Bloody hell, you ARE a Floyd! The words spoken days before his death that ended chef Keith”s estrangement with his daughter Poppy
Life Father like daughter: Poppy found she has a lot in common with the late TV chef
As summer turned to autumn in a quiet corner of south-west France, a pretty 26-year-old enjoyed her first – and only – grown-up conversation with her father, Keith Floyd.
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Recipe for fun: Poppy with dad Keith before her parents divorced
‘Oneof the things I remember vividly was his jukebox. He loved collecting things and that was his favourite toy – it was gorgeous and it was ancient. It used to go everywhere with him.
‘Itwas the best part of any restaurant he had. He turned the volume loud when he wanted to kick the customers out, but it had quite the opposite effect. I absolutely loved it.
‘Ithad all the English rock ’n’ roll on it. He was constantly telling us to put some coins in to keep the music rolling. My favourite was Wild Thing by The Troggs.
‘I’d love to have kept it in the family but I’ve no idea where it disappeared to. I expect it paid a debt.’
Keith’scareer really took off in the late Eighties and, inevitably, Poppy’s life changed with it. At first, she says, it was great fun as she flew around the world with an Unaccompanied Minor, or UM, badge, to meet him as he worked abroad.
But, as his fame grew, Keith spent more time away and family life became strained.
‘Iremember him sending Easter eggs and they would arrive in the post in pieces,’ she sighs. ‘He might be in Thailand or he might be in Norway. We got the occasional postcard. When he remembered Christmas he would phone us up.’
The marriage to Julie fell apart and Poppy says she was fortunate to be shielded from any bitterness.
‘It was all dealt with in adult conversation. I wasn’t involved in any kind of nastiness between them,’ she says.
Keith Floyd never really cooked for his family and kept his talents for TV
‘Ithink they dealt with it beautifully. Mum is one of the most respectfuland diplomatic human beings one could dream of. That is why the separation was handled with such tact. She never said a bad word about my father.’
Even so, at theage of 11, Poppy was confronted with a dilemma. Her mother was embarking on a new life in south-west France with estate agent Jean-Jacques Vidalle, the man who became Poppy’s stepfather. Keith bought a home in SouthEast Asia.
‘My dad asked if I wanted to go to live with him in Thailand and Mum said, “Do you want to come with me to France”
‘Iwas honoured to be asked. They were two beautiful propositions. I must have thought about it for five seconds but it was obvious which path I had to take – the one with security – France.
‘Iremember Dad didn’t want me to go. He tried to stop me from leaving thecountry. It didn’t last long but he did try – and I think it went pretty far, legally.’
Thiswas at the height of Floyd’s fame and living abroad came as a relief toPoppy. ‘The media were constantly asking about my father and it was oneof the reasons we moved. In England, there were photographers taking pictures of us going to school at 8 o’clock in the morning. That was quite oppressive. But no one in France knew who my dad was. It was like having a brand new life.’
Shecontinued to see her father, making sporadic trips to stay at one of his properties abroad or wherever he happened to be filming. It was a colourful and very different existence.
‘Idid grow up rather fast, I suppose. I was dragged around in a posh and sometimes rather artificial world full of celebrity and everything that goes with it.
‘There weren’t many children around. I’d be 11 or 12 and I’d end up surrounded by 40 and 50-year-olds talking business, wine and food. They were the “grand” years. He was such an actor.
‘Heused to pick me up at the airport and start screaming at the staff if the baggage hadn’t arrived in the ten minutes he expected it. He made anabsolute nonsense about things like that.
‘Butthere was a lot of noise, a lot of laughter. It was always such an experience. It always went wrong or mad. It’s clear when you look at photographs of my childhood that we’re having an absolute ball.’
Poppyremembers one visit in particular, when she went to see her father in Ireland and he threw a party to celebrate the arrival of two large plastic crocodiles from Floyd’s Inn, the pub he had owned in Devon. They were lodged in mud in the river at the bottom of his garden, their snouts sticking out of the water.
‘Hiscrocodiles had just arrived and he was very excited. It was a classic picnic – pink champagne, fresh lobster and caviar on a boat to celebratethe return of plastic crocodiles! I wish I still had them. He did everything with extravagance.’
Unfortunately,there was no sign of Keith holding back in other areas of life, either.He did not drink wine to excess, despite the popular preconception; buthe did drink whisky, and lots of it. Few found him easy company when hewas drunk. Keith’s private life became a media staple.
Itwas his self-absorption, however, that Poppy found hard to bear. And after seven years of visiting her father, she decided that enough was enough.
‘At first I had been very quiet and just took it all in. I was impressed, I think, and fascinated. I was in awe of it all. But as his family, we just became part of the background. He was concentrating on himself and his mission.
