got drunk just reading the label. Well, to everybody who ran around like blue arsed flies to make the last show so special. And so it was.
I will never foget this day. Well, I can’t. I have it on DVD and I’ve already watched it once. But the feeling of being loved by my one big huge extended family was wonderful.
So I thank all who have been there and done it for me and GFL. Long may we remain in peoples hearts. We opened on Bonfire night with bang and if my darling agent Rob has got anything to do with it, we will come back with a bang.
It’s Easter and Passover – a time of renewal and rebirth – so no sadness. It has been a wonderful five and half years.
Thank you for your support. Watch this space – it’s not over until the fat lady sings. X.