Don't mind if I do
It’s not every day you get to sit next to the Duchess Of York on a plane and get smashed in the face by Keith Floyd.
During my time at Loaded in the 90s, I was lucky enough to meet most of the world’s greatest hell-raisers. Few could raise hell quite like Keith Floyd. Few possessed such insatiable lust for life and showed such flagrant disregard for decorum.
By the time I came to interview Floyd in 1996, the hell-raiser was fast becoming an endangered species. Many of the greats (Richard Burton, Keith Moon, John Belushi, John Bonham) had kicked the bucket. Many others had opted for the path of reform, settling down in their country mansions, sucking boiled sweets, swigging from bottles of Perrier, changing their underwear every day and organising jumble sales for the local chapel. Keith Floyd continued to fly the flag as the kind of vagabond who, in the words of Richard Harris, “dared to cross the threshold…to the wilderness where he not only faced the lion’s roar but smelled the breath of his own bad habits.”
On the day Keith Floyd didn’t disappoint. Even though he’s dead now I still long to ask him why he got up from his kitchen table and thumped me with full force on the side of my head.
“Kiss the cook and fuck the barman - that’s the way to get decent service round here.” So says the irrepressible Keith Floyd, holding court at the bar of his Irish local. It’s just after midday and Britain’s top telly chef, the man they love to call “The Guzzling Gourmet”, is already soused to the gills and living it up to the hogging limit.
“These gentleman,” he announces in a booming voice, nodding in the direction of photographer and myself, “have come all the way from London to see me. They’re from Totally Fucking Loaded, the world’s leading sex and clitoris-piercing magazine. Tattoos on the dick, rock on Will Carling, Up Pompeii, carrots up the jacksie, warm spunk all over the curtains and all that hows-yer-father. I’m using their visit as an excuse to have a fucking good time. And a fucking good time is what I’m going to have, unless they start behaving like all the other media cunts that visit me and ask me questions like, ‘How do you fry a warthog and can you buy one in Sainsbury’s?’ Because, if they do start with all that horseshit, I’ll kick their fucking heads in. And that’s a solemn promise. Now, onto more pressing matters...Barman! More drink immediately!”
A couple of hours earlier, already safely installed in his cups, he’d greeted us at the door of his homestead in Kinsale, two whoops and a holler from Cork airport. Still reeling from the shock of discovering that we were seated slap bang next to Fergie the Freckled Royal Monster on the flight over, his opening offer of “Whiskey! Plenty of fucking whiskey” was, in the circumstances, clearly not one to be sniffed at.
“Before we begin,” he warned, “Let me just say that you’re wasting your time if you’ve come out here to discover the real Keith Floyd and just what it is that makes me tick. Because, if you ask me what it’s all for, the truth is that I haven’t got a fucking clue. So you’d be wasting your time in trying to find out. You might well get thoroughly pissed off with me, then fuck off home and write, ‘Keith Floyd is a grumpy old cunt. The End.’ Then sit back and wait for your Pulitzer Prize to land on your door-mat.”
“Just do what you’re told and keep drinking my whiskey."
Over the course of a full day in his company, you get to glimpse a good many different sides of the force of nature that goes under the name Floyd. The Grumpy Old So-And-So is just one of them – let loose from its moorings each and every time the conversation touches on the subject of his fame and the trappings that go with it (“I hate it with all my heart and every fucking day of my life I have to fight against it like a Viking with his helmet on fire”). The Incurable Romantic, that’s another one – given full voice every time he talks about his fourth wife Tess (“We go everywhere to the limit together. She’s made me extraordinarily happy. Indeed, I’m so happy right now I could take a shit in the middle of the road! I don’t deserve her.”) Then there’s Mr Dangerously Unpredictable, who suddenly reveals himself in full glory when, for no apparent reason, he marches across the kitchen and serves up a full-blooded backhander to the side of your reporter’s head (“That’ll fucking teach you... now, how’s about another whiskey?”) Having picked myself up off the floor I gently enquire why he decided to hit me. “None of your fucking business,” he says. “Just do what you’re told and keep drinking my whiskey. It’s expensive stuff, completely wasted on a ne’er-do-well like yourself. But you’re in my home and, even if I have to do it through gritted teeth, I will make you feel welcome. Until I change my mind and set the vultures on you.”
Most of the time, he seems content to play the consummate bon viveur, the loveably raffish character immediately familiar from countless television shows, the laughing cavalier with pan and pinny, slurping back the bubbly, barking out punchlines at a rate of knots as he provides the strongest antidote to mere biscuit rollers like Delia Smith and Michael Barry. “Call me a wild card,” he snorts, as he pours out another tumbler of moonshine. “Call me a hellraiser. Call me a loose cannon. Call me what you like. I don’t give a threepenny fuck. I’m just a human being. Keith Floyd. Ha fucking ha!”
Back at the pub, chain-smoking between mouthfuls of greasy lamb chop and Irish whiskey, the man once described as “the Tommy Cooper of the TV kitchen,” is aiming a large torpedo in the general direction of his own television persona and the price of fame.
“People talk about Floyd, this bloke on the telly,” he says. “Well, I don’t know who the fuck he is. I’m on television once a year. The rest of the time, I’m planting trees, looking after the hollyhocks in the garden, walking the dog, getting pissed, cutting my toenails, making love, wiping my arse with a dockleaf, picking gooseberries, being a normal person just like everyone else. But, because I do this thing on television, people expect me to be like that all the time. Floyd, Floyd, Floyd. It’s fucking hell I can tell you. They walk up to me and expect me to be this whirling dervish 365 days a year. Or they come up to me, these well-meaning bores, and ask for a recipe for game pie. And, of course, I feel like turning round and saying “Fuck off you nosey cunt! Buy a fucking book.” But, of course, I don’t do that because I’m a gentleman and I always behave like one. Except for the times that I don’t, which is very often.
“It all comes back to this Floyd thing. Floyd? What the fuck is that all about? I don’t know and I don’t care. I just wish it had never happened. And, if I’d known how it was going to louse up my life, I never would have let it happen. Because it’s just a lot of shit. Absolute fucking shit.”
Before having television fame thrust on him in the mid-‘80s, he was just another working-class bloke, drifting aimlessly from job to job, wondering just where the hell the fates were dragging him. After leaving school, he worked as a cub reporter for the Bristol Evening Post. Then, inspired by watching Michael Caine in Zulu, he went into the army. In 1979, returning to Bristol, he apprenticed himself in local restaurants before opening a few of his own.
In 1985, tapped for ready cash, just after a visit from the bailiffs and reputedly down to his last lobster, he was discovered, as they say, by a BBC producer who offered him a 10 minute cookery spot on local TV, having been taken by the sight of a pie-eye Floyd clambering onto a table and entertaining customers with impromptu recitals of First World War poems. His own BBC series, Floyd on Fish, soon followed. Fashioning himself as “the first rock’n’roll TV chef”, he was an immediate hit. And the shows just kept on coming – Floyd on Food, Far Flung Floyd, Floyd in the Soup, so on, up to the latest, Floyd on Africa, arguably his finest hour to date, which has seen him holding a conversation with an ostrich whilst frying up a member of its own family, and knocking up a round of bacon and eggs on a train-driver’s shovel, amongst other shit-stopping highlights.
Watch where you're waving those arms Keith.
Along with the best-selling books, telly commercials and newspaper columns, the TV shows made him hugely famous. And, not one to worship at the altar of himself, he seemed to hate every minute of it.
“People always ask me what it was like to become so famous,” he says. “Well, the fact is that I always felt famous, even when I was just a humble restaurateur. I‘ve always been an object of interest for other people. I don’t know why. All I know is that I never felt the need for a big audience. It wasn’t as thought I wrote to the BBC and begged them to let me be a television chef. It was just something that happened. And, when it happened, it wasn’t as thought I was caught with my trousers down. Because I never had my trousers up in the first place.
“Then, the whole fame thing went through the roof. I never expected that. And, even though it meant sod all to me, I suddenly had all these consequences to deal with.”
Not least, the fact that, practically overnight, he was hailed as the man whose kippers the nation’s housewives were most keen to warm under their sizzling grills. As on female TV pundit explained: “A large part of the reason for Floyd’s ratings success is his enormous sexual appeal. He is a piping, seething aphrodisiac dish’ a one-man sexual microwave.”
And how did the man himself take to all this?
“I am not unaware,” he says, taking a generous swig of whiskey, “that some women regard Floyd as a bit of a sexy bastard. I know this because they write to me and send me photographs of themselves with their tits out. And, being something of a dirty, perverted bastard from Loaded magazine, you’re probably thinking, ‘Well, photos of women with their tits out, that sounds like a bit of alright.’ But it’s not alright as far as I’m concerned. That sort of approach has always left me cold. It’s all very well if you’re a rock’n’roll singer and you’re shagging loads of women in the back of a van after a show. Very nice, I’m sure. But I’m just a cook, and, if I respond to women who write me pornographic letters, I’m going to end up in trouble which will be written about in tabloid newspapers which will be posted through the letterbox of my 78-year-old mother and provoke a heart attack. Not to mention the fact that it’s not me that these women want to shag, it’s the Floyd who appears on the telly. Which bothers me intensely.
