My first date this week was with Hugh, and the second with Jamie, although I nearly stood Hugh up. I went to the wrong cinema, waited half an hour with glass of Pinot in hand, and wondered why there were so few people in the lobby. It didn’t make sense: Hugh Grant and Stephen Frears were supposed to be in attendance to talk about their new film, Florence Foster Jenkins. Where on earth were they?
It then dawned on me that I was in the wrong Curzon cinema: the Victoria instead of the Chelsea. I zoomed over to the King’s Road in a black cab with my husband Mark, fortunately making it to the screening just in time to grab a second glass of Pinot. It could have been a scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral, rushing at breakneck speed across London town and shouting out expletives à la Hugh Grant – you know, the one that rhymes with duck!
Florence Foster Jenkins is a joyful gem of a film and guaranteed to lift your spirits, although you might shed a tear or two along the way. It’s the story of the legendary New York heiress, who dreamed of becoming an opera singer despite having a singing voice which was excruciatingly out of tune. She performed in small concerts for her elite group of friends, but in 1944 and at the age of 76, went all out and took over Carnegie Hall, shrilling to a full house, with Cole Porter and Tallulah Bankhead in attendance. Jenkins had a heart attack a few days later, possibly brought on by terrible reviews, and she died a month later. She was “both ridiculous and heartbreaking at the same time,” said Grant, who plays her affectionate and fiercely protective husband and manager, St Clair Bayfield.
A charming and loquacious Grant chatted to us about the film, about his return to acting and on working with Frears : “it was an unfashionable bit of casting…and I’m very grateful to him.”
Hugh Grant doesn’t do drugs, but he admitted to taking large doses of Bach’s Rescue Remedy during the months of training he endured for the film’s memorable and groovy jitterbug scene. He would love to do a Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire style film next, but didn’t dismiss working in an action film, saying he brings a “natural menace to the screen.”
The audience purred and swooned (myself included), and I’m already looking forward to seeing the film a second time. It was a feast for the eyes, and although Florence was out of tune, there wasn’t a single bad note about this bewitching film. As she famously said, “I may have sung badly, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”
The Naked Chef
I was also late for my second date, this one with Jamie Oliver, which is strange as I am the most punctual person I know. This rendez-vous was to discuss his new project, the Jamie Oliver Cookery School, which opened its doors in Westfield this week. Here he is chatting to my daughter, Clarissa, who has had a not-so-secret crush on Jamie since she was 15 years old.
I’m a great admirer of Jamie’s: he revolutionised school meals in the UK and championed the sugar tax, which finally came into effect last month. As the Naked Chef, freshly graduated from the River Café kitchen in Hammersmith, he demonstrated that home cooking can be effortless and delicious. He brought spice, cool and sexy into our kitchens.
The Jamie Oliver Cookery School is tucked at the back of Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Westfield. It’s headed by talented chef Tom Walker, with Jamie and his partner in crime, Gennaro Contaldo, promising to be very much hands-on.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
This is one of my absolute favourite things to do in the summer: an outdoor theatre in my favourite London park. The Regent’s Park, designed by John Nash, and known as the “Jewel in the Crown,” is located just north of Marylebone. Henry VIII used it as one of his hunting grounds, but it now includes 197 hectares of grassland, canals, statues, fountains and memorials, and is also home to the London Zoo and Primrose Hill, offering spectacular views of London. Primrose Hill used to be a favourite place for duels and prize-fighting.
I have just booked tickets to Running Wild, showing at the Open Air Theatre from the 16th May to the 12th June. Based on a book by talented children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, the production includes puppet design and direction by the team behind War Horse. I also booked a puppet workshop for Anais, my nine year-old daughter, where she will learn how to make her own show-inspired puppet. Anais went to the Olympic Cinema in Barnes on Saturday, where Morpugo was reading from his book, Butterfly Lion. He is a storytelling wizard, enthralling children and adults alike.
To book tickets for Running Wild, go to Open Air Theatre – Regent’s Park
My Picnic Basket
We like to have a picnic when we go to the Regent’s Park, although it can sometimes end up being a waterlogged experience (the Brits are experts at doing all outdoor activities in the rain, and with great stoicism). I like to pack a basket full of English summer yumminess. You’ve probably gathered by now that I am slightly obsessed with all things Fortnum and Mason. My wedding gift to my husband was a F & M picnic hamper, and my wedding cake was from…you guessed it!
The three tier magical masterpiece was delivered by a traditional Fortnum and Mason van to my mother-in-law’s house in The New Forest in Hampshire, close to where we were married. One of our Labrador pooches managed to get his naughty paws into the top tier, taking a significant bite out of the Mark & Scarlett which had been iced onto the chocolate and orange piece of confection heaven. Luckily we had a spare tier, and my sister-in-law spent several hours painstakingly reconstructing the cake! But I digress….
My favourite picnic goodies:
· Bloom & Fentimans Gin Rose Lemonade
· Jamie Oliver’s Picnic Pie
· Ottolenghi’s Courgette and Manouri Fritters
· Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive salad – my absolute favourite summer salad by the smouldering Nigella Lawson
· Potato Salad (I use an old American family recipe for this)
· James Martin’s Treacle Tart
· Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam (I buy these from Marks and Spencer, but if you prefer homemade, Irish chef Rachel Allen has a great recipe.)
Tomorrow, I head off to the Amalfi coast . Watch out for next week’s post from Italy!