I wasn’t interested in food as a kid. I was skinny, non-sporty and lacked appetite, although lamb chops were OK, especially with mint sauce – the king of condiments and still the only sweet thing I like.
I’ve never once ordered a pudding.
The only food I made as a kid and teen was crisp sandwiches, with white bread, margarine and crisps. I’ve spoken to Michelin-starred chefs after appearing on Sunday morning TV shows and they can all reel off their favourite crisp sandwich, like “Frazzles, white bread, Lurpak!”
I’m particularly good at blind crisp taste tests. I competed in one on a couples holiday in Tuscany recently and I got 10 out of 10 in a range that covered baked 20p Tangy Toms up to gourmet sweet chilli Kettles.
I dislike strangers or acquaintances watching me eat. Eating’s very personal, like a bodily function. My discomfort starts to fade only after I’ve known someone quite a while, so I’ve never taken anyone for dinner as an early date, and never eaten at a charity dinner or on a plane.
There’s a stigma attached to dining on one’s own, but I adore it. I take a book or notebook. Not to actually read, or write in, but so no one will bother me.
At Leeds University, a kitchen was just a place to plate my takeaway or make Smash. But there was a pub across the road called The Dry Dock and students were given Yellow cards, which got us a pint for £1.10 or a Big Docker – a burger, chips and a pint – for £3.99. I was all over that and would pray it’d rain so I’d have to stay in there all day. But I always avoided bright blue or pink drinks in bottles and Aftershocks and all that nonsense.
While studying graphic design, working all Saturday in a bar paid my £33 rent, and afterwards it funded me being in a band. It gave me confidence, taught me patience and made me realise that – at their core – everybody is pretty much all right.
My true food hell is coriander. I’d never experienced coriander before moving south to London and suddenly there was something in every dish which looked like old parsley and tasted like soap to me. It’s a bully, coriander. Put it in anything and it vies for attention, shouting “I’m here, I’m here. I’m coriander!”
I’m lactose intolerant, which in France – without a tour caterer – is especially difficult, because I’m not sure they even have a word for it.
I’ll never eat fish and chips in London – because a proper fish and chip shop concentrates on fish and chips, not pizzas and burgers too, and it certainly doesn’t serve it in pop arty paper. I really like The Mariners in Penryn but my favourite is The Harbour Lights in Falmouth, which has 15 tables and a sea view.
As soon as we arrive at 9am to do The Voice the studio runner asks, “What will you want for lunch and dinner?” I say the same every day: “For both, a chicken avocado salad with no dressing.” I just don’t want to think about eating while working. The other judges seem to have a lot of sushi. Sometimes sushi scares me. So I’d go for the Itsu Health & Happiness box. I know it’s not very adventurous, but I’m from the north of England, pal.
Viewers are judgmental about your weight when you’re on TV. I’m always either too fat or too thin. I think I was briefly the perfect weight last March.
It’s a wasted Sunday when I don’t have a Sunday lunch. It’s the ultimate relaxed informal dinner party to say, “We’ll be in the pub for lunch between 1pm and 4pm.” I see a lot of people that way. And then, squiffy from wine, it’s home for a Columbo which I’ve seen before but is like opium. Wherever I am in the world, on Sunday I seek out a roast, a Columbo and then an early night.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010