For the season finale of the Radio Times Podcast, Kelly-Anne Taylor is joined by restaurant critic and MasterChef regular Grace Dent.

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Grace is the host of the chart-topping podcast Comfort Eating – in which she invites celebrity guests to talk about their lives through the prism of food.

Now, she gifts us a book – Comfort Eating: What We Eat When Nobody's Watching – which, as well as talking about everyone's favourite foods, delves into Grace's own life.

In this episode, she speaks about how writing the book – after the passing of her mother – wasn't cathartic, but like picking a wound. Plus, she discusses the pressures placed on women to look a certain way, why Grace has ditched the booze and how an oversized TV had to be scrapped.

This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.

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What is the view from your sofa?

I'm speaking to you from the Lakes! I'm very much the opposite of the person you see on MasterChef in full make-up and a wrap-dress totting around in heels. I'm like one of the Dingles from Emmerdale – a woman festooned in pet hair!

Four weeks ago, I got rid of my 65-inch Sony television. I'd bought the biggest TV available after I'd got a big cheque for something. The moment it arrived, my bloke said: 'Grace, this telly is too big for the living room. It's taking out the fireplace and it's obscuring a window.' I was like [tongue in cheek]: 'Don't tell me what to do, man! This is just typical patriarchy!' as the room became very dark because there was no sunlight coming in. It was so big; it would give me a headache – like I'd chosen seat 1A at the cinema. The worst seat in the house. I had to admit defeat.

What do you enjoy watching on telly?

I pay for YouTube because I can't bear the ads! I love Elizabethan history. When the world is too much, I slip down a rabbit hole and end up watching documentaries on Henry VIII and his wives or War of the Roses.

Do you have similar television tastes to your partner?

I live with a bloke who's obsessed with Below Deck – a reality TV show following the crew working on yachts. I really got into it until one day I thought: 'Why do I care if the sorbet doesn't set in time for the guests' dinner? Or if Julie's bad attitude means she needs to speak to the Captain?' I'm really conscious about what TV I get involved with, because time is precious and it's so easy to lose 86 hours of your life to Love Island.

Your podcast, Comfort Eating, sees you sit down with a celebrity to talk about their life through the prism of food. You're now releasing a book. As soon as I started reading it, I had to fill my cupboards with all of my favourite foods…

Aren't they a happier place for it? Those foods remind us of memories. I hated infant school. I didn't want to be there. I used to go home for school dinner. My mother would make me Heinz tomato soup – in a cup, sometimes – with cheese on toast. It was delicious. And I'm speaking as a restaurant critic that has the finest and fanciest foods at my disposal! Cheese, potatoes, sweet things – they make us feel something. Food works as a portal to things that happened in our lives.

Have guests revealed more because of that?

If I'd sat my guests down in my living room and said, 'Tell me about your childhood,' they would have said, 'No, I'm not doing that. I'm here to promote a book.' But the moment you say, 'When you went to the shops as a kid, what sweets did your mum buy you?' before you know it, you've got this huge story about their parents and their relationship with them.

Grace Dent wearing a blue-green dress, smiling into camera
Grace Dent. David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images.

You write a lot about your own relationship with your mother.

Nobody will ever be as interested in what's going on in your life as your mother. My relationship with her wasn't perfect – we're strong women with strong personalities and we could argue over anything. But our bond was very strong. I hadn't really planned to go so deep about her death. I am absolute unable to write a book that people sit on the toilet and read. Before I knew it, I was talking people lovingly through my mother's death. Was it cathartic? No. It's like picking at a wound. But, it's the truth.

When you initially decided to go into journalism, were your parents encouraging of your career choice?

I think my mother instinctively thought from the beginning that I was making life very difficult for myself. I'm from a background where nobody had had a career. Although my mother was proud of me when she saw me on MasterChef, I think she always thought I would have been a lot happier if I'd married a local builder's son and had the biggest house in Carlisle.

She was a Northern woman born in the '30s – to her, making a good marriage was more important than running around the world. My northern family have always resolutely refused to treat me as a star. Any story I tell them about A-List people will be upended by the cat chasing a Quality Street wrapper.

You've recently given up alcohol – why?

I'm two years sober. I had wanted to stop drinking since I was 30. For me, there was no way out. I was never a falling down drunk person that had to hide vodka in a toilet system. If you are that person, I think society understands more about why you want to quit – they might even encourage you to go to AA.

I started drinking at 14, all through university, then came down to London and worked in the media in the '90s – free bars, free drinks! Then I became a restaurant critic with an expense account. Everywhere I went, I got sent free champagne. When my parents were dying it made me aware of the clock ticking. I didn't want to lose any more weekends or days where I wasn't functional. The moment you become sober, you feel 100% better. Then you have to stop yourself being evangelical because you feel like you've found religion.

You speak about being stuck in cycles of dieting in your book. Has working with food ever been difficult?

Are my attitudes to food and body image complex and conflicting? Oh my God, yes! As a Generation X woman born in the '70s, I will never be at grips with body positivity. My earliest memories are of watching the Miss World Competition! The girls would come on screen, and they would say, 'Julie – 36, 24, 36' or 'Hayley – 38,25, 35' and they would be talking about their hip, boob and bum measurements! From an early age I knew you had to have big boobs, a tiny waist and not big thighs!

I am very careful with what I eat. Although I’ll have beautiful patisseries and jus and stews and puddings – a lot of my job is saying 'no'. It's just eating enough to know what I'm talking about! I think about where I'm going to allocate all of my calories every day. I just choose to allocate them on delicious things.

Comfort Eating: What We Eat When Nobody's Looking by Grace Dent is published by Faber, out 5th October 2023.

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