He’s the country’s best-selling cookbook author and one of TV’s most popular chefs. Away from the screen, Jamie Oliver runs a restaurant empire and is also a busy dad to five children – Poppy, 16, Daisy, 15, Petal, 10, Buddy, nine, and two-year-old River – with wife Jools, 43.
Woman sat down with Jamie Oliver, 43, at his London HQ for a chinwag about being a so-called ‘weekend dad’ and his worst habit…
‘I don’t think that being a weekend dad is that weird. Actually, I think I’m a full-time dad, it’s just that I’m physically active with the kids at the weekends and the holidays. Probably 95% of Britain is the same – I don’t know how many dads or working parents are home for dinner five days a week. In my company we have flexible hours for staff and we’re very conscious of parents’ needs, but because I’m the boss I’ve got a few more things to do. I go in quite early and finish late most days. Sometimes, the kids drop in – my daughter Poppy came into the office to open her GCSE results. I’d never seen her smile like that.’
‘It’s hard to think up ways to be romantic with Jools after 20 years. It’s hard to get Jools away from home, so I was pleased I managed to whisk her away for a couple of days for our 18th wedding anniversary in July. I took her to our little 1950s riverboat on the Norfolk Broads – it’s a Swallows and Amazons number and very romantic and quiet and peaceful. It’s tough to keep thinking up new gifts to give her, but I bought her a necklace with a nice message on it, which she loves, and I had a pair of custom retro trainers made for her by an artisan shoemaker around the corner. I designed them myself and I hope it was a romantic gesture.’
‘I like watching Jools get older. I love her more now than I ever have before. I feel like my love widens and I’m quite enjoying her evolving as a woman, growing older. I like it – her wrinkles have been earned. There has been a lot of chaos in the past 20 years, but she keeps the home very normal and stable, and that’s a lovely thing. We’re yin and yang – she’s very homey and family-based and I grew up in a pub – I love going out and meeting people and that is not her idea of fun. She gets a lot more stressed than me and I calm her down and give her strength. But we come together over parenting; our approaches are very similar.’
‘We use an app to keep track of our kids’ whereabouts. The older girls, Jools and I are all on an app called Life360, which means we can see exactly where everybody is and the route they’ve gone. So if one of the girls says, “I’m going to Camden Town” and I can see they’ve gone to Reading, then we have a problem. They can check on me, too, and see how fast I’m driving. It’s brilliant.’
‘If my worst habit is snoring, I can’t be that bad a husband! Jools whacks me a lot in the middle of the night to shut me up. But the other night I woke up and Jools was really punching me over and over and I said, “Jools, Jools, what are you doing?!” She said, ‘I was just checking if you were still alive. She was actually in the middle of a dream where I was dead. We both woke up a bit then and laughed and laughed and laughed.’
‘My dyslexia never held me back and so I’m not worried that Petal and Buddy both seem to have it. Buddy is not so much slow in words and reading, like I am; his processing speed is a little slower, so he gets things if he has a bit more time, but he’s a really bright kid. We think Petal has dyscalculia, which means that she’s not great with numbers and patterns. I don’t know if they inherited it from me, but I absolutely believe that every single child has the capacity to find their inner purpose and genius in spite of it. When I went to my kids’ school parents’ evening, the focus on doing as much as they can for the children blew my mind – it bore no relevance to my childhood. I’m proud I’ve been able to give that to my kids.’
✱ Jamie’s cookbook Jamie Cooks Italy (£26, Michael Joseph) is out now.