Abandoned as a baby, adopted, then given up again – supermodel turned TV chef Lorraine Pascale tells how her fractured upbringing has given her the drive to succeed
22:45 GMT, 16 November 2012
The candles are poised to go on Lorraine Pascale’s birthday cake – she turns 40 today – but when she says she’s already had a ‘mini mid-life crisis’ it’s tempting to scoff.
What can a former model turned successful TV chef have to fret about Judging by the sight of her posing expertly for the cameras – all skyscraper legs and Bambi eyes – it can’t be the ageing process.
If anything she looks more stunning than she did in her modelling heyday, when she was hanging out with Kate Moss, sharing a bed with Robbie Williams (for professional reasons!) and gracing the cover of Elle.
The model turned celebrity chef says she has already had a 'mini life crisis'
Her second career isn’t going too badly either. To date she’s sold over a million cookery books – her latest, Fast, Fresh And Easy Food, is currently flying off the shelves – and found herself compared to pretty much every top-ranking TV chef going, bar one.
‘Most often I’m compared to Jamie or Nigella, but I’ve been called the new everyone really,’ she jokes. ‘Apart from Gordon Ramsay. No one has tried to compare me to him. Obviously, they haven’t heard my language when I’m in the car.’
Funnily enough, during this interview, it’s her description of what she’s like behind the wheel that first suggests a woman of contradictions. Yes, she calls herself a ‘speed demon’ and when we meet she’s getting ready for a day learning to race at Silverstone. But what does she drive Not a Ferrari, but a Smart car (she’s christened it Smartacus).
One gets the impression of a woman who is impossible to predict. When we sit down to talk she whips out a Tupperware box. Does it contain one of her trademark cakes
No, it’s a salad. ‘I’m forcing myself to eat more vegetables. I think people expect me to exist on cake, but I only eat them occasionally, or when I’m testing recipes.
'When I’m not working, I can’t have things like biscuits in the house.’ Is she one of those horribly perfect mothers (she has a 16-year-old daughter, Ella) who dishes up home-baked pies every night while maintaining a business, a busy TV career and a supermodel complexion She laughs.
‘Absolutely not. My advice to busy mums is to always have a supermarket pizza sitting in the freezer. I do.’
Given up by her birth parents, who were of Caribbean origin, she was adopted at 18 months by a white family
Keeping everyone – perhaps even herself – on their toes seems to be how Lorraine operates. Her CV is downright barmy, she says herself. In between the catwalk and setting up a Covent Garden cake shop (which led, ultimately, to her first TV series, Baking Made Easy) came a series of traineeships into which she threw herself, ‘hoping to find out what I wanted to do with my life’.
They included a stint as a hypnotherapist and one as a car mechanic.
While she says discovering a talent for baking was ‘like coming home’, she still has the air of a woman who could go into something completely different tomorrow.
‘I’m not someone who ever feels settled, although in the last few years I’ve felt more settled than ever before,’ she admits. ‘I say, “Success is not final and failure is not fatal.” I take every day as it comes and I don’t like to look too far ahead. I don’t know if it’s going to last.’
What can seem like a restless nature has served her well professionally. Privately, though, she admits she’s spent most of her life trying to come to terms with it.
Her background is much more complex than her cookery books – with their emphasis on no-nonsense, homely dishes – suggest. Given up by her birth parents, who were of Caribbean origin, she was adopted at 18 months by a white family (albeit a couple who had lived in Jamaica) and grew up in Oxfordshire.
At three, however, her adoptive parents split up and she stayed with her mother. Then at the age of eight she went back into the care system when her mother became ill.
She doesn’t want to discuss the nature of her illness ‘because my Mum doesn’t like me to talk about it’, but says that it was her mother’s choice to hand her over to a foster family. Wasn’t her Dad in a position to look after her ‘No, that wasn’t an option.’
Today, she clearly adores her parents, who have featured in her programmes. Our conversation is full of references to how warm and loving they are and how her home life was, on balance, very happy. But what happened when she was eight left a legacy.
Lorraine was spotted at 16, and became one of the world's most in-demand models
She was effectively abandoned twice. ‘I’m not sure if I knew, at eight, that being with foster parents was a temporary thing,’ she says.
‘I’m sure I did, but there are always these issues of abandonment when it comes to adoption and fostering.’ In her case it was made even more complicated by the fact that her first placement, with a foster family that lived just around the corner, didn’t work out. Why ‘I kept going home,’ she says.
Another foster placement, with a very religious family who forced her to go to church every day, doesn’t sound as if it was very happy either. She was eventually reunited with her mother, but admits it’s taken time and effort to get to the point she’s at now.
Today she works with the fostering and adoption charity TACT, and says hearing other people’s stories of being in the care system can be horrific, but they’ve helped her too.