“See, this is where the problem lies. You have those failed actresses or would-be models who write in newspapers that they imagine somehow that I’d be fantastic in bed. Consequently, I get a reputation for being the kind of man who fucks anything that moves, animal or mineral. Which isn’t the case at all. I’m not driven by sex in that way. I’m driven by passion, love and total, utter commitment. Sex is a good expression of those things but it’s not the only expression. I mean, my sex life is fucking marvellous at the moment – never been better in fact. And I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of sex. But I also get pleasure out of the colour of the walls in my living room and the flowers on this pub table.
If all you’ve got to show for your life is a great shag or a great goal, then I feel very sorry for you. That might be enough for some people. But it sure as hell isn’t enough for me.
“You see, I want every area of my life to be absolutely perfect. It’s alright being a great shagger. Terrific. Pass ‘Go’ and pick up your 200 quid. But what else have you got? You scored the winning goal in a World Cup final? So fucking what? What else have you done? If all you’ve got to show for your life is a great shag or a great goal, then I feel very sorry for you. That might be enough for some people. But it sure as hell isn’t enough for me. I think you need to have everything and all those things have to be good. I don’t want anything to be a priority. I want everything to be important. And everything is like a segment of a giant jigsaw puzzle. That puzzle is made up of many components. It’s only when that puzzle is complete that you can start talking about happiness. What I’m saying is that everything we do – eating, farting, breathing, shitting, working, shagging, living – it’s all totally intertwined. And it doesn’t work if you try to separate them. Which you’d know all about if you’ve ever tried giving a vegetarian girl a lobster and attempted to get a crafty fuck out her afterwards.”
Which is one way of explaining what makes his television shows such compelling entertainment – being not so much about food as about everything that surrounds it.
“Well,” he says, “that’s absolutely correct and you’re the first person to point that out. So take a bow and milk the applause you smug Welsh oaf. Food on its own is not very interesting. In fact, it’s totally fucking boring. It’s been taken out of its proper context. We’ve got all these magazines, books and television programmes about food. Most of them are designed to teach people how to cook who have never learned to eat. If we had a few more programmes teaching us how to eat, we’d be a lot better off.
“You look at the food programmes on television and they’re a fucking disgrace. They’ve been reduced to the level of the tawdriest game shows. Good cooks turn up on them and, in my opinion, they’re made fools of. Food has become just another currency. What can we do with leftover Easter eggs? What can we do with leftover turkey at Christmas? Who fucking cares? I despise... and if you don’t quote me correctly on this, I’ll knee you in the bollocks, that’s a promise...I despise nearly all food writers and food programmes because they’re all missing the fucking point. The point being that, only around a table with a plate of food and a few bottles can you settle down properly and talk about things. That’s why, when I do my television shows, I like to show the environment in which one is eating. Otherwise we might as well go home and have a wank into the nearest sock. What I’m saying is that food is important, but it’s also incidental.”
He once remarked that “good food is like fucking”. Would he stand by that?
“Abso-fucking-lutely! There’s good food and bad food. Just as there’s a good fuck and a bad fuck. Never anything in between. A good potato is better than a bad lark’s tongue in aspic. A good plate of faggots and peas is always superior to bad caviar.”
What about food sex? Does food have any place in the bedroom?
“Fuck off. Not in my bedroom it doesn’t. My sex life is so blissfully wonderful that I don’t need food to spice it up. I’d prefer to eat before or afterwards. While I’m shagging, I don’t want to be thinking about food. It would just put me off my stroke. Now I can see by the look on your stupid Welsh face that this is a subject close to your heart. Well, boyo, fair enough. But, if you’re the sort of bloke who goes round tipping fresh cream over women’s bosoms, and you look like you are, then you live in a different world from me. Not that I’m one to judge. I don’t give a shit if you squirt cream over your undersized balls or stuff Mars Bars up your arse on a Sunday afternoon. All I can say is that it’s not for me. In fact, I’m delighted to confirm that a Mars Bar has never been near my arsehole. And you can quote me on that. For all I care you can stick that quote on my tombstone when I’m gone. Now... Barman! A slight drink if it’s possible. And, while you’re at it, make it a fucking large one.”
We’ve reached the fag-end of the afternoon and Floyd is now nicely stoked up. “I’m fucking delighted to be alive,” he hollers. “Fucking ecstatic. I’ve got a Bentley. A beautiful house. A gorgeous wife who I adore. Some nice dogs. A garden in bloom. And I’m sitting here talking horseshit with a scruffy little shit of a man from Loaded magazine. What could be better?”
Then, it all goes a bit skew-whiff. He’s called to the phone and is interrogated for 15 minutes by the local court examiner about the recent collapse of his Devon pub and the reputedly perilous state of his finances. Upon returning, Old Grumpy Guts appears to be back with a vengeance.
