enjoyed a combination of two of those jobs best -
campaigning for field sports, and making television with Johnny
Scott [Clarissa and the Countryman].
Johnny and I have
been friends since we were ten-and-a-half; so it was very
invigorating. I did things in that that I'd never have done at the
age of 50-something: going six miles out into marshes to watch
60,000 pink-footed geese fly over my head in a beautiful
Michelangelo dawn; half-netting for salmon coming straight towards
you like torpedoes.
I don't like
being a celebrity - such a revolting word, which means so
little - but it gives me a voice. Sometimes they listen to what I
say. Jennifer [Paterson] used to go to all the parties. She'd say:
"Darling, I'd go to the opening of an envelope." But parties get
rather boring when you're not drinking.
I don't hunt any
more. I car-follow. I'm no longer fit enough since I had
pleurisy couple of years ago, and it affected my back. I've been
very lame ever since. But, considering what I did to my body during
most of my adult life, I'm lucky to be in one piece.
I was born in
London, and grew up in the south-east, but I settled in
Scotland 18 years ago.
I'm the baby of
the family. My elder sisters were 20 and 18 years older
than me, and my brother 13 years older; so they had an awfully long
time to think of names they hadn't used. I was supposed to have
been a boy and called Dominic Thomas after my mother's father; then
Domenica Thomasina, but my Plymouth Brethren grandmother objected.
Then Verbena - I was eternally grateful that I wasn't called that.
Then Nigella - but that would have been confusing.
end, they blindfolded my mother, led her into the library,
where she pulled out a copy of Clarissa, a folio edition
next to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. So I could have been
Britannica . . . or Encyclopaedia. I like Clarissa, even
though it's an incredibly boring book, which needed quite a lot of
editing. [Her full name is Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary
Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.]
My next book is
on my ancestral relatives. There were some very strange
ones - not just my grandmother who lived in a tent and converted to
the Plymouth Brethren when it swept through Ireland, but also
relatives who died with Guy Fawkes.
My father, of
course, was terrifying. I've never really been afraid of
anyone else since.
I was the
youngest person ever to be called to the Bar [aged 21],
and remain the youngest woman. I hated my father so much: he
wouldn't pay for me to go to university and then do bar exams; so I
did six years' work in three. Yes, I was clever and determined,
says she, modestly. He would only pay for me to study medicine.
Think how many people I would have killed.
I was a barrister
for 13 years. My mother died when I was 26, and by the
time I was 34 I'd left the law - walked away before they threw me
Until my drinking
really took hold, a lot of people, like Lord Denning,
tipped me as "Woman most likely to succeed".
Our cook had
trained at Chatsworth. But she couldn't read; so I used to
read recipes out loud to her and hang about watching her make them;
but I never actually cooked till my father went off his head and
left home when I was 21. My mother said: "It's such a pity,
darling: we could have lovely dinner parties now your father is
gone, but we haven't got a cook." Well, there was no money. So I
said: "Well, I'll cook." "Don't be silly, darling. What makes you
think you could cook?"
I do really
believe that everybody has at least one talent, and my
natural talent is that I can cook.
Pat Llewellyn met
Jennifer Paterson at a lunch party, saw her drive away on
her motorbike, and said to me: "I had a vision!" So she brought us
together for the television series [Two Fat Ladies]. I'd
already filmed with Pat on Sophie Grigson's Grow Your
I think they
thought we'd fight. Aren't two opinionated women the
Chinese symbol for war? But we got on like a house on fire, and I
think the sheer anarchy of that was why the series was so
Anybody who is
anxious about what they eat has nobody to blame but
themselves. If you go to a supermarket and buy ready meals
and cheap food, what you're going to get is not necessarily what
you think. When I came out of my gin bottle 26 years ago, I was
horrified by what the supermarkets were selling.
In Section 36 of
the Trade Descriptions Act, a product may be named from the place
where the last thing was done to it. So Chinese chicken
fed on human excrement - which is a direct cause of MRSA - if it's
washed and cut up and wrapped in plastic here, you can call it
British chicken. The safest thing to eat is lamb, because we import
very little, and that is from New Zealand. There are countries in
Europe who can register something as "organic" within as little as
three days before they put it into the market.
