Tom Kerridge: ‘My mum is the greatest thing ever’

Star chef Tom Kerridge says he wasn't the worst teenager - the police only brought him home a few times after being caught drinking cider - but he now realises how hard it must have been raising two boys for his single mum

I left school at 16 with four O-levels and went on to some random YTS scheme. I can hardly remember what it was for. My mum calls the years between 16 and 18 my doss years. I was just a teenage oik floating about not doing much. Playing Sega Megadrive, drinking two-litre cider bottles with my mates in the park. I did join a youth theatre in Cheltenham and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin, I have never had a problem being me. So that was fun, and the group was full of lovely girls from Cheltenham Ladies College. I ended up being in a few kids’ shows, some episodes of London’s Burning, the Christmas special Miss Marple. I liked the laugh, the camaraderie, but actually I hated acting.

I was always a confident kid. And relatively polite. I didn’t give my mum much trouble, only the odd night when the police would bring us home after they caught us drinking cider. I wasn’t very teenagey or angsty. I didn’t know where I was going to go or how things would end up but I never worried about the future. I felt pretty sure it would all work out. I still feel like that now – what’s the worst that can happen?

My mum is the greatest thing ever.

My parents divorced when I was 11 but even before that I don’t have many memories of us all being together. It was really just my mum, my brother and me. I didn’t know anything else so I didn’t miss anything or feel any resentment about being the oldest man in the family. My mum is the greatest thing ever. I look back now and realise how hard it must have been for her being a single mum in the Eighties, bringing up two boys. It must have been so difficult, though I didn’t realise at the time.

And I didn’t notice we had no money – we still did loads of fun things, we were involved in things. And where I grew up, we were all in the same boat, no one had money. We still have a very close relationship now and I get her involved when I can in all the fun things we do on the show.

After a couple of years messing about I decided if I wanted to get a car and have a bit of freedom I’d have to start earning. So I went into a kitchen to do the washing up . Then I joined the catering course. It grabbed me straight away. The industry, the way of life. Lots of my friends had left school by then and they were doing Monday to Friday 9-to-5 jobs. I liked that mine was different and weird. The guys in the kitchen being naughty, messing about with each other, shouting at each other… everything about it was just brilliant. It was like joining the circus, I just thought, what is this, it’s amazing!

If I was trying to show off to the teenage me I’d tell him if he works very hard, once a year he might get to go on holiday on business class. He wouldn’t believe he’d end up on TV. That was not anything he ever planned for or aimed at, he was not that arrogant little fucker. Everything that’s happened to me was because I said yes to everything and gave it a go.

I never thought, wouldn’t it be good if I got two Michelin stars and my own TV shows. I just tried my hardest at everything I got the chance to do. If I could give the younger me advice I’d just say, never underestimate graft. Give up on sleep, work very hard, and it will pay off. Graft graft graft. And never give up.

I did enjoy the social side of the work for a long time. I was like a cartoon chef. It was excessively mental, full on. I’d be out of the house around 6.30 in the morning, work through service, then straight on the booze. It was work hard, play hard. And I don’t regret a moment of that, it was brilliant. I thoroughly enjoyed those times. And Beth [his wife] did too, she was part of it.

And I went to her art openings and parties too. So our worlds collided really nicely. But you have to recognise when you’ve done enough of it. When you’re getting a bit old for the chaos, the mayhem. In my head I think right, I’ve done enough drinking and partying to get myself through to when I’m 75. If I carry on like that I won’t be here at 50. So I should stop. And now I have a different kind of fun.

DID YOU KNOW…

Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

Having a son has been hugely life-changing. My little man is three now and there isn’t anything that comes before him, nothing. I could let everything else go right now and not care about any of it as long as I could still go swimming with my little man. Before he came along both me and Beth had been very career-minded, we liked working hard and getting ahead. We both loved family – Beth is from a big Irish family, I’ve got my small, close English family – but we didn’t think about having our own for a while. Then suddenly this happened and it was like wow, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’m not comfortable with fame. I find it weird that people want photos with a fat bloke from Gloucester. To be fair, I grew up in Gloucester. There are lots of fat, bald blokes in Gloucester. I find it weird that when I walk into a room there’s a good chance at least one in 10 of the people in it will know who I am. But I won’t know who they are. Being famous is bizarre.

There isn’t a rivalry between fans of chefs – people don’t come up to me and say I hate you,

But at least I’m known for cooking. Actors are famous for the parts they’ve played, not for who they really are. And I have a friend who is a footballer and wherever he goes he gets shit because he plays for a certain team. There isn’t a rivalry between fans of chefs – people don’t come up to me and say I hate you, I like Rick Stein. In general people are lovely. And I do like that I can use my voice to say positive things about eating well, being healthy, or about British farming. I can actually make a little bit of a difference.

I’d like to go back and re-live the day we got two Michelin stars at the Hand and Flowers [in Marlow]. That was a huge moment for the team, for British food, for pubs. And for me personally, it was massive. It was a weird day – Beth was in hospital because she’d just had an operation. So I was driving in and out of London. It was such a busy time, all a bit head-spinning. Then we got this letter delivered by hand. I can remember exactly how it felt. First I read the letter to myself, just in my head. Then I read it out to the whole kitchen. Then I phoned Beth and read it out to her. Amazing.