‘Things affect us in different ways. I’ve met people whose father left home for six months and it damaged them for life. Other people go through terrible things, they get tortured, for instance, and they seem to cope. I’m quite resilient, but I’ve done a lot of work on myself.’
Today she works with the fostering and adoption charity TACT
She’s had therapy in the past, and still does. ‘And it’s worked, but it’s taken time. In my twenties I was very angry about all the rejection. There was a lot of, “Why me Why did you do it” to my mum.
'But when something awful happens you have to grieve it, get it out. The worst thing you can do is push it down. Abandonment is the big issue. If you’ve had a ruptured childhood things can be hard in adult life. You find it hard to make attachments.’
In 1995, aged 23 and just embarking on her glittering modelling career, she married Count Kaz Balinski-Jundzill, a Polish musician. Their marriage produced Ella, but didn’t last.
Now she’s been in a relationship for two years and is thinking about marriage again, but with some hesitancy.
‘It’s not that I don’t think I can form a secure bond – but it’s always at the back of your mind. You don’t trust that anything will last. What I’ve done is accepted that it’s part of who I am. I don’t try to fight it any more.’
She wonders if part of the attraction of modelling was that it provided an alternative ‘family’ – one of her choosing. She was spotted at 16, and became one of the world’s most in-demand models.
Ultimately it wasn’t fulfilling, and she wonders if it was good for her. ‘I’m not sure how much you grow up, modelling. You’re very looked after. At the time I thought I’d built up this other family, but it’s a very fractured existence. You get very close to people on a job, then maybe don’t see them again for a year. I loved it, but it wasn’t what I needed long-term.’
She can seem quite earnest and terrifyingly driven (she not only set up the cake business, but spent her evenings studying for a degree in food management), which is at odds with the image of the international model, hob-nobbing with Kate Moss and co.
‘I was never the party animal,’ she confesses. ‘Maybe because of what my childhood was like, but I always had to be in control. I was the one getting everyone home safely.’
She laughs when I say she doesn’t seem as messed up as she could be, in the circumstances, but has instead worked her ‘issues’ to her advantage. ‘Even my counsellor says, “Why are you not a basket case”
'For a while I probably was. I spent much of my twenties being angry about what had happened, and my thirties trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life. I’m looking forward to my forties, because I think I’m in a good place.’ So what’s this mid-life crisis she talks about She laughs again. ‘Lots of things. Whether to have another child. I’d like to adopt. Maybe I will, one day.’
'For a while I probably was. I spent much
of my twenties being angry about what had happened, and my thirties
trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life'
Turning 40 has also found her thinking about her biological family, which seems to surprise her. She’s always been adamant she didn’t want to trace them, even though she knows their name. But getting older has changed that.
‘People who know their biological parents know their medical history. They have a rough idea of what’s happened in the family – when people died, and how. It’s a mirror of what might happen to them. It’s occurred to me that I don’t know anything. What if everyone in my family dies at 40 I just don’t know.’
She grew up curious about her biological parents, but not enough to go looking. ‘I’d watch TV and think, “Oh that nurse on Casualty looks a bit like me”, and I’d wait for the credits to see her name.’ Recently, though, she’s uncovered more. She tells me she knows what some members of her biological family look like. How, if she hasn’t met them
‘Google!’ she says. ‘I know where they are, who they are. I could find them tomorrow if I wanted, but I don’t. I don’t feel that after a meeting with them my life will suddenly make sense.’
What has helped her come to terms with her past, as much as the counselling, is being able to witness a genetic link in the other direction – with her own daughter.
Lorraine's dishes are always easy, hearty classic home-cooked food
‘There’s something about seeing my own features in her that’s reassuring,’ she admits. She chats away about Ella, who apparently is ‘much more beautiful’ than her mother. ‘It’s true. I’m 5ft 10 and size ten, she’s 6ft tall and a size 6. I look short and dumpy next to her.’
Ella also shares her mother’s gap-toothed grin – the one that helped put Lorraine on the cover of American Elle, the first black British woman to grace it. But she makes a confession about her most famous feature.
‘Mine isn’t completely natural. I had it part filled. It used to be much bigger. When I started modelling I could fit a pound coin and a ten pence piece in the gap.’ But she’s refused to let Ella go near a cosmetic dentist. ‘She says we should have a deal that she will get her teeth done if I have Botox, but I tell her no way.’
In a way she has her daughter to thank for her TV career. She started to work in restaurants, but found the hours were incompatible with having a young child. ‘So I thought, “This is the problem; how can I get round it” and I took things off in another direction. It’s what I’ve always done, and probably always will.’
Lorraine Pascale’s Fast, Fresh And Easy Food is published by HarperCollins, 20.