THE presenter and mathematician Johnny Ball, 79 has been on our telly since the 70s and now is taking up cookery.
He talks to Fabulous about joking around on Taste of Italy and supporting his daughter Zoe through bereavement.
Where The Celebrity Taste of Italy Villa in Tuscany
Are you head chef in the Ball household?
No! My wife Di is a brilliant cook, and the first year that my daughter Zoe and Norman [Cook] were together, she taught him how to make Christmas dinner.
Now every year he does it himself and loves it.
Why did you sign up to Channel 5’s A Celebrity Taste of Italy, in which stars learn to cook?
I love Italy and I don’t mind being in the kitchen – I cook my own steak and oven chips, so why not?!
Was it daunting coming to Italy to live and work with a group of strangers?
I came into show business in 1964 so nothing scares me about it at all. I’m thrilled that I’m fit and open-minded enough to do something like this. But I’ve missed Di very much being out here in Tuscany for just over two weeks. Before this trip, the longest we had been apart in 44 years was three days. It’s like losing your left arm.
Have you got on well with the other celebrities in the group?
Oh, yes. Diana Moran [former model and fitness expert] is lovely, but she’s so delicate, so if I say: “I’m not doing that,” she doesn’t like confrontation of any kind. Rula Lenska [actress] and I get on best because I know I can say anything to her. I told her a joke: “Two Sloane rangers are talking. One said: ‘The trouble with gang bangs is having to write all the thank you letters.’” It’s always been a good gag.
What food takes you back to your childhood?
I was born in Bristol in 1938. We had a little allotment where we grew lettuces and carrots. Our only luxuries were raspberry bushes, and when they were in season I’d come home from school and get a bowl of raspberries and put a little milk and sugar on top. That was paradise, because there was rarely fruit in the shops.
What is your relationship like with your daughter Zoe, 46?
It’s lovely. We don’t see each other a lot because we’re a different generation and her days are always full – she’s got so many friends. She’s had a bit of trouble and is coming out of that now.
How did you help her through the loss of her boyfriend Billy, who committed suicide in May?
In a text or an email, I say to her: “You’ll come through it. Let work fill your time, get back to work, they’ll all be supportive.” You’ve got to be delicate, and I can’t tell her what to do.
What scares you?
I’m scared of what the world is doing to itself socially, but I’m proud of the spirit shown after Grenfell Tower, and the attacks in Manchester and London. Integrity and dignity means we’re all in this together.
If you could cook dinner for any celebrity, who would it be?
Harry Secombe [the late-comedian and singer]. I knew him very well, but sadly he’s gone now.
- Watch A Celebrity Taste of Italy, Fridays, 9pm, Channel 5.
Johnny enjoyed a large glass of Italian red wine during our interview.
He was the first celebrity voted off Strictly Come Dancing in 2012.
He presented kids’ TV shows Think of A Number and Johnny Ball Reveals All in the ’70s and 80s.