His new autobiography tells how an abused and neglected child became the millionaire MasterChef host. But, Gregg Wallace says it hasn’t helped him find Miss Right
17:27 GMT, 4 November 2012
Gregg Wallace has had the bags under his eyes removed and got himself a 27-year-old girlfriend since his third marriage to the ‘sexy, elegant’ Heidi ended seven months ago. But he’s still bruised.
‘It’s my birthday today. I’m 48,’ he says. ‘I got a birthday text from Heidi this morning. That made me sad. She said, “Have a great day.” I really wanted to text her back to say, “I miss your smile.” But I thought, “I can’t. She’ll just look on it as weakness.” Isn’t that terrible
‘I miss her. I’m still in love with her. I married her because I completely and utterly fell in love with her. We all have faults and we were both controlling and struggled with proper intimacy. It didn’t make me happy.’
Greg Wallace is still bruised by failed relationships
Gregg and Heidi, 30, who met via Twitter, separated in March after just over a year of marriage following the sort of silly argument most of us would have forgotten the next day.
‘Although Heidi ended the marriage – and I’m still upset about that – she was still working as my PA and looking after the kids,’ says Gregg. ‘But that couldn’t continue, especially when she went off and spent the weekend with another guy within a matter of weeks.
'That made me really upset. We tried therapy. The therapist was saying, “What is it about each other you like and dislike” She was getting more and more positive stuff from Heidi, so the therapist said, “So why don’t you both work at it” Heidi said, “No. I don’t love him any more. I don’t want to do that.” So I just walked out of the session. Really sad.’ He shakes his head.
‘So you see Heidi made me really unhappy. I just didn’t realise how unhappy I was. Now my friends are telling me, “Gregg, you were seriously miserable.” I do have more fun with Cara. She’s properly warm.’
Ah yes, Cara Franco, the aspiring glamour model he met at the Ideal Home Show in Glasgow in June. Does she mind he’s still in love with his ex-wife ‘I don’t think she knows,’ he says. Er… right. ‘I see Cara every weekend and I enjoy my time with her.
'One thing we’ve got in common is we’re both trying to lose weight to get fit. And we both share a love of food, good wine and family – but is she an intellectual combatant I don’t know. She’s a sweetie. She’s…’ He thinks for a moment.
Gregg may seem as nutty as a fruitcake, but hes warm and hilarious too
‘You know what I miss I miss the elegance of Heidi. Walking into a restaurant with a leggy, beautiful woman was like riding in my Jag with the roof down. Cara’s a different shape. Actually, at home or in bed I prefer the shape of a Cara, she’s southern Italian.’ Hang on Gregg, these are women, not 3D TVs. ‘I know I keep picking the wrong ones because I keep looking for Gregg Wallace accessories,’ he says ruefully.
Gregg may seem as nutty as a fruitcake, but he’s warm and hilarious too. He’s also looking pretty good, having lost a stone from daily gym work-outs. The eye-job is a success too. Why the need for trophy girlfriends ‘People say that.
They say, “Why don’t you find one your own age” If one my own age came along I would, but I don’t go to bars looking. They come along – to shows, to conferences – and tend to be young.
‘Women seem a lot more confident than they used to be. I was at an awards ceremony last week and this young woman in her twenties – I can’t tell you her name – got on the stage to accept an award and put her hand on my bottom. I thought, “Wow, that’s seriously bold.” I said to her later when she was introduced to me, “You put your hand on my bum.” She said, “Yes, you’re Gregg Wallace.”’
Which, of course, he is: the greengrocer from Peckham who’s filthy rich and famous. Might this be the reason they keep coming ‘Yeah, they don’t know me at all, but only time will tell whether they’re genuine or not because I can’t separate me from the bloke on MasterChef who eats puddings, can I Unless I go to Croatia or something where MasterChef’s not on. Then I’ve got to meet somebody who speaks English. What am I supposed to do’
I really don’t know, Gregg. But none of this is what we’re here to discuss. What we’re supposed to be talking about is the autobiography of his early years, Life On A Plate, which charts his passion for food set against a horribly dysfunctional childhood that includes sexual abuse and the discovery at 14, when his parents divorced after years of drunken rows and affairs, that his real father was his mother’s lover, not his dad at all.
