Saturday, 6 March 2010
About 25 years ago, my husband-to-be took me to a new restaurant around the corner from his flat in Clapham called Harveys. We had one of the most amazing meals of our life, then or since, and we have both eaten in some of the finest restaurants of the world.
In particular, I remember the starter of oysters in a champagne sauce, or as Marco corrected me last week, "oysters with champagne sabayon and caviar". Whatever. A few years on, and a few more outings to Harveys, we married, and when our first child was born, we called him Harvey.
Like Marco, we thought it a great name.
And now, several decades later, I am asked to do photos of him. My editor is amused by the flap I go into. Yes, admittedly, he is one of the most famous chefs in the world, and one who has set a lot of firsts, but so what? She does not understand. I have calmly photographed quite a few famous people - Ivo Pitanguy, Willy Russell, Loydd Grossman, even Queen, so why Marco???
I am not sure I know, but I was very nervous. Luckily I have lived to tell the tale.
Marco Pierre White is exactly as portrayed by the press. And yet, Marco Pierre White is not. He is both intimidating and charming, engaging and distant, a handsome man who could be mistaken for a bum, and yet is still, absolutely, undeniably, incredibly sexy.
And I have to say this, even if I should not, but he really looks like a cross between my husband and Ken Dood. You can blame it on the hair, and you can blame the hair for making him look so sexy. And the eyes - they are, at times, haunted, then warm and pleading, or icy and threatening. He is the kind of person you want to know, you want to like you, and that, you fear, never will.
He is definitely a man’s man. Despite having been brought up on a housing estate in Leeds, he emanates the impression of top public school and seasons spent with titled relatives in Italy. His voice is melodious. His hands are huge and expressive. It is hard not to think what he could do with them. As it is, it seems that they spend a great deal of time carrying a shotgun and a string of pheasants. For Marco loves to hunt.
When I looked at his images on the Internet I gained the mistaken impression that his eyes were very dark, whereas in reality, they are a pale brown mixed with the hazel-green hue of pain. I do not know where that pain comes from, but it is transparent. The logical conclusion is that it stems from his mother who died before his eyes of a brain hemorrhage when he was only six. He mentions it more than once, and I have read about it too. And his father fell ill with cancer when he was 10. Also that he was bullied as a child. It is these obvious deductions that point to his combative nature, and problems with women in general.
Re women: "I like the truth", he told me, "I like honesty". He is ruthlessly honest, and you feel that it is a kind of game. As long as he is honest, it does not matter if he is cruel. “If I was married to you for 20 years, I would quarrel with you all the time”, he said. That stung, and I wondered at the same time, what did that mean? We were outside his recently opened restaurant, The Swann Inn in Aughton, while he had one of countless ciggy breaks of the day. That man is a serious chain-smoker. I tried to take a photo. “No photos”, he ordered. There was an unmistakable menace in his tone.
Marco asked me lots of questions. This was charming. He knew my oldest son was named Harvey. I was too startled to ask how. Perhaps someone had told him that we had named our first-born after Marco’s first restaurant? “Where does he go to school”, he asked "And your other son, what is his name?”. Charlie. “A good name. Good names”. I, in turn, asked him what his children were called. “Luciano, Marco, and Mirabelle”. AH, good Italian names, I said. “No, Mirabelle is French”. I saw the sneer and felt very stupid.
I wondered about his first child, Letitia, from marriage number one. Maybe he had mentioned her. I was so star struck that it is a slight possibility, just as I had failed to recognize that Mirabelle was French, and this despite speaking the language. I also wondered about his last wife, Mati. “I was married to a stranger for 18 years,” he told me. “We met, six weeks later she told me she was pregnant, and then I spent the next 18 years working 8 days a week while she stayed at home”. Maybe, but this is not exactly what he has always said.
My aim for the day was to get Marco to look at me, that is to say, to look in the camera. I wanted to show his eyes for I felt that few photos did. In many he looks simply exhausted, or haggard, or nasty, or all three. Apart from a batch of wonderful photos taken by Bob Carlos Clarke when Marco was young and whippet-thin, he seldom gives a pleasant impression, and there is no hint of his oozing sexuality. I had hoped to address that, but sadly it was not to be.
My private shoot with him was stampeded from behind by a plethora of press and magazine photographers let through the closed door by a PR agent from Paversmith. My dignity slipped, as did the slave trigger for my flash, somehow, and inexplicitly, ripped from its lighting stand. Luckily, it was found by a friendly waiter, stuck between some sofa cushions. Now how did it get there?
Always the professional (ha!), I soldiered on, and I did manage to get some decent images that in my humble opinion are better than most I have seen. I have no idea what the other photographers got that day, though they seemed to like squatting on the ground and shooting up. I tried that and my chocolate tunic rode up my leggings in am ungainly manner. Briefly I saw Marco’s eyes flicker over my crotch. Those photos were not good.
Later, a fat guy with a squat lens asked me where my flash was? You see, his was stuck in the centre of his camera. But mine, was some distance away on a stand to keep that “press photographer look” out of the images. I took great pleasure in indicating its whereabouts.
At the end of the afternoon, I was granted one final shoot of six frames with Marco, then we shook hands and said good byes. Outside, someone took a photo of us together and Marco put his arms around me in a genuine hug. “It was very nice meeting you”, he said, “I hope our paths cross again some day”.
As I said, exactly as the press depicts him, but then, exactly not.