Happy: Poppy with Keith during their reconciliation two weeks before his death in 2009
‘Everythingbecame so flamboyant that reality – children and washing up – must haveappeared drab and almost unfulfilling. He had what he thought were bigger fish to catch and fry. He was living the life of Riley. It was happening there and then for him.
‘Idon’t know if Dad could cope with everything that was going on. He was constantly telling everybody what to do, wherever he went. His patience was just limited.
‘For years, I played the role of the perfect child – until the teenage years arrived. Then it was very different.’
So,aged 18 – while staying at his home in Ireland – she decided to tell him she could get on with her life without him. ‘It’s frustrating to be the child of a celebrity,’ she says. ‘In the end, I just said, “Right, enough of you, see you next time you’re interested.” It was quite difficult to find a place and a voice in his world.’
Luckily for Poppy, she had the support and security of her mother and stepfather to counterbalance her unsettling visits.
‘Daddidn’t participate in any sense in my education,’ she says. ‘But my adopted father is a top man. He is wisdom on legs. He has provided a lotof the balance that Dad’s absence could have destroyed. I feel very lucky in a way because I have had two fathers.’
Afterthe showdown in Ireland, Poppy stayed in contact with Keith by phone. But she went two, maybe three years without seeing him, she says, as shefinished her schooling and then went to architectural college in Melbourne, Australia.
Even when they did begin seeing each other once again, their relationship wasstrained – until that reconciliation, a fortnight before his death.
‘Itwas the first time in a long time that there had been just the two of us,’ says Poppy. ‘It was a great weekend. He would put Chuck Berry on the telly and force me to watch documentaries about his favourite rock star.
Poppy has one clear regret: the fact that the final reconciliation with her father was such a brief one
‘I was there for four days and he talked to me as an adult for the first time. He listened differently, too. For some people it’s easier to talk to an adult than to a child and I think that was part of it for my dad. I think he was relieved.’
The news of his death the following month produced a flood of emotion – and a realisation of how much they had in common.
‘Itwas like an explosion of past, present and future, all in one,’ she says. ‘I’ve been going through his DVDs recently because I didn’t see alot of what he did. We didn’t have English television in France.
‘Irealised how much he talked about architecture – which is my passion – on his visits to new places. I found it extraordinary.’
Thetwo certainly shared a fiery temperament, as Keith said in an autobiography, published posthumously: ‘Poppy is hard as nails . . . Ifshe gives you a b******ing, you get it. And she’s given me a couple.’
She has also inherited his wanderlust – his love of fresh places and new people. And then there is food.
‘Ilove cooking for other people but I have constantly been surrounded by people who cook better than I do so I watch them or I eat out in restaurants,’ she explains. ‘I love food, especially here in Hong Kong where it’s cheaper to eat out than it is to eat in.’
Shecites a favourite expression of her father: ‘Food is life and life is food. If you don’t like my approach, you are welcome to go to McDonald’s.’
Poppy and her brother Patrick, himself a chef, are preparing to start work on a TV film about their father, provisionally titled Floyd On Floyd. A number of broadcasters are said to be interested and, if all goes to plan, Poppy will follow in his footsteps and relive some of the best-known moments from the shows.
Thedocumentary, produced by Stan Green, Floyd’s manager and producer for 20 years, aims to celebrate a professional legacy described by Poppy as ‘an improvised approach to making television – something very close, in fact, to the theatrical world’.
Alfresco chef: Keith Floyd filming one of his famous segments in the Orkney Islands, Scotland
Poppy has one clear regret: the fact that the final reconciliation with her father was such a brief one.
‘Ididn’t know it would be the last time I saw him. We were supposed to meet for the launch of his autobiography the following month. We were going to meet with Patrick in London and there was going to be a big reception. Unfortunately, it never happened.’
Afterhis death, Poppy and her mother inherited a collection of Zippo lighters and matchboxes from around the world. ‘I’ve kept the matches and I treasure them because you can retrace his “parcours” around the world through the addresses on them.
‘Hehad a flabbergasting number of bow ties, of course, and the worst or the funniest were the shoes. He probably liked shoes more than a woman likes handbags.’
Poppy believes, on reflection, that her father was ready to die when she met him in Avignon.
‘Ihadn’t realised how ill he really was. He didn’t complain. He wanted tokeep on living the life he had always lived, which was outrageously excessive. He looked awful.
‘Hedidn’t want to live any more. He had been there and done that. He had played his part to the top and then decided it was time to go.’
The loss of the future they might have had together made it all the more painful.
‘Ithink it would have been the beginning of a nice journey together in a different situation,’ she says. ‘He had more time, for a change, and I was enjoying being with him. He was fun. He had so many stories. I wanted to hear some more.’