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Authors: Gordon Ramsay

Humble Pie

BOOK: Humble Pie
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Humble Pie
Gordon Ramsay

To Mum, from cottage pie to
Humble Pie
– you deserve a medal.


In my hand, I’ve got a piece of paper. It’s Mum’s handwriting, and it’s a very long list of all the places we lived until I left home. It’s funny how few of them I can remember. In some cases, that’s because we were hardly there for more than five minutes. But in others, it’s because, as a boy, I was often afraid and ashamed, and always poor. And you don’t dwell on the details of a house if you connect it with being afraid, or ashamed, or poor.

I don’t think people grasp the real me when they see me on television. I’ve got the wonderful family, the big house, the flash car. I run several of the world’s best restaurants. I’m running round, cursing and swearing, telling people what to do. They probably think: that flash bastard. But my life, like most people’s, is about hard work. It’s about success. Beyond that, though,
something else is at play. I’m as driven as any man you’ll ever meet. When I think about myself, I still see a little boy who is desperate to escape, and keen to please. I just keep going, moving as far away as possible from where I began. Work is who I am, who I want to be. I sometimes think that if I were to stop working, I’d stop existing.

This, then, is the story of that journey – so far. I’m just forty-one, and it seems, even to me, such an amazing and long journey in such a short time.

Will I ever get there? You tell me.

Chapter One

The first thing I can remember? The Barras in Glasgow. It’s a market – the roughest, most weird place, full of second-hand shit. In a sense, I had a Barras kind of a childhood.

Until I was six months old, we lived in Bridge of Weir, a comfortable, leafy place just outside Glasgow. Dad, who’d swum for Scotland at the age of fifteen, was a swimming baths manager there. After that, we moved to his home town, Port Glasgow, where he was to manage another pool. Everything would have been fine had he been able to keep his mouth shut, but Dad was a hard-drinking womanizer and competitive, as much with his children as with anyone else. And he was gobby, very gobby.

Mum is softer, more innocent, though tough underneath. She’s had to be. I was named after my father, but I look more like her – the fair hair,
the squashy face. I have her strength, too – the ability to keep going, no matter what life throws at me.

Mum can’t remember her mother at all – my grandmother died when she was just twenty-six, and Mum wound up in a children’s home.

At sixteen, she began training as a nurse. One Monday night, she got a pass so that she could go dancing with a girlfriend of hers. A man asked Mum to dance, and that was my father. He played in the band, and she thought he was a superstar.

When she turned seventeen, they married – on 31 January 1964 in Glasgow Registry Office. There were no guests, no white dress for her, and nothing doing afterwards, not even a drink. His father was a church elder. Kissing and cuddling were strictly forbidden. About two weeks after she was married, Mum’s mother-in-law asked Mum if she was expecting a baby.

‘No, I’m not,’ said Mum, a bit put out.

‘Then why did you go and get married?’ asked her mother-in-law.

I’ve often asked Mum this question myself. I’m glad I’m here, of course, but my father was such a bastard that it’s hard not to wonder why she stayed with him. Her answer is always the same.

‘He wanted to get married, and I thought, “Oh, it would be nice to have my own home and my own children”.’

Ten months later, my sister Diane came along and Dad got the job at a children’s home in Bridge of Weir. According to Mum, it was lovely. Then it started – the drinking and the temper. He would slap her about.

Next was the job in Port Glasgow, but Dad was all over the place. ‘Fed up,’ he used to call it. And the womanizing got steadily worse. By now, Mum was pregnant with my brother, Ronnie. One morning, Dad came home and said that his car had been stolen. It was complete bollocks. What had actually happened was that he’d been with a woman, had a few drinks, and knocked down an old man in what amounted to a hit-and-run. We had to leave, literally, overnight.

My older sister, Diane, was toddling, I was in a pushchair, and Mum was pregnant. But did he care? No. It was straight on the train to Birmingham, and who knows why. It could just as easily have been Newcastle or Liverpool.

We found a room in a shared house. Amazingly, Dad only got probation and a fine for the hit-and-run, and he soon picked up a job as a welder and joined an Irish band. All the usual kinds of women were soon hanging on to his
every word, and if he went out on a Friday night, you were lucky if you saw him again before Sunday.

