Tom Parker Bowles, food writer

Fortnum & Mason has come a long way since opening in 1707 at Hugh Mason’s small St James’s Market shop. A move to an iconic site at 181 Piccadilly and three centuries of history later, it is perhaps the world’s most famous grocery store. This time last year, the company reported record sales figures of £88 million – and the recent launch of its first standalone restaurant, 45 Jermyn St., has pushed the brand further into new territory.

Now, the company has taken another step forward, with the publication of its first official cookbook. Featuring recipes for longtime classics, dishes pulled from the archives and contemporary dishes, the book provides a history of the store’s life; a snapshot into Fortnum’s past through the prism of its most well-loved dishes and ingredients.

The man tasked with consolidating 309 years of history into just 304 pages is Tom Parker Bowles. A respected food writer, critic and sometime television presenter, he also happens to have royal connections, being the son of Camilla Parker Bowles.

While the presumption might be that these connections might have led to Tom’s appointment by the Royal Warrant holding Fortnum & Mason for the purposes of writing this historic book, the reality is far more prosaic – as he explains over coffee at 45 Jermyn St.

“I was filming in Australia about a year and a half ago. Ewan Venters (CEO of Fortnum’s) and I sat over a long lunch at a place in Bondi, and I said to him: ‘You have over 300 years of history, but you haven’t done a cookbook.'” Tom offered his services, and soon the process of researching and compiling recipes began, alongside Fortnum’s’ executive chef, Sydney Aldridge.

The team’s aim was to produce a usable, working cookbook. “You want it stained, battered and bruised from constant use,” says Tom, whose enthusiasm for food is reflected in his hyper-speed speaking and a penchant for jumping to his next thought before articulating his last. He says that picking the recipes for a book “three hundred years in the making” – taken from Fortnum’s archives, dishes available in the store and at 45 Jermyn St – was challenging, but “fascinating”.

Fortnum & Mason: The Cookbook has something to please all home cooks, at all skill levels, according to the writer. From quick dishes to “elaborate” recipes, Tom says there is much to enjoy. Personally, he enjoys the “more comforting dishes; it’s probably because of the season.” He rattles off a number of unctuous, flavoursome dishes perfectly suited to the colder months – Welsh rarebit (“Fortnum’s perfected it”) is just one British classic that makes an appearance.

Tom says Fortnum’s has had a presence in his life since he was a child. “I grew up in the country most of the time, but my grandma used to take my cousin and I here. When you’re a kid and not in the city much, London is a magical place. With its glittering windows, Fortnum’s had that sense of magic – especially at Christmas. I was always slightly in awe of it.”

Though Tom grew up in nature and enjoyed the seasonal produce readily available there, it wasn’t until going to boarding school aged eight that his “healthy interest in food turned into greed.” After university and a string of jobs unsuited to him (“I was sacked from every job I ever did”), Tom was made Tatler’s food writer – and remained there for eight years, before making the move to GQ, and then to Esquire. He would soon also become the food critic at the Mail on Sunday. Tom says he is grateful to have found a career he gets so much enjoyment out of. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than write. “Sometimes I think, ‘My god, I’m eating and writing about it’ – that for me is a dream.”

Tom has now notched up hundreds of restaurant reviews up and down the UK and across the globe. With such experience, what does he think of the restaurant scene in Mayfair and St James’s – two of London’s more challenging districts for restaurateurs? “I always knew St James’s pretty well – my father was always in the area; and my uncle used to have a restaurant round here. The Crown Estate are doing up the whole area, so he had to move out – we’re looking for a new site as we speak.” That restaurant is Green’s – recently acquired by restaurateur Marlon Abela.

As for Mayfair, Tom says there are a number of iconic restaurants here that never fail to deliver the goods. “I can absolutely rely on Scott’s every time – it’s a fantastic place.” Same goes, he says, for The Wolseley. “It amazes me that it’s only been there for 11 years. Jeremy King and Chris Corbin are incredible restaurateurs.” According to Tom, food is just one facet that makes Corbin and King’s restaurants modern day classics. “You go for the whole experience – that cacophonous, echoing room – and that never ceases to get me excited.”

He tells me that he hopes to see more of what he calls Mayfair’s ‘new breed’ of restaurants. “Kitty Fischer’s on Shepherd Market is fantastic. It’s small, decently priced, but it’s cool. That’s the new Mayfair for me – you don’t have to wear a tie and you can eat lunch there for £25.”

Tom believes in the democratisation of food. He is a champion of the street food scene and is involved in East London food market Dinerama. “It’s always packed. I think that’s great, because 20 years ago you wouldn’t have found that. You can have amazing food for a tenner, a few drinks… That’s how the food scene has changed, and I hope that’s the future.”

Fitting someone whose “life is food”, Tom has an emotional view of eating that he says connects each and every one of us. “You can communicate through food, no matter where you are,” he says. “You can be celibate, you can pay taxes or you can dodge taxes – whether you like food or not, we still have this shared experience. To sit down and break bread together – I think that’s a very important thing.”

Fortnum & Mason: The Cookbook is published by Fourth Estate and priced at £30.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ December 16 edition.

Liz Hurley, actress, model and designer

Actress, model and beachwear designer, Elizabeth Hurley, is one Britain’s most recognisable faces. Starring in a number of international movie hits including Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled, she has recently used her profile to help raise awareness for charitable causes close to her heart. She talks with Reyhaan Day about fame, family and her memories of Mayfair, as she prepares to turn on the Shepherd Market Christmas Lights.

Mayfair must have been a fascinating place in the 90s. What are your fondest memories of that time, and how do you think London has changed since then?

