Ainsley Harriott hasn't just been cooking on gas for the last couple of decades he's been on our tellies. He's been cooking on sheer joy, his bubbly personality and endless optimism creating the kind of TV gold that you can't help but smile at.
From Ready Steady Cook to Strictly Come Dancing, he's brought an infectious fun to everything he's done. And even just chatting to him today, as he gushes about his latest project, supporting Age UK's Grandparent's Day and even treating me to a little sing song as he wanders through the house, you can feel the heat of his grin beaming down the phone.
"I always felt I had a wonderful relationship with older people," says Ainsley (aged 60) explaining why he's promoting Age UK's Grandparent's Day this October 2 which encouraged families to get together, sharing stories and memories across the generations.
"So when I got to a stage with TV and everything where I felt I can make a difference, I thought Age UK is one of the charities I’d like to be connected with.
"Everyone was our age once my mum used to say. We all are very passionate about what we’re passionate about whether that’s gardening or travel or cooking. And I think older people have time to tell their story. It's not a constant rush. You know, now you send an email and an hour later you’re sending another email saying did you get my last email?"
Growing up, Ainsley's own grandparents were a huge infleunce to him, helping shape him to be the chef he is now.
"My grandfather C.T. Strudwick actually cooked for one of the presidents of the USA and his family were so proud, everyone spoke about it. The only thing was, no one could tell me which President it was.
"We were looking at maybe doing a programme idea especially when Obama came into power, because we thought how wonderful to go back and think my grandfather did this, and now I’m going to the White House. It would be a lovely story. But we couldn’t get the information as no one kept real records then.
"Grandad certainly taught my mother how to cook. I remember visiting him when I was 8 and him shouting at me because I went in and asked him for some money to go and buy a Pepsi Cola. He went "no grandchild of mine is going to spend money putting the American man in pocket. Take a pick of fresh lime from the tree, mix it with sugar and ice water and make yourself some lemonade, get out of my sight." Now when we left there wasn’t a lime left on the tree because it was the best thing we’d ever tasted. Now every time I smell that fresh lime it takes me back somewhere and I just think wow."
The influence of food in the family was such that Ainsley and his brother and sister became passionate cooks. "We were all immensely comfortable in the kitchen and I think mum created that. And in turn it was my grandfather that gave that to her. Cooking is just a beautiful way of bringing people together."
So when Ainsley became a TV star, teaching the nation to cook, his family were of course beyond proud. "They were all so delighted and at the time. I was on television in America and had my own TV programme and they of course picked that up in Jamaica. So it was time to boast. Ooh that’s my grandson. They were all so delighted and at the time. It was just sad that mum sadly saw very little of it as she lost her life to pancreatic cancer."
A sensational stint on Strictly Come Dancing
We're sure his family we're over the moon again when last year Ainsley donned his dancing shoes to take part in Strictly Come Dancing and finished twelfth.
He had an absolute blast on the show. But as a new line-up of contestants take to the ballroom this year, what would his advice be to those intrepid novice dancers?
"It’s everybody’s personal journey and everyone has a different experience when they do it. It’s wonderful but immensely time consuming so I think you have to put everything else aside and dedicate yourself to doing that and try. Also try keep yourself fit although you will become fitter because you’re dancing for 7-8 hours a day. So just embrace it. I would love to have gone on and done some more."
Now what about those Bake Off rumours?
While Ainsley may not be on our screens much at the moment – he's been busy working on his product range – there have been whispers of his name associated with the Great British Bake Off as a petition has been started calling for Ainsley to be the new host of The Great British Bake Off when it moves to Channel 4.
"How flattering! I’m sure there’s going to be lots of names put in the mix,'" Ainsley says.
"We’re talking about one of the premier shows on our screens and everyone wants to tune in. I was talking to someone the other day and they said well you took over from Fern on Ready Steady Cook and no one believed you could do that. So you could take over. I was thinking that’s all very nice, it’s very flattering to have your name associated with it. but you just have to wait and see. If something happens it happens."
So would he say yes if the producers came knocking on his door? "It’s something I’d have to certainly think about and talk with lots of different people. Because it’s all about getting the right blend since there’s two presenters and two judges so it’s not just about the one person. You’d have to make sure the balance was right and I’m sure the bosses who make the decisions will make the right ones."
- Ainsley Harriott is supporting Age UK this Grandparents’ Day (2nd October 2016). To find out how you can fundraise to support the Charity visit www.ageuk.org.uk/grandparentsday. The idea is to find a time in the week leading up to Grandparents' Day (26 – 30 September) to get together with your colleagues, family or friends, ask everyone to bring along an item of food that reminds them of their grandparents and share snaps of your event and stories of your grandparents on social media using the hashtag #GrandparentsDay. You can also make a donation to Age UK to eat the goodies
- For information about the Ainsley Harriott food range and for many more delicious Ainsley recipes visit www.Ainsley-Harriott.com