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EXCLUSIVE: Jamie Oliver opens up on family, his 'rock' Jools, and the incredible new cookbook which needed to be written

“I think you learn to love in lots of different ways.”

By Juliet Rieden
The last time I spoke to Jamie Oliver he was riding into battle with the Aussie government, a veritable knight on a white charger hoping to persuade our PM to implement a tax on sugar.
His schedule as he dashed between London, Sydney and Melbourne was exhausting, his resolve unflinching.
Today life couldn't be more different, that peripatetic existence has been arrested and we are talking on Zoom, with Jamie at home somewhat dazed after an extraordinary 18 months.
"COVID sent us all into meltdown," he says.
"We'd never seen governments or anything operate like this ... But I think in the years that follow we will all be talking about things that happened that we're grateful for amongst the darkness."
Jamie Oliver with wife Jools and three of their beautiful children. (Instagram)
Along with the rest of Britain, Jamie was plunged into a lengthy lockdown and true to form his immediate reaction was to man the barricades.
Jamie was busy filming when the drawbridge was pulled up and he seized the day to help.
"Basically, I never went home. When we were told we were going into lockdown on Monday I didn't go home on the Friday.
"I looked at the crew that I happened by luck to be working with and I said, 'We're in a bubble. Are we all in or do you want to go home?' And they all said, 'We're in!'.
"It wasn't 'in' for me; it was 'in' for the country and we went straight into public service mode.
"We could see food running out in supermarkets, panic buying; we could see supply issues; and in reflection it was more like responding like the Ministry of Food in the Second World War.
"There'd be no eggs for a week and a half, so we would put out new recipes [to suit the shortages] within an hour and test them. It was nuts.
"We were the first non-news broadcast that provided bespoke COVID content. We responded within 16 hours of lockdown.
"There was no flour - and if you look at those recipes we did eggless and flourless cakes. There was no pasta so we showed people how to make pasta out of water and flour.
"Then it would go viral: 'There's a two-ingredient pasta ...' It's always been two ingredients! But people thought it was something new.
"We just tried to be useful. And I say 'we' – yes, I'm the front man, but I've got a team of people who really care, to help busy mums and dads do nice things for their kids."
Jamie working on one of his many creations from his new cookbook 'Together' (Instagram)
Ultimately of course Jamie did go home and settled in with wife Juliette (aka Jools) and their children.
"We got nervous, we got scared, then we thought, this is nice, we're seeing each other loads more, it feels like a bit of a holiday," he smiles noting that of course that feeling didn't last.
"We got itchy after a month or two and thought, it'd be nice to go out, but like every other family, we were going through waves of gratitude, enjoying quite a few parts, but under the veil of worry and fear and stuff that you'd read on the news – ventilators and people dying. It was scary, right?"
Jamie sensed food was one of the main pillars for people getting through the pandemic with a necessary return to home cooking, and in the back of his mind he started to plan his next cookbook which is called Together.
It's dedicated to the National Health Service and key workers "for looking after us and keeping the nation going, enabling us to get back together".
"This is about saying I love you through food," he adds.

"I've written 24 cookbooks over 22 years. Some books just want to be written, and some are slippery little bastards and need cajoling. This one, I would say, wanted to be written.
"It's all about allowing you to have the freedom of enjoying your own dinner party, or whatever you want to call it. It doesn't have to be fancy, it's just about delicious food and what does the room look like, the table look like."
The recipes in the book, which are arranged into menus for different occasions, immediately had me salivating – jerked roast pork, a personal favourite.
The idea is to plan in advance so you can enjoy your time with your guests, and in the pages Jamie explains all the preparative work and then is photographed hanging out with his family in some wonderfully atmospheric shots.
Jamie says it was an emotional book to write. This felt different because everything in his world had changed and he was inspired by a new concept of togetherness.
"The word's the same but the feeling is different now than it was a year ago," he tells me.
"Although this will sound cheesy, it's not. To touch, to feel, to hug, to kiss, to be elbow to elbow, to break bread, it could be a line from a romantic rom-com but after the last year that we've had – yeah, it's special."
Jamie's newest cookbook - Together (Supplied)
Alongside the book is a TV show – airing on Network Ten in November – and in that Jamie invites people into his home and cooks for them.
It feels as if he has gone full circle back to 1999 when he first burst onto our TV screens.
In The Naked Chef, Jamie was all youthful exuberance as he bantered with mates over beers and served up his latest culinary creation in his London apartment.
"You're right," he smiles. "The Naked Chef personified was basically a dinner party piss-up, and this is just a slightly more mature version of that.
"Half of the guests in the eight programs are friends and family and you can't fake that closeness.
"The other half are complete strangers I welcomed into my house, which is obviously a bit odd, but I felt I wanted to or I had the excuse to do that. It was all the frontline workers."
Thousands and thousands responded to a call-out to come on the show.