Needless to say, the welding soon went by the way. He was convinced that he was going to be a rock and roll star. We’d go from market to market looking for music equipment, looking at these Fender Stratocaster guitars – the fucking dog’s bollocks of the music world – and all our clothes were from jumble sales. How did he fund his shopping habit? He went to loan sharks, mostly. Because our names are the same, I’ll sometimes get investigated by companies trying to get back the cash he owes them.

On birthdays, I used to get a £3.99 Airfix model kit from somewhere like the Ragmarket, Birmingham’s version of the Barras. There’d be half of it missing, or the cardboard box it came in would be so wet and soggy that you wouldn’t have wiped your arse with it.

Christmas was terrible. When we were older, Mum always used to work in a nursing home, doing as much double-time as she could. Sometimes she didn’t even come home on Christmas Day. I used to dread Christmas. And then the bailiffs would show up. We’d be evicted. Dad’s van would be loaded up, and we’d be off to the
nearest refuge or round to the social services, pleading homelessness.

As a teenager, I used to be ashamed of some of the places we lived – the ones that were riddled with damp, the ones that had been left like pigsties by other families. And every time he got violent, any ornament, any present we’d bought for Mum, would be smashed, simply because it belonged to her.

For our schooling, we were never in one place long enough to develop any kind of attention span. Dad was hardly the kind of man to insist on you doing your homework. Only poofs did homework. The same way only poofs went into catering. No, he was much more interested in trying to turn us into a country music version of the Osmonds. Diane, Ronnie and Yvonne, my younger sister, all sing and play musical instruments. They didn’t have any choice about that. Dad was obsessed. But I never went along with his plan. That’s not to say I wasn’t just as scared of him as they were. My tactic was to keep my head down and my nose clean. When I was asked to lug his bloody gear about the place, I just got on with the job. It’s funny, really, that people think of me as so forceful and combative, because that’s the precise opposite of how I was as a kid. I wouldn’t have said boo to a goose.

His favourite punishment was the belt. You’d get whacked for something as innocent as drinking his Coke. I would get completely fucked over for that sort of thing. It wasn’t so much the Coke he was bothered about, more that he wouldn’t have a mixer for his precious Bacardi.

Yvonne was born in Birmingham. Next stop was Daventry, where we had quite a nice council house. Then we were off again, to Margate, where, for a time, we lived in a caravan. That was horrendous. We didn’t even have enough money for the gas bottle to keep the place warm.

Then it was back up to Scotland again, followed by another stint in Birmingham, and then on to Stratford-upon-Avon. But Dad couldn’t settle. Off he’d go: to France, or to America. He never sent money home. It was up to Mum to earn our keep. When he came back from abroad, we moved to Banbury, where he was going to run a newsagent’s shop. We lived above the shop, and the guy who owned it was lovely. But Dad was on the fiddle. The owner found out, and we were out on our ears again.

So it was back up to Glasgow. But I was a teenager now, and I decided not to go. The council gave Diane and me a flat, and we stayed put. I was doing a catering course at college, funded by the local Round Table, but, in any
case, I don’t think Dad wanted either of us around.

I had crossed a line when I was fifteen. I was going out with a girl called Stephanie, and one night I came back late.

‘Get your stuff out of my house, and go and live with her,’ he said.

‘I’m sixteen next week,’ I said. ‘I can go where I like.’

I’d already been given a big radio for the upcoming birthday, and he threw it at me from the top of the stairs.

‘I can’t believe you’ve done that,’ I said. ‘You know damn well that Mum bought it for me.’

I knew she’d got it on hire purchase, which was costing her £8 a month, and I couldn’t bear it.

‘I’d rather you did that to me than to something that hasn’t even been paid for,’ I said.

He came storming down the stairs. At first, I stood my ground. Then I saw the look in his eyes and I bolted. For the first time, I felt that he really might kill me. I saw something in his eyes that day – a kind of madness.

Once Diane and I were out of the way, he turned his madness to whomever else was there. Ronnie was his pal, mostly, so it was Yvonne’s turn to take the treatment, and Mum was still getting knocked about. She was working in my
Uncle Ronnie’s shop in Port Glasgow, and she’d come in with bruised lips and black eyes.

