For quite awhile I've been meaning to go through some of the past articles I've written and see if there's anything from the batch of stuff that was never published but might be worth dusting off now. My first choice is this 2002 interview I did with chef Jamie Oliver.
The circumstances were weird. I'd been doing a series of Q&A pieces for Salon at the time. The magazine's Life section editor approached me about doing a recurring series of interviews with famous or otherwise leading people about parenting. I told the editor I didn't have kids, didn't want them and had no plans to do so, but she didn't care. For reasons long forgotten, the series never came about. I had a couple of these Q&As in the can, including this Jamie piece and one with a child expert of some kind, Penelope Miller, and then suddenly they decided to cancel the whole series. I was actually kind of relieved, because I had to send out a whole lot of requests out just to get these couple bites. And it's a pain trying to figure out the name and contact info, for example, for actors' publicists and agents and stuff like that.
Anyway, these were pre-written questions written by the editors, but it was still great fun to talk with Jamie. I'd sought him out to talk to because I was a huge fan of his first show, The Naked Chef, as well as (to a slightly lesser extent) his several additional shows. He was also, when I talked to him by phone, in the process of starting Fifteen, his London restaurant run by under-priviliged teens that he trained. Many celebrities are mean or insincere, just like people anywhere, but Jamie was right up there with the very nicest among the handful of famous people I've ever interviewed. I remember when we were hanging up Jamie saying, "Alright mate, best of luck." In fact, I'd say that Jamie and Michael Palin may be tied for first place. (Palin also said to be sure and say hello to my girlfriend after I told him what a big fan she was. "She sounds like a lovely person," he said.) Must be something about those Brits.
ME: Why did you choose to become a parent?
JAMIE: As soon as me and Jools formed a really serious relationship after a couple of years, we both were kind of well up for kids. But we didn’t have any cash to get married and were trying to get our jobs sorted out. We gave it five years and then got married about two years ago and tried to have a kid straight away.
Have you changed for the role?
Absolutely, like a slap around the head with a sack of potatoes. You can talk about how it’s going to change your life or this that and the other, but when that little thing comes out it’s almost like an instinct that takes over. When they’re that small and that dear, and obviously between you and your partner, it’s just an amazing experience. I think it can make you more levelheaded. It certainly makes you less selfish and definitely makes you more patient, because you have to be. I’ve found throughout the whole experience just trusting your instincts is the best thing.
What would you like your child to be when he or she grows up?
Happy and inspired are the most important things. That’s the greatest gifts in life.
What do you most fear your child will be when she or she grows up?
The impression I get is that it’s not one lesson to learn, but as you get older things constantly change. I think at the end of the day if you have the best intentions for your kid and a lot of love and time to talk, you’re pretty much on a good track.
What was the last book you read to your child?
I’ve read books to her, but being less than a year old she doesn’t really understand me. You get those books where when you open the page it makes a noise: That’s what it’s all about at this stage. I think I was entertaining myself more than her.
What do you fear about yourself as a parent?
Not noticing problems. How many kids have committed suicide and had their parent say, ‘I didn’t notice a thing.” I fear not being vigilant enough about both good and bad things: I want to be supportive.
What do you value?
I actually take quite a lot of pride in the fact that I’m a nice guy. That sounds really puffy to say that, but I know a lot of horrible people I get on with. I hate the idea of upsetting anyone. There’s so much stress in my line of work, and I think it’s important to tell people, “It’ll be alright.” I also think charity is really important. For example, we’ve set up this restaurant were we take on 15 homeless and underprivileged kids every year who want to cook. It’s fabulous to be able to give these kids the simple things they haven’t had: Being talked to, trusted, cuddled, and told, “Good job.” Any good kitchen will tell you their place is like a family. That’s something I take very seriously.
If you could protect your child from one thing -- forever -- what would it be?
I think drugs more than anything. I grew up in a lovely part of England, but there were always drugs all over the place. Now living in London and traveling around the world, you see all the problems it causes. No man wants his little daughter to get involved in that sort of thing. You kind of wish them luck, really, don’t you? If you try too hard to protect them everything, you end up with an insecure kind who never wants to walk out the bloody door.
What is the trait you would least like your child to inherit?
Trying to do things too quick. I try and do ten things instead of just five. I just want to get things done. I’m quite manic, which I suppose is why I’m a drummer. But I think it’s important to just chill out sometimes.
Who are your child-rearing heroes?
Definitely my dad. I always thought he was cool because he had the answers to everything. He’s also a massive doer: People would ask him to do stuff and he’d just get it done.
How do you answer when your child asks, "What is God?"
Organized religion has caused some of the biggest wars in the world. But as a synopsis of the philosophies of life and what you should do in terms of what you should or shouldn’t do, the Bible still relates today. I’m not really a very religious person, but I know what’s right and wrong. And maybe that is religion: knowing right from wrong.
If you could pick your child's mentors, who would they be?
I think real mentors are not people you see on the telly. I think it’s always lovely to think of local people as mentors you can draw from: family and friends. The whole celebrity thing can be good, but it’s a lot of bullshit too.
What cherished object will you bequeath to your child?
I’ve got a 1958 VW camper van. I’ve spent 5 years doing it up, and now it’s a beautiful thing. I never want to sell it. But maybe the best thing to pass on would be my pestle and mortar. Either that or it’d make a good gravestone for me.
How would you like your child to remember you?
Just with a smile, really.