“I’M probably nuts to try it, but it’s huge fun,” said Dame Prue Leith.
She was talking about mounting her debut tour at the age of 83, and not of her presence at a Parisian orgy aged 19.
As she would explain to her York audience, judge and jury, your honour, she did not know she would be entering such a party when accompanying a young man to the house.
He indulged, but not Prue. She merely took off her clothes to fit in, seated by the bar. She was being Prudent, not Prudish. Nothing on, but something in moderation, in a life where “I’ll try anything once”, to quote her autobiography’s title, but just not that.
As it happens, South African-born, French-trained, English-enterprising Dame Prue has always stood out, not only latterly in her choice of specs and jewellery, but in her culinary career, first cutting a swathe through the male-dominated restaurant scene of the Sixties, later often being the only female director on assorted non-executive boards, where the men put the bored into board meetings.
Prue, live in York: specs, tick. Funky jewellery, tick. Dark jeans, light jacket and pumps, tick. She wouldn’t have looked out of place on a rock concert stage. Always more Chrissie Hynde, than mumsy, our Dame Prue.
Complemented by photos and video clips, Nothing In Moderation was divided into two halves, the first a kind of fork-talk variation on stand-up as culinary queen Prue told funny stories and insightful anecdotes, from her African family roots to flailing around in assorted university studies, to French freedom and culinary finesse.
Then onwards to Swinging Sixties’ London, keeping her pop-star next-door-neighbours The Hollies’ stash of marijuana in her herb jars; flourishing at her restaurant with ground-breaking late-night opening; party cooking from her flat and a van; the Rolling Stones and The Beatles (“the Full English,” requested the nocturnal Fab Four and no greenery on Ringo’s plate). Cooking for Princess Margaret too.
Cue Prue’s cookery school, still going strong. Her branching out into cookery writing and novels (eight so far). Those non-exec posts. Journalism. Recipes in papers, with an accidentally erroneous measure for one ingredient causing a particular stir. TV work, 11 years’ judging on Great British Menu and now unintended innuendos (as innocent as that Parisian orgy) to Paul Hollywood’s side on The Great British Bake Off, whose theme tune had heralded Dame Prue’s arrival.
After the businesswoman in Dame Prue was exhibited during the interval in a revolving showcase on screen for her books, specs range and Pure Prue homeware, that perky Bake Off tune announced part two, Prue plus one, Prue and TV producer Clive Tulloh, the witty, gently teasing host for a question-and-answer session.
Tulloh had skilfully filleted the questions sent in by the audience, fishing out the best and finding connecting themes and juicy jousts for Dame Prue’s pondering in the confession chamber. As promised, nothing was “off the menu”, plenty of Bake Off, no back off.
Prue, what does Paul Hollywood smell like? “Grown-up crumpet,” she mused, before an unexpected revelation. She no longer needs glasses, after a cataract operation, but she just loves wearing her bright Prue-designed frames. To emphasise the point, she promptly stuck a finger through where the lens should have been. Well, that’s certainly better than a poke in the eye.
After stories of specs & drugs & maybe not sausage rolls, this show in praise of food, love and life found Dame Prue in a place of happiness, hitting the sweet spot on cake TV, the sun shining brighter than ever on Leith.