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Saturday, November 12, 2022

Stacey Dooley: ‘I am now middle class. I can’t deny it. I never used to eat olives’ | Stacey Dooley

In my childhood, it was the three Ps: Pop-Tarts, Peperami, Pot Noodle. That was my diet and I could still eat that as a three-course meal now. It’s a miracle my organs are still working to be honest, I’ve eaten so much of them. Then a blue ice pole for dessert.

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations over a lot of interesting meals. One was a Thanksgiving dinner in a prison in Iowa with a load of female lifers. They’re in prison for the rest of their lives, they’re going to die there, so they look forward to this for months. It’s a big deal: they were pressing their shirts, everyone looked super-smart and we’re sat there eating lukewarm turkey. I’ve eaten in loads of prisons; it’s a bit like plane food, not bad.

On Strictly, I was living off Hobnobs. You’re dancing till silly o’clock; honestly, sometimes we were dancing 12, 13 hours a day and I was just in such great shape. So it was biscuits and crisps, I wasn’t eating quinoa.

Some people describe these idyllic memories of baking with their mum and preparing food for hours with their mum. There wasn’t really any of that. We got home from school, then my mum had to go to work and so dinner was in the oven or in the fridge or a couple of quid on the side to go to the chippy.

It doesn’t matter how much I resist, I am now middle-class. I can’t deny it. I never used to eat olives and balsamic vinegar, and now I do. My palate has changed.

My favourite cuisine is Japanese. I just never get fed up of sushi: when I was in Japan, I was having tuna nigiri for breakfast every single day. And I remember being addicted to these bottles of warm green tea that you get out of vending machines. I was living off them: my skin must have been immaculate because I was just drinking green tea and eating tuna. I had the diet of a supermodel.

My stomach is made of tin. I shouldn’t say that, I shouldn’t be too cocky; I’m going to get ill next week, aren’t I?

I haven’t drunk alcohol for years. It’s probably about 15 years since I’ve been drunk. When I was younger, I’d just go out and get really pissed. By the age of 18, 19, I’d got it out of my system. I’d already been down the park drinking for years. When you’re older, it feels like, “Oh, you’re allowed to do it now.” So it feels less naughty.

My partner Kev [dancer Kevin Clifton] is useless at cooking, too. We eat a lot of takeouts. For his last birthday, we had a chef and she did lobster pasta and then white chocolate pasta for dessert. It was quite heavy on the pasta, but it was gorgeous. The chef didn’t give me the recipe – I think she knew that it’d be lost on me.

Know what would help my cooking? This is so me. If I had a nice kitchen. You want to hang out in the kitchen, don’t you? My kitchen’s really ugly at the minute. It’s super-old and super-dated. Recently I was hanging out with a load of nuns in a convent. And I was like: “Actually, I really love what they’ve done with the place.” Just one long, solid set of cupboards and one shelf, dimly lit. Maybe a little fire and a couple of chairs and the table. I want it to look like either I’ve just moved in or I’ve just been robbed.

I’ve just made a cooking show, Hungry For It – it’s a really lovely series with 10 brilliant cooks, but not professional chefs. As you’ve learned, I’m completely useless when it comes to cooking and food, but my job was to look after the aspiring chefs and make sure they felt comfy. It can be quite high-pressured, can’t it? And you end up having such a soft spot for these people. You’re rooting for them because we know a TV show can totally change their life.

My favourite things

If I’m celebrating, oysters. I could eat, I don’t know, 20 oysters, one after the other. That’s a bit gluttonous, now I say it.

Cup of tea, Yorkshire tea, with oat milk. And if I’m out for dinner, I’ll have a Shirley Temple.

We’re a bit late to the game, but we went to Luca [in Clerkenwell] recently and it felt very relaxed and the food was beautiful. Desperate to go back there.

Dish to make
A roast dinner is the one dish I’m actually capable of making. For whatever reason, I haven’t grasped the concept of cooking as an adult. I’m just useless. But I am able to nail a roast. And when I’m travelling, you’re a bit nostalgic, and a roast is comfort food, isn’t it?

Are You Really OK? Understanding Britain’s Mental Health Emergency by Stacey Dooley is published by BBC Books (£16.99). Hungry For It will be on BBC Three in the spring

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