Clearly not Gordon Ramsay’s five children, nor his wife Tana, who have him eating out the palm of their hands. The kitchen firebrand tells Cole Moreton how being cooped up with his family in Cornwall helped him rediscover his softer side – and even yearn for another baby…
Tilly Ramsay – daughter of motormouth Michelin-starred chef Gordon ‒ is competing in the current series of Strictly Come Dancing, and her father has one strong piece of advice. ‘I said to her: “Please don’t date the effing dancer.”’ Tilly, being clearly a triple-cooked chip off the old block, retorted, ‘Excuse me? Dad, I’m effing single, I’ll date who I want.’ Even Gordon had no response to that: ‘I was, like, “OK.”’
So Tilly takes no nonsense, just like her old man. And just like her mother, as it turns out. Tana rarely gives interviews, but today she is here with Gordon to talk about his new cookbook, Ramsay in 10 ‒ ten-minute recipes based on the meals the family ate in lockdown, a time when they spent four months in each other’s company at their home in Cornwall. It’s a £4.4 million mansion near Rock, but wealth does not make you immune to emotion, and the couple also talk unusually frankly about highly personal stuff, such as missing their son Jack, 21, when he’s completely out of contact while serving as a Royal Marine Commando; raising their little boy Oscar, now two, and whether they’ll try for a sixth child.
For now, though, we are on the subject of boyfriends to daughters Tilly, 19, Holly (Jack’s twin), 21, and Megan, 23. ‘Speaking as someone who had very tricky boyfriends before I was supposedly rescued by this hero Gordon,’ says Tana, dripping with sarcasm about her husband of nearly 25 years, ‘The most important thing as a parent is not to get involved and be there to either pick up the pieces or advise when someone wants to delicately part with a partner. I think you just have to keep your mouth shut…which is something Gordon’s not very good at.’
Gordon, typically, is more direct: ‘Yeah, it’s very hard because there are so many little idiots out there that want to take advantage of our girls.’ Except, of course, he didn’t say ‘idiots’.
Holly recently launched her own mental-health podcast, 21 & Over, talking
for the first time about her short stay in a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with PTSD after being sexually assaulted at 18. ‘Holly has had a very difficult time,’ says Gordon tenderly. ‘Now she is in an amazing position and she has dealt with those issues. The pandemic, from a dad’s point of view, was perfect timing because we got to spend quality time together, and we got to understand what she’s gone through. She’s absolutely fine now. There was a healing process.’
Holly’s big sister Megan is in public relations. ‘She’s climbing that ladder, working really super-hard.’ Dad still feels the need to interfere, it seems. ‘I did something really bad last week,’ he says, rubbing his face in disbelief at his own behaviour. ‘Meg is single, and she and her ex-boyfriend went out for a drink. I phoned him three times and he didn’t answer and I thought: “How rude.” Then Meg found out [I had called] and was furious. I kept it calm – but good for him not answering the phone in her presence while they’re out having a drink.’
That doesn’t sound so bad, but Gordon didn’t leave it there. ‘They met again last week, so I did something even worse. I called him on FaceTime during the date and he answered. He’s quite a cool dude and a smart kid but I said: “Byron, it’s me, NOT your future father-in-law.” Then Megan grabbed the phone and said: “Daddy! How dare you do this!” So yeah. I just can’t stop myself. My daughters’ boyfriends are like vegans: I want to see them once a year.’
To put that joke in context, Gordon loves eating meat and once said he was allergic to vegans – although that has changed lately under the influence of his daughters, and the new book even contains tofu recipes.
Right now it is Tilly who is at the forefront of Gordon and Tana’s minds as she competes on Strictly. ‘God, as a 19-year-old, she’s got that work ethic, she’s so grounded,’ says Dad with approval. ‘She’s studying, travelling back and forth to university in Nottingham on a weekly basis and dancing on Saturday night.’
Some people have been critical, saying she was only chosen because of him. Is this fair? ‘There have been little criticisms about her getting in to Strictly because her name’s Ramsay, but that is absolute and utter cr*p. She’s had her own series on CBBC since the age of 12.’ Tilly also has nearly 10 million fans on TikTok where she cooks, dances and tries to teach her dad some moves ‒ that is, when she’s not smashing eggs on his head in a series of amusing pranks.
‘I can’t dance for s***,’ he admits with a grin, but he clearly doesn’t mind being stitched up by her. ‘She’d say on TikTok: “I’ve been trying to teach him for the last three or four hours.” She would have actually given me three or four minutes to practise. Then we’d grab a coffee and she’d go: “Oh my God, look – it’s trending.” I’d say: “Hold on a minute, have you just posted that? You said you were going to let me do it again.” And she’d say: “No, no, it’s fine, you look great.”’
That’s not the attention-to-detail attitude that helped Gordon build a worldwide empire of restaurants and television shows, is it? Is he going soft? ‘I forget everything else that’s going on in my life outside that moment and I become a dad for them with no corporate worry, and no pandering to what people think, because at the end of the day, she’s my daughter, for God’s sake.’
