Happy Days with The Naked Chef

Jamie on tour

Jamie Oliver hit the road in his VW camper van to tour bookshops across the UK during September 2001 to spread the word about Happy Days with the Naked Chef.

Friday 14 September 2001

A great evening the night before, staying at a hotel in Rutland. Jools, Jamie's wife, came and joined us and all of us had dinner together. It's fantastic having a good dinner with Jamie: I'm a food ignoramus, but he is brilliant at explaining what is what and why certain things work so well with others. His passion for food is never more evident than at such times. He also offered to foot the drinks bill and was extremely generous with his choices! Good to raise a glass on the last night of the tour.

Last day, and off to Cambridge, then Saffron Waldon, Jamie's home town. All went well with the final signing then onto The Cricketer's in Clavering, Jamie's parents' pub, and the place where it all began for him. A few final interviews, then we all went our separate ways. I sat in the car a moment, watching the VW with its Porche engine roar into life then disappear down the Essex backroad...

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Thursday 13 September 2001

Woke up in Manchester to another grey and wet day, which depresses me for two reasons: firstly, because it's also cold and increasingly autumnal, and secondly because rain - especially heavy rain - is not good for book signings.

First up was a trip to two bookshops in Southport - just informal stock signings and then back to the hotel for interviews before heading off for the main event at Waterstone's on Deansgate in Manchester. Despite the increasingly heavy rain, there were still hundreds of people. The shop is a big one so the queue was able to snake round several floors and keep dry. Also, the team there had really pulled out all the stops, with labelled balloons all over the place which they'd be handing out the previous weekend.

Then onwards to Birmingham - I always forget to allow for the perennial gridlock on the M6 and we were nearly undone again; I also nearly always get lost in Birmingham with it's endless roundabouts and one-way systems, but despite all this we were only a bit late for the evening signing at WH Smith. Good to have the VW back all day - and so far no more hiccups. Winkle says she's an old lady and needs careful handling. 'Treat her good and she'll look after you, no problem.'

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Wednesday 12 September 2001

Its been a grey, wet day - and added to the events in the States, the mood has been a bit subdued. Matters didnt improve when before wed even left Glasgow, the VW suspension went again - a different break this time. We left Winkle again to sort this out while we soldiered on down the motorway to Carlisle. Heavy rain and winds made for unpleasant driving, but despite the weather there was still a phenomenal queue at Carlisle.

Then on to Liverpool and a signing at a small independent followed by seven hundred people at Costco. Jamie - well, all of us actually, are feeling tired, and I felt bad that Id arranged for him to do an interview with the Financial Times. But everything seemed better once wed reached the hotel in Manchester. Much later Jamie and Julia Llewellyn Smith (who was interviewing him) reappeared and all of us stayed up far too late chatting in the bar.

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Tuesday 11 September 2001

The A68 to Edinburgh from Newcastle is one of the most stunning roads in Britain, but its hills and humps were too much for the VW. Near Lauder we pulled over and realised the rear suspension had broken on both sides. General relief all round that we brought the back-up car - after all, the show must go on. Jamie jumped into the Honda with me, while Winkle slowly inched his way to the Scottish capital and tried to find a garage willing to drop everything and sort out a wounded 1958 camper van.

As elsewhere, Jamie was met by hundreds of people at his signings. We were surprisingly ahead of ourselves by the time we reached Glasgow, so checked into the hotel and switched on the television only to see the second Twin Tower collapse. The events in America are so unbelievable, so incredibly awful that all of us sat there stunned into silence.

After the signing in Glasgow, Winkle reappeared: Heriothill Garage in Leith had put six of their finest on the job and by 5pm he was on his way again.

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Monday 10 September 2001

Blue Peter Day. The kids at Burscough Primary School had a great time, although it was a military operation to feed 200 kids their lunch. A mobile kitchen, several helpers, Jamie and all the Blue Peter crew descended on this school in the middle of Lancashire. They loved it though and I think the whole school will be tuning in next Wednesday when the film is broadcast.

