Delia Smith, national treasure, turned 80 in June, with 21 million book sales and a 50-year career under her belt.
The woman who taught the nation how to cook is about to switch gear and do for the national consciousness what she did for the breakfast egg. Her new book, You Matter, out in March 2022, promises reflections on the most pressing problems of our times, including COVID and climate change, by the woman responsible for teaching home cooks what our mothers never did.
The Delia effect happened gradually: not so much a national culinary revolution as a gentle return to postwar gastronomic sanity in the 1970s. In the 1980s, curious cooks, already beguiled by Elizabeth David but still unsure of how to deliver, began to notice that the food at dinner parties was no longer likely to be something to be endured rather than enjoyed. ‘It’s a Delia,’ was the response from the cook hostess congratulated by grateful guests on the perfect roast chicken with tarragon.
A regular churchgoer and convert to Catholicism, Delia more than made up for leaving school without a single O level through the award of two honorary degrees, three fellowships and a pair of gongs from the monarch. She was appointed CBE in 2009 and Companion of Honour in 2017.
Delia and her journalist husband, Michael Wynn-Jones, support Norwich City. Even her half-time rant in 2005 at fans of her beloved Norwich (‘Let’s be having you!’) was endearing.
Michael does most of the home cooking while his wife gardens.
‘It’s all completely fine,’ she says, ‘as long as he sticks to the recipe.’
After announcing her final retirement from the small screen in 2013, Delia remains a guiding light to home cooks through her books, online cookery school and cool, calm, collected YouTube videos – the perfect antidote to the antics of MasterChef, an enterprise for which she doesn’t have much time: ‘Food isn’t theatre… Our problem is we don’t think highly enough of it. It can speak for itself and it’s wonderful and it’s beautiful and it’s art – it’s everything.’
Quite so. National treasure indeed.