Are they ready for all the attention Tilly will get through Strictly, not just for her dancing but for her looks? ‘Yeah. Strictly is the pride of the nation. She can take criticism and she wants to do well. She is super-confident and keen to learn. I worry about social media exposure because it’s a platform that is unedited and there are so many [idiots] on there who want to condemn and body shame. But we’ve taught the kids to be well-rounded, thick-skinned, and incredibly polite. She’s a smart kid, she won’t sit there and start processing the vile comments when they come in – she is going to focus on the job in hand.’
The new recipe book was born out of lockdown – how was that for Gordon? ‘For me personally, it was one of the most important moments of my life. No one’s ever turned around and said “stop”. Not for 20 years.’ Who did the cooking? ‘Me. There’s no way those kids were going to let me off. It was like running a hotel or restaurant where nobody ever goes home, you’re at the helm the whole time. Holly and Meg set the table, and there were a couple of times a week when Jack would be on the barbecue or Tilly would want to do something with homemade pasta.’ He even cooked vegan. ‘You need to listen when you’ve got three daughters that are threatening to not eat fish and meat. You can never put pressure on teenagers about what they’re eating, ever.’
Tana thinks lockdown was an eye-opener for her husband. ‘Enforced family time? Gosh, it was actually a really special time. I think it gave Gordon much more of an insight into how busy family life is. He was surprised by how much he enjoyed getting involved in every aspect, from looking after a baby to day-to-day cooking. It did make me laugh, how exhausting he found having to do three meals a day and think ahead; he literally had no idea,’ she says. ‘But they’re memories I will treasure for ever. And I think it’s fascinating how hard Gordon finds it being away, now that he has seen what day-to-day life is like at home.’
Feeding them all every day certainly changed his way of cooking. ‘Lunch is finished and the kids are saying: “What are we going to do for dinner?” So you come out of highfalutin food and all of a sudden you’re left with basics ‒ onions, carrots, mince, potatoes ‒ and you’ve got to get creative.’
Ramsay in 10 includes everything from Welsh rarebit croque-monsieurs to Goan curry and fish and chips that can be made in ten minutes, as well as desserts such as blackberry Eton mess. Is this really how the Ramsays eat when there are no cameras about?
‘My favourite is the curry ‒ I do that all the time. I adapt it my way, which is usually by looking at what’s in the fridge, what’s in the freezer,’ says Tana. ‘We definitely have beans on toast or a tin of tomato soup on occasion, but what I love about these recipes is that they are almost as quick and easy as that. For me, this is the best book he’s ever done.’
Being the Ramsays, during lockdown they decided to broadcast themselves on YouTube cooking ‘normal tea food’.
‘We started one Saturday, got the kids involved, got everything prepped,’ says Gordon. ‘It went crazy: 100,000 people sat there watching with ingredients, waiting to cook along.’ Claiming he could cook the meals in ten minutes, the kids fined him for every minute he went over, with the money going to the NHS. ‘So they’d purposefully sabotage me, in order to put me in the s***.’
Then the neighbours started responding. ‘We got a bit of a hard time for being down in Cornwall. But every other day these incredible ingredients were dropped over the fence by farmers saying: “Hey, now’s the time to promote local. Can you help us? Here’s a bunch of asparagus, here’s a halibut we just caught, here’s a lobster.”’
Gordon is referring to the backlash he received when the family headed for the countryside when lockdown came. Someone even set up a Facebook page to tell the Ramsays: ‘You shouldn’t be here.’ Gordon shrugs it off. ‘There’s one or two idiots who wanted to get stroppy, but listen, they didn’t complain when we bought the house, did they? Of course they didn’t. It’s our second home – we spend more time here than anywhere. We have every right to be here.’
Did the Ramsays all get on? ‘Yes and no. We started to see each other’s bad habits. I’d ask the kids to clear the table and wash up if I was cooking, but their vision of washing up was loading the dishwasher. That’s not washing up. I expect that thing to be emptied and everything put back in the cupboard, but they’ve gone off to the garden.’
Some couples have split up under the pressure of these troubled times, so how are he and Tana getting on? ‘Split up? Holy s*** no, Tana’s four months pregnant.’ Is that true? ‘Tana’s going to kill me. I’m joking. No, we discussed having another baby. I said it was a great idea. She said: “Well, let’s start planning.” So I’m like: “Oh my god, just pause for two seconds. I’m going to be the oldest dad at school, what’s going to happen on sports day?” But it’s something we’d still consider, because it’s been such a joy spending time with Oscar. Just watching his first walks on the beach at Daymer Bay. Watching his first little mouthfuls of food. It has kept us super-active and made us better parents.’
Just to be clear, is she pregnant or not? ‘She’s not pregnant, but we are contemplating.’
OK. I need Tana’s take on this. She’s 47, while Gordon is 54. She says: ‘Oh my gosh. Never say never. I think I’ll want kids forever, but in all honesty I’m just enjoying what we have and I don’t think it would be right to push my luck, because we are so blessed.’