Then onwards to Newcastle - a good old hike of some 160 miles, but despite roadworks and stopping to pick up a journalist on the way, we were only a few minutes late. Winkle was harassed by some drunken teenage girls, but managed to preserve the immaculate looking VW for another day...

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Sunday 9 September 2001

Woke up slightly worse for wear but still managed to make it to Betty's Cookery School in Harrogate. This is an amazing place - only a year old - but already they have started getting young kids in for cookery courses. Today Jamie was seeing a group of 8-13 year olds who had been on a summer course in August. Encouraging children to cook is a major passion of Jamie's and he really enjoyed seeing them all and what they'd achieved. After getting them all into the VW for a photo, we headed off to Hammicks Bookshop in Harrogate for another signing. Yet again, the turn-out was phenomenal - I'm now completely relaxed about the whole tour. I can't quite believe I was ever worried about it.

A bit nervous about the signing at Sainsbury's in the White Rose Shopping Centre - first of all it's an out of town shopping centre and secondly it's a supermarket: new turf on both counts. But no worries at all - there were loads of people there.

We headed off feeling fairly drained. Next stop Southport, the nearest town to the Blue Peter competition winning school. We arrived as the annual Southport airshow was ending so the traffic was a bit nightmarish and we couldn't find the hotel car-park. As we revved round the centre of town any attempts at being conspicuous were thrown out the window. "It's Jamie Oliver!" Felt a bit embarrassed.

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Sunday 9 September 2001

What a day! Three signings - Leicester, Nottingham and Chesterfield, and at each there were hordes of people and not enough time to sign their books.

We're continuing to arrive outside the front of these shops and the VW seems to be going down very well. It's had a Porsche 2.6 twin-carburettor engine put in and makes a hell of a lot of noise, so much so that it makes doing phone interviews while driving impossible. Fortunately there's a back-up car- modern and quieter, so there'll have to be more chopping and changing of vehicles I think.

Jamie is unflagging and unfailingly patient and charming to everyone. I don't know how he does it. I'd be horrible by now if it was me.

Winkle, who's driving the VW and acting as minder if needed (and sometimes it really is), has more than proved his worth, and has already seen off one teenager who tried to let down a tire!

He's called Winkle because when he was eighteen he was dared 160 to eat four pints of winkles, and did. He was sick for a week afterwards, but got the cash - and the new name.

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Friday 7 September 2001

The Mirror has told the nation that Jamie and Jools are expecting their first child - three weeks before they'd intended, but as Jamie pointed out, it's saved him a lot of phone calls. The book tour got under way today, after Jamie finished a photo-shoot for Marie Claire in the morning.

The VW camper van looks amazing - especially now it's got the book tour transfers all down the sides, and Jamie and Jools arrived at Waterstone's in Oxford Street honking their horn for the waiting paparazzi.

Hundreds of people were there and despite the hordes at the front of the shop and worries about Jools's safety, all went well. All in all, it was a good start to the tour.

Leaving London behind, we headed up the M1 to Milton Keynes. None of us had ever been there before, and it's unlike any other town I'd been to. Jamie actually drove the VW into the shopping centre - and I've never seen crowds like that for a book signing. There were well over a thousand, and an almighty cheer went up as he jumped out. It's the kind of reception usually associated with pop or film stars. But Jamie's a chef.

Eventually made it to Leicester, where we were staying overnight. There was a wedding party going on, but actually after a good dinner, I thik we all slept well.

Links to

Happy Days with The Naked Chef

Tour snaps

Interview with Jools

Interview with Jamie's Mum


Scrummy Warm Rocket Salad

Seared Salmon with Radicchio, Pancetta, Pinenuts and Balsamic Vinegar

Fruit Cobbler

Happy Days with The Naked Chef - click to find out more

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