Give me Jimmy Savile over Tamara Ecclestone any day

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Ostentatious shows of wealth didn’t detract from the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s generosity.

Is there anybody more tasteless than Tamara Ecclestone? With her haut-chav dress sense, cupboards stuffed with once-worn Louboutins, garages full of Ferraris and, on Friday, a TV programme dedicated to her absurd life, Ecclestone is surely the airbrushed face -- actually, the entire embodiment -- of unacceptable capitalism.

Like Peter Mandelson, I can do filthy rich, and I have no problem with people like Ecclestone having huge piles of inherited dough. What gets me is the ostentatious consumption and the showing-off. If I were as rich as Ecclestone, I'd keep quiet about my gewgaws, and certainly wouldn't parade them on TV or in some Desmond glossy.

It's not only vulgar, but deeply insensitive to those who are paid badly, if at all. Besides, someone should tell Tamara that stealth wealth is far more attractive than her über-garagiste bling, but then maybe she's not trying to impress the likes of me. Her type of man probably wears those heinous blue suede slipper-shoes with crests on them, and wears £1,000-jeans and an untucked white shirt and smokes the type of fags you can only buy in Monaco.

In his way, the late Sir Jimmy Savile was just as tasteless, with his chunky gold jewellery, massive cigars, heinous tracksuits and insistence on the latest Roller or Bentley. On the surface, Sir Jimmy was certainly Tamara's kind of guy. But that's the point - it was just the surface. Sir Jimmy's appearance was purely an act, all for show, part of the brand.

The point about Sir Jimmy was not the bling, but the giving. According to his obituary in the Times, Sir Jimmy was said to have given away 90 per cent of his earnings to charity. Thanks to the £12m he raised, the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital was established. For many years, Sir Jimmy worked one day a week as a hospital porter at Leeds Infirmary. He was a regular visitor to Broadmoor, and even headed a group that helped to run the hospital.

"But what about all my charity work?" I can hear Tamara screaming. "I'm an ambassador to PETA! I was creative director of the 2010 Great Ormond Street F1 party! I'm active with the Dogs Trust!" Chief among Tamara's charitable achievements is her campaign against -- wait for it -- foie gras.

According to her website, and this is hard to read without laughing, Tamara has "personally contacted all the teams and sponsors involved in Formula 1 motor racing to advise them about this cruel food and to ask them to pledge never to serve it at events". Wow, way to go Tamara! Well done! And such a pressing and important issue for you to throw your wealth behind!

If Tamara really wants to live her life well, she should take a look at Sir Jimmy. You're allowed your bling and your cash if you really give to charity, and I don't mean accepting twinkly ambassadorships and going to fundraisers.

What Tamara should do is to take off the Manolos and the slap, tie her hair back, and quietly and anonymously work in a local hospital or hospice.

Maybe she already does that, in which case, I apologise and I shall give up foie gras. But somehow I doubt it.

 

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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad