Ainsley Harriott returns with a new series of Ready Steady Cook on BBC Two this week. The 52-year-old, also known for his work on Can't Cook, Won't Cook, made the switch from chef to presenter on Ready Steady Cook in 2000, taking over from Fern Britton.
He is married to costume designer Clare, and they have two children.
READY STEADY HAS BEEN GOING A LONG TIME HASN'T IT?
It's amazing, isn't it. Every couple of years I think, 'That'll be it now, we've had an amazing run', and then it gets recommissioned for another run, which is always amazing. I'm so close to the show now - I did the original pilot with Brian Turner in 1994, and here I am now, presenting it.
DO YOU WISH YOU WERE STILL COOKING ON IT?
Well I do think, 'I must get back to my cooking', but I do love presenting the show. It was a major decision to change over, but I'd come back from the States in 1999 where I'd had my own talk show on NBC, and that had gone very well. I was offered Ready Steady Cook and I thought it'd only be for a couple of years. It's been delightful.
DOING SO MUCH LIVE TV, ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE IN FRONT OF CAMERA WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR NORMAL COOKING SERIES?
It's like anything, the more experience you get, the better you become. I saw Fern Britton being interviewed recently and she was saying she's done 25 years in the business, but loves it because it means you get better at it. I've been around 14 or 15 years now, and I'd like to think that means I'm better than I was. I certainly feel more comfortable.
WHY IS THE SHOW SO CONSISTENT?
Well, it's not an expensive format for a start, so that helps, but the main thing is that producers realised a long time back that the daytime audience is incredibly loyal. In the evening, people go off and so many other things - they're out, or watching DVDs or on the internet, but people in during the day often watch TV. Our early-evening slot has been really good to us. We're a friendly show too, nothing offensive and that's quite comforting. I have people saying to me that they have us on in the background even if they're not watching. That sounds bad, but I think it's great.
DO YOU THINK THERE'LL BE A CHANGE TO THE FORMAT?
There are certain tweaks, but I think the show's format is its strongest point. It's one of the reasons the format has been sold all over the world, because it's two chefs competing against the clock, lots of lovely ideas and that's about it. There are the three different bags now - the budget bag, classic and gourmet bag - but it's all about the guests and the ideas the chefs have. It's a live studio audience too, which is a rare thing these days - 3,000 tickets for the show went within two days when we advertised them on the website.
HOW IS IT FILMED?
We film up at the BBC, and we do three episodes a day. Once you have a studio set up, you have to get the shows made quickly. Everything has to be cost-effective these days. My wife works on Eggheads, and they do five episodes a day, so it's not as bad as that.
DO YOU LIKE IT WHEN THINGS GO WRONG?
Yes, to be honest, it's nice to see now and again. Things don't go quite right, or a chef burns something - they'll always say 'dark brown caramelisation' rather than burned though - or a contestant gets it wrong. My favourite is when I'm talking to a contestant and they'll say 'Owww!', so I leave them and then go back and they're covered in blue plasters because they've cut themselves.
YOU'VE GOT CELEBRITY COUPLES IN THIS SERIES. WHO IS ON?
Stavros Flatley are on, they're always good value. They danced for us. Nigel Planer and Brian Conley are on - Brian always wants to give me a kiss when he sees me. Aled Jones and Faryl Smith were on, and Faryl was just amazing. Ray Quinn and his girlfriend Emma Stephens were on, the stars of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert and Grumpy Old Women, Wendi Peters and Jenni Eclair too, who doesn't cook, so that was a lot of fun.
DO YOU THINK YOU'LL EVER LEAVE THE SHOW?
It's hard to say. In light of how TV has changed, I don't know how many opportunities there are out there. Terrestrial TV is still the strongest, even with digital now, and there aren't many shows like Ready Steady Cook. I would need to be offered something good to leave. I've not been lured into any of the reality stuff, and I'm very happy doing what I'm doing now.
DO YOU WATCH MUCH OTHER FOOD TV?
I don't watch that much, to be honest. I'm pretty clued up when it comes to cooking, so I don't feel the need to watch them to be inspired. I really like watching Simon Rimmer on Something For The Weekend because it's very relaxed and informative. That's good, and I'll occasionally watch Come Dine With Me just for the humour. They try to be so posh and clever, but make such awful food. I used to like MasterChef too, but it's kind of been done now.