James Martin: “Prince Charles rang me up and asked if I could come in for a meeting”

The Saturday Kitchen chef on a royal crusade, guilty pleasures and what we can learn from Americans


James Martin must be the most hard-working chef on TV. This week has seen him spicing up NHS grub in Operation Hospital Food, serving up banter and sloppy omelettes in Saturday Kitchen, and on Sunday he’ll be gobbling cakes galore in his new travelogue James Martin’s United Cakes of America.


Happily, he still found five minutes to have a chat with RadioTimes.com…

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I like the “romana” pizzas from Pizza Express with extra pepperoni and mozzarella. 

If they were to make a film of your life, who would you choose to play you?

George Clooney, obviously! Or I’d see if Jamie Oliver was free…

What do you watch religiously?

I don’t miss Corrie. As a northerner I was weaned on it. I never bother calling my mother around 7.30pm because the phone is off the hook.

What was your childhood favourite?

Airwolf. I can hum the theme tune now. [Hums it beautifully for RT.com’s benefit.] It’s probably the reason I’m training to be a helicopter pilot at the moment.

Who was your first crush?

Do you remember that Athena calendar which had a picture of a tennis player with her bum hanging out? I had a poster of her but all my others were of Lamborghinis and Ferraris. I was too busy watching Knight Rider and converting my BMX to think about girls.

Who’s made you lose your appetite on Saturday Kitchen?

Peter Andre. There were more people with him than it takes to make the show: three people to dress him, two to do his makeup, one to do his hair… I’ve never seen anything like it. When he was finally ready, he asked me – of all people – if he looked all right. I felt like saying “well, you’re still a bit of a short arse.”

Who would you invite back?

Joan Collins. We had her on the week after Peter Andre. There she is, a multi, multi-millionaire who’s sold nine hundred million books and she wanders into the studio on her tod without any entourage whatsoever. What a legend. We got on like a house on fire.

Do you tune into any other chefs’ shows?

I watch Rick Stein because I like his passion for food and I enjoy the travelogue aspect. He’s the one that I learn from more than anybody.

An approach you’ve adopted in your new show…

I didn’t want it just to be: here’s a cake, here’s another one, here’s another one. There’s a bit of history in there as well about why people settled these. So yes, it is a sort of travelogue, I suppose.

Why cakes?

I’ve been a pastry chef all my life and pastry is a dying art. I know The Great British Bake Off has helped but pastry chefs are still an increasingly rare breed in Britain. People don’t want to do it because it’s very regimented: it’s either right or wrong. Everybody wants to be butch and work in the hot section. But to me, making a cake look amazing is far more inventive than chopping up a piece of meat and serving it with two carrots.

And why America – can they really teach us anything?

A lot. Not just in terms of baking but how they market it, how they sell it, how they support it. Because it’s a relatively new country they’ve got this deep-set love of baking that your grandmother’s generation used to have. It’s miles bigger than it is over here. We had it, we lost it and now it’s fashionable again; over there it never fell off the menu and they support bakeries 150%. Sadly, we don’t seem to do that.

It certainly looks a lot more fun than Operation Hospital Food. Why on earth did you agree to a second series?

After the first series Prince Charles rang me up and asked if I could come in for a meeting and we discussed what we could do to make things better. The BBC found out and asked whether they could join me on my mission. I said “fine, but don’t even think about getting the politicians involved. I’ll probably end up eating one of them because I get so frustrated!”

Did you ever wonder if you’d bitten off more than you could chew?

Trying to get into a hospital has been hard work because they don’t want you there. They don’t want you to uncover the secrets and that’s why the politicians don’t want to talk about it. In other words: yes. It’s been ridiculous – even after this monster we’re not five percent of the way there.


James Martin presents Saturday Kitchen Live (10am, BBC1) and his travelogue James Martin’s United Cakes of America continues on Sunday (8pm, Good Food, Sky/HD 247, Virgin 260)