When I was young,
people spent 30 per cent of their income on food; now its
eight per cent. How do you think someone can sell you six chicken
legs for 99p, and it's going to be good quality?
I do object to
the cult of the chef. It's now so ridiculous: you have to
make a note of what you ordered because so little of it comes,
because there are so many other things on the plate. We need more
cooks and fewer chefs.
jam off the kitchen floor, because I was on my knees and I
hadn't been for a long time - because I thought, what if you ask
and nothing happened? - I just thought: "Dear God, if you are up
there, please help me." And that began a series of events which I
couldn't see till I was past them, which took me inexorably into
succeeded at has been anything I've decided to do. I've
been incredibly lucky. I do believe when I asked for help, he heard
me, and my life took a completely different turn.
When I was going
up the drive to my treatment centre, I asked: is there
anything I can do for myself? I was morally, physically,
spiritually, economically bankrupt. So I thought, well, I could try
telling the truth. Our family motto was "Truth will conquer", and I
used to think, well, if anyone in the family ever managed it, we
might actually get somewhere. So I made a decision that that's what
When I wrote
Spilling the Beans, I thought there's no point if
you don't tell it how it was. And I've had a lot of good letters
thanking me, from people who'd been helped.
I go to church to
say thank you. The story I really like is about the leper
who came back. Christ heals ten, and only one comes back to say
thank you. If I'd been in his shoes, I'd have said the others can
have their leprosy back, but he didn't do that. In AA, they talk
about the "God of your understanding", and that's very important.
God is my friend. If I remember to let go, and just go with the
tides, then things slot into place. It's amazing.
I talk to God,
and I try and listen. I never pray for specifics. My
mother used to say: if you're in church on Good Friday at three
o'clock, you can pray for three things and they will probably
happen - but they cannot be for you. I know it's just a
superstition, but it takes my mind off me, and I try to be there,
anyway. Crucifixion is still the most painful death known to man.
For all our sciences, you still don't beat crucifixion. So I think
it's the least one can do to pitch up, don't you?
role-model! I've catered for 5000 people. It's bloody hard
God has such a
great sense of humour. I recently spoke at St Paul's
Cathedral, and, in all that glory and pomp, just four days after
Mrs Thatcher was lying there in state, into the front row marches
this black smelly bag-lady, sits down, goes to sleep, and snores
like a grampus. The interviewer was very embarrassed, but I said:
"Don't you realise that there but for the grace of God go I?"
It was a very
special occasion, but I don't think I'll have my funeral
there. I'd like something cosier and more English. I plan the menu
with monotonous regularity, and I'll ask Sean Hill at The Walnut
Tree to cook my last meal. I'd like to be carried out to Boney M's
version of "By the rivers of Babylon".
I'd like to be
remembered as someone who stood up for what I believed in,
and spoke my mind.
Being at home is
my holiday, because all my work is away from home. When I
get home, I can put my feet up and read my books.
One sermon I
remember was at school, and a priest came from the
Oratory. He talked about how energising anger was, if you funnelled
it, and that hit a big note with me.
It's amazing how
badly so many clergy preach now. Listening to the Pope's
Easter message, I thought, "Dear God, such a moment!" But it was
the same old rubbish again.
I get angry about
hypocrisy. Politicians almost universally make me angry.
Ninety-nine per cent of them are hypocrites. And that business with
Cardinal O'Brien could have rendered me apoplectic.
I'm happiest out
of doors, usually in autumn; or looking at the acid- green
of leaves in early spring, or winter, because I have hay fever in
summer. I always remember being out hunting one day when it was
bright but trying to sleet, and this old farmer, lolloping along on
a horse, said to me: "Ye canna' be vexed on a day like this."
I'd like to be
locked in a church with Charles II: witty, charming,
urbane, intelligent, well educated, and a great sense of
Clarissa Dickson Wright was talking to Terence Handley