After all that family closeness, how has Gordon found the process of everyone going their separate ways again? ‘Everybody was desperate to get back. Deep down inside, I was dreading it,’ he says. ‘You realise how valuable the connection we have is. It’s been very interesting to see the level of affection coming through on their WhatsApp and texts, closeness beyond belief.’
Maybe the hardest parting was Jack leaving to go back to the Marines. ‘I call him my best mate, then all of a sudden he disappears into oblivion and we’re not supposed to know where he is. That’s hard to get used to.’
Jack’s decision to join the military came as a shock. ‘He worked hard and got his place at university, then one year in he asked to have a word. He said, “It’s the degree, mentally it’s not for me.” I said: “Fine, do you have a solution?” And he replied: “I passed my fitness test two months ago and I’m joining the Royal Marines. I want to be a Commando.”’ So he and Tana had no idea? ‘No. I couldn’t stop him. I said: “Maybe let’s not tell Mum yet. Are you sure that’s definitely what you want?”’
Tana says: ‘It is equally scary and something to be proud of as parents. I think Jack tried university slightly for my benefit. I know he was more worried telling me than Gordon, but I’m just really proud of him and glad we’ve given him the confidence to follow what he feels he needs to do. I’ll always be worried, but let’s be honest, there are so many dangerous things in life that can be thrown at you, from your health to crossing the road.’
Gordon made a programme with the Royal Marines on active service in Afghanistan over a decade ago, so he knows what his son is into. ‘Am I worried? Of course I am, beyond belief. Am I proud? I couldn’t be any prouder. You think of what they go through, the level of discipline and how skilled they become. If that’s the life he wants to choose, then he’s got my backing. Secretly, between you and me, I’m overwhelmed.’
How has it changed their son? ‘When Jack’s in your presence now, you just feel safe. He keeps a low profile. Jack had more social media followers than the Royal Marines before he joined, but he shut all that down for safety reasons. I know it hurts Tana deep down when we see him go and we can’t find out where he’s going. He’s off the grid.’
Jack is super-fit, which is a challenge to his ultra-competitive father. ‘I went swimming with him in Cornwall and I swear to God the guy disappeared off for a 5k swim then came out and did a 15k run. I’m just in awe. He’s a unit. He has suggested that next year for my birthday we do an Ironman competition together, but I’m like: “Oh f***!”’
Meanwhile, there is Oscar. ‘He’s up at 5:30am, then he’ll start strolling and shout your name and there’s no way you can lie in bed. He eats brilliantly, he’s got a really healthy appetite; he’s not fussy, which is important, doesn’t whinge.’ That seems to be a big deal in the Ramsay household, even for a two-year-old. ‘And he’s pretty active. He’s got another swimming lesson today.’ Gordon does get annoyed when people mistake him for a grandfather. ‘You walk on the beach and there’s Oscar on Jack’s shoulders and someone says: “How old is your son?” Jack freaks out and says: “No, this is my little brother. There’s the dad.” They see me and they’re like: “Oh s***.” That’s funny, though. I can take that stuff, don’t worry.’
He also has an empire to run. Ramsay in 10 includes a thank-you to his staff for their perseverance and loyalty through some of the hardest times restaurateurs have ever faced, so what is his assessment of the damage Covid has done?
‘Devastating. There’s no restaurant in the country that’s going to be producing any profit for the next 18 months or two years. It’s about navigating a way out of that, turning the business around and repositioning it.’
Gordon is reported to have put over £7 million of his own money back into the 49 Ramsay restaurants, which hold seven Michelin stars among them. There’s also a new training academy in Woking. ‘One thing it has done is remove the cr*p from the industry. We’re on the way back now: substantial openings coming with another 500 jobs created in the next six months alone.’
The television projects just keep rolling in, even after his quiz show Bank Balance was axed by the BBC. (Gordon in a suit with bars of gold while everyone is on furlough? Hmm.) He acknowledges it didn’t work but says they’re trying again with a reworked version of the format in America. ‘The game needs to be livelier, but it’s bloody hard filming in an empty studio in Elstree. It was a weird scenario. Do I regret it? Far from it. Does it need tweaking? Abso-b****y-lutely, without a doubt.’
He looked out of sorts, like someone in a straitjacket. ‘Yes, that’s exactly in my mind:
a straitjacket. Boy, did I take some s***. There’s so much warmth with the BBC, though: we just finished shooting Future Food Stars, about 12 individuals who have been cultivating amazing artisan ideas. Like The Apprentice with food.’
He’ll soon have to leave for yet another filming session, but before he goes, I want to nail him down on something. Gordon has the ego and makes the noise, but how important is Tana to all this?
‘She’s the bedrock. This December we’re celebrating 25 years together – and what a journey! Everyone thinks it’s easy with five kids but the togetherness needs working at on a daily basis. We remind each other of that. She is the most important family member. Ask any of the kids. It’s not Dad, it’s Mum.’