“Cunts!” he exclaims. “They’re all fucking cunts! And you wonder why I keep saying that I want to give it all up. Because it’s all a load of fucking shit, that’s why.”
All of it? Surely not?
“Well, no, I can’t deny that I’m extremely proud of some of the stuff I’ve done. I get immense satisfaction from the fact that people compliment me on what I do. Little old ladies come up to me and say, ‘We love the show, it gives us something to look forward to.’ Or some old man with a walking stick and a glass eye comes along and says, ‘You’re brilliant, Floydie, keep it up old sausage.’ I mean that’s what it’s all about. I do my job and I do it to the maximum of my ability and beyond. If I was playing rock’n’roll and they wanted me to do an encore, I’d sing them a fucking encore, because that’s the sort of chap I am. Because I consider it my job to give people a good time. And, when people appreciate that and say ‘Floyd, you’re a man of the people,’ I’m thrilled to bits.
I’ve done 10 television series. I’ve written 13 books. I’ve turned out more than 800 magazine articles. And all the rest of it. That’s not the output of a man who’s drunk every day. That’s the output of a man who’s worked his bollocks off.
“But, outside of that, I fucking hate every bit of it. So it’s not surprising that there have been times when I’ve hated myself and wished that a fucking big bus would come along and knock me over. Because I want to stop and nobody believes me when I say that. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than being able to say ‘Fuck off!’ to all of it, and spend the rest of my days sitting on my arse watching the flowers grow. And why can’t I do that? Because my pub has just gone down I’ve got a £250,000 bill to pay. So I can’t stop. And this thing called Floyd has to go on and on.
“Ultimately, it’s this thing called Floyd that really depresses me, because I feel it has nothing to do with me. I’m just trapped in this thing and I have to sit back and listen to all the shit they say about me. They say Floyd is an arrogant pig. But anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not arrogant in the slightest. They say I’m a monster egomaniac. But I’m no more egotistical than the next man. They say I’m an eccentric, but I like to think that I’m completely normal. They say I’m paranoid. Well, sometimes I might appear to be paranoid, but only because I refuse to be in situations where I have to sit and listen to ignorant people talk bullshit at me. Then they call me drunk. Well, today I have got completely pissed, because it’s a great day and I’m really enjoying myself despite the fact I have to sit and talk to you. Tomorrow, I might get drunk again. Or I might decided to stay at home and decorate the sitting-room. But I’m no drunk. I’ve done 10 television series. I’ve written 13 books. I’ve turned out more than 800 magazine articles. And all the rest of it. That’s not the output of a man who’s drunk every day. That’s the output of a man who’s worked his bollocks off.
“Then they say that I’m simply a Bentley-driving bounder. Well, for your information and everyone else’s, I’m no bounder. I’m a fucking man of honour. Every time there’s been a break-up in one of my relationships, you’ll always find a quote from me which reads, ‘The relationship failed because of the pressure of work and because of the fact I’m a boring old fart who’s always too tired for a spot of nookie.’ Which is polite, even if it’s not correct. And what would be the correct way of putting it? Well, the correct statement would be, ‘The woman was a fucking dog.’ But, of course, I wouldn’t say that because I’m too much of a gentleman.”
Back at his gaff, limbering up for the photo shoot, Floyd is slurping down the last of the whiskey and talking about regrets.
“I wouldn’t say that I have too many regrets,” he says. “Everything I’ve done, I chose to do. If things occasionally went terribly wrong, it’s been my fault and no one else’s. The same goes for the things that turned out well. No other cunt is going to take the credit because I did those things myself. I made my own mistakes, just as I made my own successes.
“If I’ve got one single regret, it’s that I didn’t become a rock’n’roll star. Because that’s all I really ever wanted to be. When I was 16, it was Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Those are the people I wanted to follow. But, when it came down to it, I was too shy to join a band when I had the chance. I just didn’t have the balls. I’ve got the balls now, but I didn’t really have them when I most needed them. It’s fucking tragic really.
“Even so, that doesn’t alter the fact that rock’n’roll is really what I’m about. It’s got fuck all to do with food. Fuck all to do with cooking. Fuck all to do with standing in front of a television camera and acting the giddy goat. It’s to do with rock’n’roll. Pure and simple. I might not play an instrument, I might not stand on stage and sing. But, they way I live my life and the passion I bring to life... that’s got everything to do with rock’n’roll.”
And then, as though to prove his point, he slaps an early Elvis record on the deck, pumps it up to rib-caving volume, and starts dancing around the room like a man possessed. “Rock and Fucking Roll!” he whoops.
Once more for the road.
“ROCK AND FUCKING ROLL!”
And, without further ado, he crashes on the sofa and falls sound asleep.