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Desert Island Discs

Delia Smith

David Reed Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Delia Smith, who turned 80 last week, has sold more than 22.5 million cookery books. But her first attempt to get published was a non-starter. In my twenties I was fascinated by 18th-century English cooking, she told Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs in 1982. I spent hours in the British Museum reading rooms, transcribing old recipes and trying them out at home. I wanted to turn them into a book. Unsurprisingly, “18th-century cookbook by an unknown cookery person” was a tough sell. “Nobody wanted to publish it.”

Luckily, her attempts landed her a column in the Mirror’s magazine. It only lasted a year, but she married assistant editor Michael Wynn-Jones. “So it wasn’t wasted time,” says Plomley. “Absolutely not.” Next came a 10-year column at the Evening Standard, TV appearances on the BBC and the publication of her culinary bible How to Cheat at Cooking. Not bad for someone who learnt to cook by watching the chefs while she was working as a restaurant dishwasher. I only ever wanted to be a ballerina or a hairdresser, says Smith. She tried the latter during a two-year stint at a salon in the West End. “I had a lovely time. But I just didn’t turn out to be particularly good.”

🎵 The Sound of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel

🎵 Missa brevis in D, Benjamin Britten

🎵 Adagio in G minor, Tomaso Albinoni/Remo Giazotto

🎵 Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon), the Moody Blues

🎵 Pavane in F sharp minor, Gabriel Fauré

🎵 Lief, Rhos Male Voice Choir

🎵 Rivers of Babylon, Boney M

🎵 O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (St Matthew Passion), Bach

📕 Autobiography of St Thérèse of Lisieux

🎁 Writing materials

Listen to the full episode here.