Gregg was eight when he was sexually abused by his babysitter’s husband. It was hard for him to put it in the book. Now, he confesses, there were several instances. ‘It was horrendous,’ he says. ‘I can still smell his tobacco. It took courage to write that. It happened a couple of times. I used to avoid being in the flat with him on my own.
Today, Gregg remains a workaholic. He cannot function without a to-do list and clutter sends him into a spin
‘My mum didn’t want to listen when I told her. She said, “Are you going to put it in the book” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Well, his family might have something to say about that.” So what What a strange thing for a mother to say.’
Gregg actually loves his mum ‘to bits’ and has dedicated the book to her, which says much about his huge heart. She wasn’t much of a mother. When she eventually married his biological father she began to reject Gregg and by 15 he was living alone, having dropped out of school. ‘When she went with Gerry [his biological father] she reinvented herself,’ he says.
Gregg enjoys time with his new girlfriend Cara Franco
‘She became middle-class overnight, and that wasn’t the person I knew. I was expected to be middle-class as well, which was completely alien to the Peckham I’d grown up in. She started to look down on where we’d come from and then vocalise how bad it was. That was where I’d come from.
‘Looking back now, I realise how lonely I was. Getting up in the morning, doing my own breakfast, listening to Capital Radio. Getting on the train and no one caring about anything going on in my life. Then when I moved into a flat, Mum brought a box of food as if to say, “Right, you’re on your own now.” I ask you, a food parcel.
‘The lowest bits for me are those teenage years, waking up and thinking, “S***, I’ve really messed this up. I’m in a bad place. Times like when I’d be on the Tube with split shoes, no money and a rash on my face. How on earth could I buy a car, have holidays, buy a flat’
‘The lowest bits for me are those teenage years, waking up and thinking, “S***, I’ve really messed this up. I’m in a bad place'
Gregg dug himself out of the mess he found himself in as a teenager through his passion for food and sheer hard graft, working in a warehouse at London’s New Covent Garden market before building up a fruit and veg business with a turnover of 7.5 million.
‘The world of food came alive and exploded in front of my eyes when I started my company. It was amazing. I threw myself into it to such a degree it almost killed me. The thing I struggled with for a long time, and I still feel with MasterChef, is that people look at me and think, “He’s just an oik” – which I am – “so he shouldn’t be there.”’
Today, Gregg remains a workaholic. He cannot function without a to-do list and clutter sends him into a spin. He employs a PA, a nanny to help with his two teenage children and a ‘home economist’, which I guess means a cook. Gregg dotes on his kids. ‘One of the good things about me making money, surely, is that my children won’t have to. If they want to go off and be camel farmers in Yemen, let them.
‘I’ll fund achievement, and achievement doesn’t have to be financial. What I won’t fund is Xbox playing. I want them to go to university and get decent degrees. I want them to have loads of parties, loads of sex, loads of booze and play sport. That’s all I ask. Then, if they want a completely alternative lifestyle, that’s fine by me.
Greg's book Life On A Plate: The Autobiography is out now
‘In fact, the thought of locking them away in some corporate world scares the hell out of me. I don’t think ambitious men are ever happy. If you’re ambitious it means you want more, if you want more it means you’re dissatisfied.
'I think ambition is a curse. Money doesn’t make you happy – but you can at least afford loads of staff to investigate why.’ He pauses, then adds, ‘I go to therapy now, what do you think’ Does he need to ask
‘The therapist asked me where I pictured myself. I said, “On an old, very warm sofa with corduroys, a cardigan, a checked shirt and a big history book. There’s rugby on the television and a nice lady who’s there if I need her.” She said, “I love that vision. That’s what you should go after, but the women you’re picking are at odds with this vision because you’re picking them like a car, and until you come to terms with this you’re never going to be happy.”’
Will he come to terms with it He pulls a face. ‘My mum is now on her fourth marriage. I’m a chip off the old block, aren’t I We love a few marriages, us Wallaces.’
Lunch is over, which is a shame. This ‘fat bloke from the telly’ – his words – has a gift for laughter, whether he means to or not. ‘You know,’ he says as we leave. ‘If you were 30 we’d be married now.’ He just can’t help himself.
Life On A Plate: The Autobiography is out now (Orion, 18.99).