We Talk to Angellica Bell

TV presenter and MasterChef winner Angellica Bell is on a mission to get children cooking. Angellica tells us about her foodie passions, her new role as trustee at The Rose and why she loves living in the borough

My grandma was really the most remarkable woman,” says Angellica Bell, recalling who first inspired her love of cooking. “She worked as a chef in the Caribbean, and when she came to live in the UK. When my gran retired, she was always in the kitchen and wherever she was I was.”

“We were very close, and I always wanted to impress her, so I’d be cooking alongside her on the hot stove age six, gutting fish and chopping chicken. She would make West Indian food as well as the likes of apple and blackberry crumble.”

These early experiences fuelled her foodie passions – she went on to win Celebrity MasterChef in 2017, and she has now written a cookbook for children. Angellica is instilling the importance of cooking as a life skill in her two children and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Fantastic Eats! is aimed at five-year olds and upwards, with the recipes requiring varying degrees of skill. “These are recipes children will love and hopefully still make when they’re a student,” she says. “With the child obesity crisis, it is more important than ever that children appreciate good food and learn how to make it.”

The book features crowd-pleasers such as tuna pasta bake – albeit with a special ‘secret’ ingredient Angellica swears by, lamb koftas with flatbreads (dead easy, she says) and her gran’s rock buns.

As an accomplished cook, Angellica loves throwing a dinner party. “Food brings people together so it’s always nice to be able to cook for others.” Her favourite dishes include saddle of lamb stuffed with apricots, spinach and pine nuts, dauphinoise potatoes and lots of greens. “I’m a big dessert maker too and love making cakes and pavlovas. For the MasterChef cookbook, I created a pavlova with poached pears that looks quite majestic. But you can be creative with the flavours and use whatever you have in for the topping.”

She is clearly proud of her MasterChef win, although she almost didn’t take part. “I did say no initially as my husband (Michael Underwood) had featured on the show five years earlier and got through to the final, so it was a lot of pressure. I thought, do I need to put myself through this? I’d already appeared on 71 Degrees North, a show set in the Arctic, putting myself through some serious challenges. I then took part in Tour de Celeb where I learned to ride a bike – something I’d never done as a child – and only had eight weeks to do so and then cycle a section of the Tour de France. But I love food and I’d always been a fan of the show…”

The foodie, who is an ambassador of our Food & Culture Awards, has lived in this part of London for over 15 years, and loves shopping in Kingston Market and at Jefferies Butchers in Norbiton for ingredients. She counts The Canbury Arms and the Giggling Squid amongst her favourite dining spots locally, as well as Warren House for afternoon tea. “I also love Kingfish, the fish and chip shop on the Triangle. While I love cooking, I also love a takeaway. It has to be good though.”

Her ideal weekend off is spent on Ham Common. “When I first moved into the area, I spent many a summer lying on the common. I love cycling by the river, and the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is stunning.”

She is also a big fan of The Rose Theatre, so much so that she has just become a trustee. “I did a lot of acting at school and university, so it seemed like a natural fit. The Rose is an amazing theatre and it’s important to me to work in the community and help and support local projects.”

While she may have become a popular fixture on our TV screens with the likes of The One Show, Ill Gotten Gains and The Martin Lewis Money Show, it could have been a very different career path for Angellica, who has a politics degree. “My plan was to become a barrister, but I guess I always had this dream that maybe I could act or present.”

She got her break while temping at the BBC and started out on CBBC (Children’s BBC). Angellica counts herself very fortunate in her career and recounts highlights such as interviewing Oprah Winfrey – “so inspirational but so normal” – and travelling to Madagascar to meet the lemurs. So, no future career plans to go into politics then? Her father is leader of Ealing Council… “I love supporting local initiatives, but I’m not sure politics is for me. I like doing things for others without being tied to a platform. There are amazing people doing incredible things at a grass roots level.”

Both Angellica and Michael are patrons of young people’s arts initiative Creative Youth. “It is about giving young people a voice, and opportunities,” she says. Angellica adds that her teachers really inspired her and that role models are key. “They helped shape me. I don’t think teachers get enough credit. They empowered me and made me think I could do whatever I wanted.”

Looking back, is there one piece of advice she’d give to her younger self? “Stop worrying what people might think as they are probably not thinking it at all. And believe in yourself. Don’t look for someone else to validate you. We need to be our own heroes.”

Angellica Bell will be presenting at our Food & Culture Awards in September

(top image: (c) Leo Holden of Snooty Fox Images)