My uncle would say, ‘Oh, Helen, you can’t serve the customers looking like that!’

And she’d say, ‘Well, it was your brother that did this to me.’

But no one intervened. Domestic violence was still seen as a private matter then.

Next, the four of them ended up in Bridgwater, in Somerset. It was there that he committed the final crime and left our lives – almost for good. It’s a time I cannot think about without feeling the blood pulsing in my temples, though I wasn’t even there when it happened.

Dad had had a couple of drinks, but this attack was planned – not some dumb, drunken rage. He came home from work, and Mum was in bed with a mug of hot milk. He poured it all over her, leaving bad scalding to her chest. Then he dragged her downstairs, and the beating started. By the time the ambulance arrived, her eyes were completely closed, her face swollen and pulped. First, she was taken to a hospital, then to a refuge. Dad, of course, disappeared at the first sound of a police siren.

That was when the social services and all the other authorities got fully involved, and a restraining order was taken out on him. He
wasn’t allowed anywhere near the house, but when Mum went home, she found everything that she had built up smashed into tiny pieces. He hadn’t left even a light bulb intact. Worst of all, Dad had left a note on the mantelpiece. It read, ‘One night, when you are least expecting it, I’ll come back and finish you off.’

Dad went off to Spain, and I didn’t see him for many years. Then, towards the end of 1997, when I was running a restaurant and already well-known, I got a call from Ronnie. Dad was in Margate. He’d had an argument with Anne, his second wife, and he’d upped and left. I called him on the number Ronnie had given me. I don’t know why. He sounded very low.

‘I’m here to see my doctor,’ he said. ‘Can I see you?’

‘Yeah, yeah, I’ll come down.’

It had been a difficult year. My wife, Tana, and I were expecting our first baby. And I was involved in all sorts of legal trouble over my restaurant. Still, I drove down there. There was something in me that couldn’t refuse his request. I got out of my car and I saw this old, frail, white-haired man with bruises on his face, and marks on his knuckles. I felt stunned. This was the man I’d been scared of for so long, brought so low, so pathetic and feeble.

‘What’s happened to you?’ I said.

‘Oh, Anne and I separated, and I had an argument with one of her sons.’

‘Look at the state of you. Where are you living?’

He pointed at the car park, and there was his Ford Transit van. Inside there were all his possessions and an inflatable camp bed in the back, with awful net curtains in the windows.

We had breakfast, and we went for a walk on the pier, and it was so sad. So I went to the bank and I got out £1,000, and I gave it to him for the deposit on a flat. I thought that at least I could do the right thing by him, and that’s what he did. He got a little one-bedroom basement flat.

On Christmas Eve, he telephoned. Anne was coming over, and they were going to try and fix their problems. That was the last time I ever spoke to him.

After hearing that he and Anne had made up, I booked him a table at my restaurant for the twenty-first of January 1998. Most of my staff didn’t even know I had a father. I’d reinvented myself, I suppose. I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve never tried to pretend anything else. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be like him. And any time I came even close to that, I would put the fear of God into myself.

It was New Year’s Eve when we heard that my father had died. I hated him, but still, his funeral was horrible. Anne organised it in a Margate crematorium that was so characterless, it might have been a branch of Tesco. We walked in, and his songs were playing. It was him singing. To me, that was the worst thing. And then there were so many strangers. We knew no one.

Mum didn’t go, but my sisters and Ronnie did. By this time, Ronnie was a desperate heroin addict, and he had been refusing to go. I was at my wits’ end. Finally, about an hour before the funeral, I gave him money so that he could buy what he needed to get him through it.

How low can you go? Very low indeed, if you’re desperate.

I drove back to London and I went straight back to the kitchen, trying to think only about the next order. I don’t think I’ve ever needed my kitchen so much in all my life.

What did my father leave me? A watch, actually. Everything else he ‘owned’ was on hire purchase. He never tasted my cooking.

‘Cooking is for poofs,’ he used to say. ‘Only poofs cook.’

BOOK: Humble Pie
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