Thankfully, I don’t think the atmosphere of Mayfair has changed much at all, which is why I like it. All the restaurants and shops are vastly improved, although, like everywhere, parking is now a horror. But I was working all though the 90’s – I didn’t go out much.

Did you know from a young age the life you wanted to enjoy when you were older? Were you after a career or a lifestyle?

I didn’t even think about a lifestyle until I had my son; for me it was always all about work. I grew up in the suburbs and was lucky to have wonderfully supportive parents. From a very young age I did hours of dance and drama classes after school every night and moved to London when I was 18 to continue training, where I didn’t know a soul.

When did you realise that you would be able to make a career out of acting and modelling?

I got my first agent in my third year of college and started working right away. First in commercials, then I got a play and then film and TV. I lived in LA for ten years and worked like a dog – but I had the best time.

Do you see yourself as an actress first and foremost? Or do you think that your fashion business is more representative of where you are now at?

I took eight years off from acting to raise my son, and was incredibly lucky to get back into the industry. I did a season on Gossip Girl; a movie with Gerard Depardieu; and am now playing the Queen of England in The Royals – we just wrapped on the third season. I started my beachwear company, Elizabeth Hurley Beach, while raising my son and still put a great deal of energy into it, but I am really enjoying acting again. My heart is in show business.

Why did you decide to get involved in fashion from a business perspective? What are you bringing to the table with your beachwear line?

I decided to venture into beachwear not only because I’ve always been obsessed with holiday clothes, but also because it’s an area where women, regardless of shape or size, can either look amazing or really get it wrong. I wanted to develop resort collections which make women feel fabulous at any age. We have a very loyal fan base and are in great department stores around the world, like Harrods and Saks 5th Avenue; and we’re in lots of fabulous smaller stores and luxury resorts.

You are heavily involved in charity work. Tell me about a couple of projects that you are working on that are close to your heart – and why do you think that it’s important for you to put the spotlight on these issues?

In addition to serving as the global ambassador for The BCA Campaign, I support several charitable causes and organisations—particularly those focused on health, children and the military. I am a strong supporter of Elton John’s charity, Elton John AIDS Foundation; I’m the president of Hop, Skip and Jump, an organisation focused on providing high quality respite care for children and young adults with disabilities; and I’m a patron of the City Veterans Network and Walking with the Wounded.

In what way have your priorities changed over the years?

Everything is a juggling act and, as every working mother knows, something always has to give. Once I had my son, I decided that he would not be the one losing out – which is why I stopped doing movies and TV for the first eight years of his life. I don’t regret it for a moment. I adore my son and we are very close. I am more like an Italian mother than an English one, and I think he’s the bee’s knees. I’m pretty strict and he’s very well behaved. He has been very well socialised from a young age and I can take him anywhere.

Do you see similarities between your son and your teenage self?

When I was a teenager I had pink hair, a nose ring and ripped up clothes. I wasn’t really rebelling against anything though; it was just fashion. Plus, I really loved the music and still often have the Clash blasting. My son is extremely focussed and just had his first acting role in The Royals, where he plays Prince Hansel von Lichtenstein – a rich, spoilt, royal, reality TV star. He loves show business too and would love to leave school and start working. Cruel Mummy says no.

What dreams do you have for you and your family? Have they changed as you’ve become wiser and more successful?

My friends and family mean the world to me and without them I’d be truly sunk, so no matter what I’m doing, I always find time for them. I long for everyone I love to be happy.

What is your relationship like with fame? There must be both positive and negative aspects…

If I could choose success or fame, I’d definitely go for the former. However, in my business they are closely intertwined, and losing some privacy is the cost of doing business. I try as hard as I can to retain some privacy though and, over the years, I have carved out ways to achieve that. I go through stages of living like a recluse but, as a mother, I have to moderate that a bit so my son has as normal a life as possible. Nevertheless, he’s always on ‘binocular duty’ when we go on vacation and scans the horizon for stalkers with long lenses.

Do you see yourself as a positive person?

I love my life, I love change and I love new experiences. Saying yes is so liberating; it’s my favourite word. I have the same friends and still do most of the same things that I’ve loved to do for thirty years. I’ve always been ambitious and determined – but I like to giggle along the way.

What has been your proudest moment so far? What is there left for you to achieve – professionally and personally?

Professionally, as the global ambassador for the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, there are two research scientists at The Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer that share a grant in my name based on funds raised through The BCA Campaign. To know that through my work as the Campaign’s global ambassador I can help such important research be achieved, is something that I am proud of and has had a profound impact on me. Personally, having my son and watching him grow up and develop makes me an extremely proud mother.

Do you have regrets?

My father died before I had my son Damian; the fact that they never knew each other is a constant source of regret. I worshipped my dad, and would have loved to have had him in my son’s life. Nevertheless, Damian has been regaled with hundreds of Grandpa Bear stories over the years.

When are you most ‘yourself’? Is it hard to really be yourself when you are constantly in the public eye?

I’m pretty much myself the whole time – there’s no Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. I’m definitely more comfortable with people I know and trust, but they are the people I’m with 99 per cent of the time.

Where do you feel most relaxed – physically and mentally?

When I head west, to my home in the country, I feel my shoulders relaxing and a calmness befall me. I love going home – the hair goes in a ponytail, the Ugg boots go on and my spirits rise. I play with the dogs, the cats and the parrot, I garden, I light bonfires, I read and I giggle with my son and friends. Bliss.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

Hopefully still working. I can’t imagine not having a project.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ December 16 edition.