There ain’t nothing like a Dame!

by Handy Mag
Published: Last Updated on

She’s cooking royalty: having risen through the royal honours ranks from OBE to CBE and then a DBE in 2020, Dame Prue Leith is best known to millions as one half of the judges who gets to crown the winner on TV’s jewel-in-the-crown baking show.

It was with much fanfare that Prue Leith was announced as the new judge on The Great British Bake Off in 2017, replacing Mary Berry and starring alongside fellow judge Paul Hollywood.

Having begun her career in the food industry in the 1960s as a caterer, Prue, 83, has revealed that Bake Off is her “dream job”, adding: “It’s the nicest possible job, isn’t it? All we do is walk on, eat cake, say what we think, walk off.” It’s not without its challenges though. Prue is delighted that This Morning’s Alison Hammond is joining the show alongside Noel Fielding as the replacement for Matt Lucas. Working alongside Paul, Noel and Matt, she admits: “The problem for me is that I’m such a different generation from those three men that I never get their famous Bake Off innuendos. They can go into hysterics about the sausage. They’re like four-year-olds. So, I’m looking forward to having a woman around.”

A new batch of fans

It’s been a busy year or so for Dame Prue, who in September 2022 saw the relaunch of her updated autobiography, I’ll Try Anything Once. It was originally published as Relish in 2017, when Prue had just joined the show. The riveting memoir tells the story of her incredible appetite for life, from her childhood in South Africa to becoming a Dame in the 2020 New Year’s Honours list.

There’s also been a house move for Prue and her second husband former fashion designer John Playfair, whom she married in 2016. She sold the family’s house in the Cotswolds, building her dream retirement home with John, situated next door to her old home of 45 years.

Prue colours

When she moved to the UK, Prue become the first woman to open a high-end restaurant in London, Leith’s, which went on to gain a Michelin star. Alongside her continued involvement with the prestigious Leith’s School of Food and Wine, which she established in 1975, she keeps on top of her property and online business. Then there’s also been the launch of her vibrant and joyful tableware collection in collaboration with homeware brand BlissHome (available exclusively on www.uniqueandunity.co.uk), joining The Great American Baking Show (the US version of Bake Off), and her 34-date UK one-woman show, Nothing in Moderation, until April this year, and then in the US.

Downtime for Prue is spent with her family. She and John have ten grandchildren between them – while Prue has children from her first husband, Rayne Kruger, whom she was married to until his death in 2002. They had a son Danny Kruger in 1974, who is MP for Devizes, and later adopted daughter Li Da, a London-based film maker, from Cambodia when she was sixteen months old.

While Prue’s fortunes have continued to rise since joining Bake Off in 2017, she has had a colourful life, not without its fair share of ups and downs. Her privileged childhood in South Africa led to her exploits as a Swinging Sixties It Girl in London, where she had the band The Hollies as her lodgers, and her £15-million one-woman catering empire.

Journey of discovery

It wasn’t until Prue left her native South Africa with a degree from Cape Town University to go to the Sorbonne in Paris, that she first discovered her love of food.

“Nobody ever thought that a white girl should learn to cook: tremendously racist. It wasn’t until I went to Paris to learn French that I suddenly realised it was something I could do too.” Clearly not a skill she’s learnt from her mother Peggy. Says Prue: “She was the worst cook in the world. But my very first book, Leith’s All-Party Cookbook, had the dedication, ‘For my mother, who can’t cook for toffee, but gave marvellous parties anyway.’ I wanted to make the point that food isn’t the only thing that goes into a party – your friends have not come to judge you.”

The nation saw celebrations galore to mark the coronation of King Charles III in May. No stranger to mixing with members of the royal family, Dame Prue recently joined the Duke of Edinburgh, along with faith leaders, at Westminster Abbey, for a special Coronation Big Lunch – where the Duke ruled out a ‘bake off’, as he brought along a coronation quiche, baked by Buckingham Palace staff. The coronation quiche – the recipe chosen by the King and Queen – was given Dame Prue’s stamp of approval, praising the bake as “absolutely delicious”. As the Duke cut her a slice of the quiche, she joked: “It better taste as good as it sounds.”

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