It was 20 years ago this week that an unknown, fresh-faced, tousle-haired Jamie Oliver hit our screens in TV series The Naked Chef.
And while he’s now a dad of five colourfully named children, a pukka national treasure and millionaire 240 times over, it seems little has dented his cheeky-chappy, Essex-lad image.
Yes he has his critics, but those who know him best – Jamie’s friends and colleagues – agree that what you see is what you get with the celeb chef, whose wholesome screen demeanour is true-to-life.
Behind his happy-go-lucky grin lies a determination and work ethic drilled into him from an early age by his dad Trevor, 64, who still runs the family restaurant.
It was Trevor’s tough-love approach that inspired Jamie’s sprawling business empire, which until some recent financial difficulties was moving ever onwards and upwards.
One of Jamie’s friends throughout those 20 years tells the Mirror: “Jamie learned to cook in his parents’ pub from a very young age. He was always in the kitchen and could make a decent roast chicken dinner aged just seven.
“His work ethic comes from his dad, Trevor. Jamie was often woken up by his dad with a glass of water over the head and told to ‘get busy’.”
Unlike so many of today’s stars, Jamie never sought his fame or fortune, grafting away at his job in his parents’ Clavering pub The Cricketers, experimenting with his mum Sally’s AGA cooker when she wasn’t looking.
“I remember being fascinated by what went on in the kitchen,” he said of his childhood.
“It just seemed such a cool place, everyone working together to make this lovely stuff and having a laugh.”
He honed his work ethic in fancy London restaurants.
While working as sous-chef at the prestigious River Café, he appeared in a documentary at the Fulham restaurant and was spotted “doing spinach in the background” by Two Fat Ladies producer Pat Llewellyn.
The TV supremo, who died in 2017, could see a recipe for TV celebrity chef success and carefully styled Jamie’s energetic persona which burst on to screens on April 14, 1999, in the first episode of The Naked Chef.
It was irresistible.
The wide-eyed 23-year-old was filmed chatting away off camera, rather than the traditional piece-to-camera style used in cooking shows at the time, rustling up “lovely jubbly” dishes in his flat’s small kitchen.
He roped in his friends and family, cooking for his sister Anne-Marie’s hen party.
The Naked Chef has spawned more than 30 television series and 20 cookbooks – but also an MBE, political campaigns and a restaurant chain.
His friend Leigh Haggerwood has told how big-hearted Jamie helped him through a cancer diagnosis.
Leigh, who used to be in band Scarlet Division with the chef, revealed Jamie paid for his £50,000 treatment at Harley Street within days of discovering the cancer was in danger of reaching his vital organs.
He says: “Jamie is one of the most honourable people that I know.”
It was that rock band which helped win Jamie the greatest love of his life, Jools. When she first met a 17-year-old Jamie, she joked she was attracted to his “rockstar image”.
On their first date Jamie smashed the back of a car while driving in his Fiesta.
Twenty years on, the pair are more loved-up than ever.
Jools, now 44, gushed last week: “I have loved that we started this journey together and I got to share with you in the highs and the lows of your career.”
They married in 2000 and have five children: Poppy Honey Rosie, 17, Daisy Boo Pamela, 16, Petal Blossom Rainbow, 10, Buddy Bear Maurice, eight, and River Rocket Blue Dallas, two.
As his success grew, it was Jamie’s desire to give something back that inspired him to launch Jamie’s Kitchen, where he trained disadvantaged youths to work in his restaurant, Fifteen.
He received an MBE in 2003 for the work – turning up to meet the Queen in typical Jamie fashion, in a brown suit and no tie.
Soon he became as well known for championing social causes as for his cookery.
In 2005 he went to war on Turkey Twizzlers, launching his hugely successful Jamie’s School Dinners, in an attempt to get healthier food served in school canteens.
The Feed Me Better campaign was backed by the Government, who pledged to spend £280million to make the nation’s school dinners healthier.
His Jamie’s Italian chain introduced a sugary drinks tax as part of a campaign to persuade politicians to take action.
Not content, Jamie studied for a masters in Food Nutrition at St Mary’s University in London so he could have “proper knowledge” of the food industry – despite being dyslexic.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. His restaurant chain Jamie’s Italian came close to collapse last year before he ploughed in nearly £13million of his own money.
But there appears to be no stopping his success, as the TV shows and book deals continue to roll in.
Those glasses of water his dad tipped over his head really did wake him up.
How Naked Chef Jamie made his fortune
1975 — James Trevor Oliver is born in Essex to pub-restaurant owners Sally and Trevor.
1988 — A young Jamie is put to work at his parents’ pub in Clavering, The Cricketers.
1991 — Jamie leaves Newport Free Grammar School at 16 with just two GCSEs, to study home economics at Westminster Technical College.
1993 — Jamie and Jools start dating – they’ve been together ever since and have five children.
1994 — He starts working at Antonio Carluccio’s Neal Street restaurant as a pastry chef, where he meets his mentor, the Italian chef Gennaro Contaldo.
1996 — He begins working as sous-chef at the trendy River Cafe restaurant.
1999 — The Naked Chef debuts on the BBC. In the same year, his debut cookbook is a bestseller.
2000 — Begins an endorsement deal with Sainsbury’s, which earns him around £1.2m a year. He marries Jools at All Saints Church in Rickling, Essex, near his parents’ home.
2002 — Jamie moves to Channel 4 after he refuses a BBC demand to drop his Sainsbury’s deal.
2003 — Awarded an MBE for his work with Fifteen.
2005 — Jamie’s School Dinners is launched, in which he campaigned against junk food in school canteens. It prompts the Feed Me Better campaign.
2006 — He is named the ‘Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2005’ in a Channel 4 viewers’ poll.
2007 — Jamie at Home is broadcast on Channel 4.
2008 — He launches his first Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Oxford. At its peak, there were 42 branches in the UK.
2009 — His chain of delis, Recipease, are opened.
2012 — Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals airs for 40 episodes.
2016 — Eight-part series Jamie’s Super Food Family Classics airs.
2017 — Eight episodes of Jamie’s Quick & Easy Food begin.
2018 — Jamie Cooks Italy airs. He injects nearly £13m of his own money into Jamie’s Italian to save it from bankruptcy. Twelve restaurants have since been closed and about 600 staff have been made redundant.
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