SHE is “probably nuts to try it”, but nevertheless The Great British Bake Off judge Dame Prue Leith will mount her debut tour next year at the age of 82.
Nothing In Moderation is in the 2023 diary for March 2 at the Grand Opera House, York, as part of a 34-date British and Irish itinerary that will run from February 1 to an April 6 finale at the London Palladium.
Nothing is off the menu – apart from cookery demonstrations – in this frank, funny, foodie show, wherein Dame Prue will share anecdotes about her life: taking audiences through the ups and downs of being a restaurateur, chef, cookery school supremo, food writer, businesswoman and Bake Off judge.
Dame Prue says: “I’ve never done a stage show before and at 82 [83 by the time she plays York] I’m probably nuts to try it, but it’s huge fun, makes the audience laugh and lets me rant away about the restaurant trade, publishers, TV and writing, and sing the praises of food, love and life.”
Gourmet guru Dame Prue has been a judge on the world’s biggest baking TV show, The Great British Bake Off, since when 2017, when she joined Paul Hollywood after the switch to Channel 4.
Before Bake Off, South African-born Prue had long enjoyed success in her career, running her own party and event catering business in the 1960s and ’70s, then setting up Leith’s Food and Wine to train professional chefs and amateur cooks.
From feeding the rich and famous to cooking for royalty and even poisoning her clients, all will be told for the first time in Nothing In Moderation.
Her ever-busy diary left only ten minutes on Zoom for this interview, but that’s still time enough to take the microwave fast track to asking questions. How did it all start, Dame Prue? “I was at Cape Town University, flailing around failing at everything, so I persuaded my father that I should go to France, with a view to becoming an interpreter for the United Nations, but I fell in love with French food. I do love France anyway and you can’t live in Paris for two years and not appreciate it.”
London now has more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere but Paris, but when Dame Prue headed to England, it was the nadir of cooking. It took Elizabeth David to change all that. “Before then, olive oil was something you bought at Boots for your ears!” she recalls.
Think of England served on a plate back then, and it would be overcooked meat, industrial gravy, slopped out with two veg.
Prue Leith was determined to rectify that. “I don’t think of myself as having been on a mission, but I’ve always wanted to be at the forefront of change, and there are some things I’m very passionate about, like having English cheese on the menu when no posh restaurant would not have had French cheese, or writing the menu in English, rather than French,” she says.
“When I was on the board at British Rail, I took all their top chefs to Paris for a week to experience nouvelle cuisine. They were scornful, thinking it was a little bit of food on a big white plate, not realising how exact it was, with a balance of top-quality ingredients. It was interesting to then see these scornful chefs thinking, ‘I could do that’.”
In today’s cuisine scene, “the most interesting food in England right now is street food, where refugees in lockdown started doing street food,” says Dame Prue. “Often it leads to them opening restaurants.”
To create her stage show, she wrote a script, then did a few try-outs in Leamington Spa and Bath, using a back projector to screen clips from her past or for jokes, before taking the show to New York and Los Angeles for two nights in each American city.
“At the beginning, I wasn’t loving it; my heart was beating so hard, but I got 100 per cent of the audience saying they would recommend the show to their friends, which was amazing,” says Dame Prue.
“Before I even started in LA, as soon as I walked on stage, they were hollering and whooping, and there was this great wave of appreciation. It’s the best feeling in the world. I quite understand why some comedians never retire!”
Will she change the show’s content ahead of the UK tour? “I still think there are too many funny stories about cooking for the royals and catering disasters,” she says.
Alas, the ten-minute noose was tightening, so there was no time for Dame Prue to relate those stories, but come March 2, York Barbican audience members can seek answers to “what they’ve always wanted to ask” her when she is joined on stage by Clive Tulloh in the second half.
“We curate the questions because it’s a mistake just to take a microphone to the audience, where sometimes someone just has a bee in their bonnet, rather than wanting to ask a question. To avoid all that, we ask people to write their questions and Clive then brings them together.”
One final question for Dame Prue: does she prefer The Beatles’ psychedelic 1968 version of Dear Prudence or Siouxsie And The Banshees’ post-punk 1983 cover version?
“Well, it would be The Beatles,” she says without hesitation, forever a devotee of the Fab Four generation. “People ask me what my favourite song is and I say, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’.”
Prue Leith: Nothing In Moderation Live Tour 2023, Grand Opera House, York, March 2 , 7.30pm. Box office: atgtickets.com/York. Also: Sheffield City Hall, February 28, 7.30pm. Box office: sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.