"We had one meal for a selection of different teachers who had gone above and beyond, clearly representing a whole brigade of hundreds of thousands, but we had to pick some," he says.
The series provided a logistical headache both in choosing who would make the cut and then adhering to safety protocols, but Jamie was determined to soldier on.
Everyone involved had to be tested which despite the hassle fuelled a uniquely convivial environment.
"My job was very simple – and I know again it sounds cheesy – but it was to welcome them and I wasn't just welcoming them; I was welcoming their people, so from teachers to volunteers to new doctors, surgeons.
"It wasn't a commiseration for what was going on, it was a celebration and to say thank you. I served them, I cleared their plates, I got them pissed – mostly!"
In the other half of the show Jamie is awash with a different but equally overwhelming sentiment serving his own family.
"It was the first time I was able to have a dinner party or a meal with my mum and dad. Juliette's mum had been on her own through the whole of Christmas and beyond.
"We had sisters, best friends, family. So when we hugged it wasn't like a fake TV hug; it was quite emotional."
"This one, I would say, wanted to be written." Jamie on writing his new cookbook (Instagram)
On June 24, Jamie and Jools celebrated 21 years of marriage. The couple started dating when they were teenagers and I ask Jamie what lessons he thinks he has learned along the way.
"That's a really big and deep question," he says taking a rare pause as he sits back running through memories in his head, his eyes closed.
"I think you learn to love in lots of different ways," he says quietly.
"You learn to love the person you married but also it's exciting because the roller-coaster of growing, becoming parents, getting older, having grey hairs and wrinkles, you can love all those bits. You don't just love one bit.
"Funnily enough we were going to get married again on our 20th wedding anniversary which was bang in the middle of lockdown one.
"That got cancelled and then we thought about doing it for the 21st because that's got a ring to it, but we were still in lockdown then, so we'll probably do 25 now.
Jools and Jamie began dating when they were just teenagers and have been married for more than 20 years. (Instagram)
"I feel very lucky. I started dating Jools when I was 18. She's been a really solid and utterly important part of my life and my job's quite exacting.
"It expects quite a lot, and she's my rock. She allows me to do my thing but then come home and be me ... And I think she still quite likes me, which is really nice."
The couple is kept pretty busy with five children – Poppy Honey Rose, 19, Daisy Boo Pamela, 18, Petal Blossom Rainbow, 12, Buddy Bear Maurice, 10 and River Rocket Blue Dallas, five – and Jools recently revealed that she hankers after a sixth child.
"Jamie is still up for it, kind of ... not really. I haven't got long, maybe another year and then I really will just shut that chapter off because I am very happy. But just that little baby, it's a terrible thing to keep wanting something and you can't help it," she told the Made By Mammas podcast, also sharing that she has suffered the heartache of a series of miscarriages.
Jamie says he knows that Jools would love another baby – "but time's ticking and it's not so easy". And when I ask if he is ready for yet more pattering of tiny feet, he quips, "Not really, but I've learned in 21 years to do what I'm told!"

The idea and reality of fatherhood and everything it entails changes constantly, explains Jamie, and that change has been very apparent as his eldest two have blossomed as teenagers.
"I guess when you're involved in every micro detail of their lives and then that changes that's quite a change point, and now you've got young ladies going to uni, having their own life and all the stuff that goes with it.
"As with most parents, I think Jools and I have been baffled somewhat by the teenage years but we're coming through it. Two down, three more to go ..." he laughs.
When he contemplates what's next Jamie says he feels confident to let his children fly and find their own paths and is obviously proud of them all.
"I think I'm quite trusting and I let them go. I'd like to think that I'm quite open-minded and supportive, but they're all so different.
"Some keep their cards close to their chest, some are very open, and as a parent you can only do what you see or you're exposed to so it's a constant curiosity and it's all so beautiful to see.
"Certainly Poppy was the first Oliver to go to university in our whole history so that was exciting. Wow, well done girl!
"She's studying English literature and creative writing. She's always been quite good at that, since she was a little eight-year-old."
Jamie's son Buddy, the only child to follow in his famous father's footsteps. (Instagram)
Jamie is really grinning as he talks of Poppy's literary talents. He struggled academically, hampered by dyslexia, but as an adult it never held him back.
In fact, he thinks it helped him see problems from a different perspective.
"Daisy's studying to be a nurse," he adds with a grin.
"They all have different thoughts and aspirations. Who knows what's going to happen? It's exciting."
So far the only child following in Dad's footsteps is 10-year-old Buddy Bear, who has become quite the YouTube sensation with his Cooking Buddies Club.
The plucky mini-me whips up his favourite dishes offering expert hacks along the way, learned at his father's knee.
"It started with us doing some videos together and the feedback from the audience was really strong, they loved it," explains Jamie.
"Buddy's great and now he does little videos, one at the weekend, a couple in the summer holidays.

"He doesn't actually make that much content. Maybe one a month. But the way it pings around, it seems to work.
"What happens is that Buddy says send your videos in of something that you love that's simple and delicious, and there are kids from all around the world sending their little breakfasts in or their little lunches or their go-to dish, and for me and Buddy that's the best bit," beams Jamie.
"But I don't think Bud wants to be a chef and I don't think he wants to go into a career of TV, honestly, genuinely. We had quite a grown-up chat about it recently.
"I was like look Bud, we can do this, it's fine, but it's all about getting kids around the world to cook, and the fact that you're able to use a knife and you're happy to cook things from start to finish is obviously because we do it together all the time, but it's more powerful than what I do.
"It's like a superpower, so if you want to do it you need to be aware that it's going to expose you a little bit and if you don't want to do it that's fine."
Jamie and Jools are really vigilant, protecting Buddy from the harsh environment of social media.
"We don't let him online. He's still quite young and it probably won't last very long, if I'm honest," notes Jamie.
"But it is very powerful. I got a letter from a 67-year-old man saying, 'I've watched you for years but to be honest I've never cooked and you've never really turned me on to it, but I've seen your son just knock out Buddy Bolognese.
"'That's inspiring and I've done it three times since then and now I'm cooking twice a week and actually that's changed my life, so can you thank your son, please'."
As for his own future, Jamie is really looking forward to the world opening up and an imminent return to Australia.
"I've always loved travel. I've worked in Australia for nearly 20 years and that's coming from a boy who thought I'd never get there.
"I grew up in a little village in Essex and I was not brought up to think that I deserved or could go to Australia, halfway round the world...
"It fills me up, it gives me inspiration, I have friendships, family over there. So, I'm waiting for things to change and hoping to get over as soon as I can. I've really missed you."
Read this story and more in the October issue of The Australian Women's Weekly - on sale now

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