British Icon of the Week: Delia Smith, the Doyenne of U.K. Cookery
Beloved TV cook Delia Smith celebrates her 80th birthday Friday (June 18), so we're wishing her many happy returns by making her our British Icon of the Week. Here are just 10 of the things we admire and appreciate about a woman who's become a true U.K. institution.
1. She's taught generations of Brits how to cook.
It's widely acknowledged that Smith's no-nonsense guides to the basics of cookery, particularly her How to Cook books and TV series, are rock-solid. If you want to make the perfect omelette, just ask Delia.
2. Between 1971 and 2009, she wrote no fewer than 24 cookery books.
And according to her personal website, sold 22.5 million copies in the U.K. alone.
3. She doesn't mind the odd shortcut.
In fact, she's published two entirely different books called How to Cheat at Cooking – the first in 1971, the second in 2008. The latter was accompanied by a BBC series in which Smith welcomed a range of labor-saving ingredients including pre-chopped onion and frozen mashed potato.
4. She's arguably one of the O.G. influencers.
Smith's ability to boost the sales of products she recommended became known as "the Delia effect." According to the National Science and Media Museum, her frequent use of eggs on her '90s How to Cook shows led to a 10% increase in British egg sales. She also caused a British lemon zester shortage after using one in her '70s series Family Fare.
Crucially, Smith only accepted an offer to appear in adverts for U.K. grocery chain Waitrose after she retired from making TV cookery shows in 2010. For her entire TV cookery career, her recommendations were bias-free and consequently highly respected by the British public.
5. She's a self-made woman.
Famously, Smith left school at 16 without any qualifications. After working as a pot-washer at a London restaurant, she became interested in cookery and educated herself by perusing cookery books in the British Museum's Reading Room. After landing a job as a cookery writer for the Daily Mirror's magazine in 1969, she never looked back — within a few years, she was a regular presence on British TV.
6. She's super-passionate about soccer.
Since 1996, Smith and husband Michael Wynne-Jones have been joint majority shareholders at Norwich City F.C., a club recently promoted to England's Premier League.
7. She went viral before "going viral" was a thing.
Back in 2005, Smith appeared on the soccer pitch during the half-time break when Norwich City were struggling in a match against Manchester City. In an attempt to rally fans to support the club more vocally, she shouted into her microphone: "A message for the best football supporters in the world: we need a 12th man here. Where are you? Where are you? Let's be 'avin' you! Come on!"
Fans watching the match at home presumed she was drunk – a little surprising, perhaps, given her prim and proper image – turning the clip into a U.K. media sensation. Smith later insisted she wasn't drunk at all but acknowledged the furore did her no longtime damage. "The press were pretty awful for the first two days," she told The Guardian in 2008. "One of them said I should be reported to [the sport's governing body] the FA — it was all terrible! And then all of a sudden the whole thing changed and suddenly now it's wonderful. Whenever I go to an away match all the other supporters say: 'Hi Delia! Let's be having you!' It's really nice."
8. She has received one of Queen Elizabeth II's most prestigious accolades.
Smith was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to cookery. The order is limited to just 65 living people who have made a "major contribution to the arts, science, medicine, or government lasting over a long period of time." Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Maggie Smith, and Dame Judi Dench are all members too, so she's in very good company.
9. She insists her cookery isn't quite as perfect as we think it is.
Apparently, back in the day, TV producers would always ask her for another take if something went ever so slightly wrong. "If I took a ladle full of jam out of the pot and it dripped a bit, they'd say stop, clean up, do it again. So it all comes across as so perfect because they're making me do it perfect. And that's not how it should be!" she told The Guardian.
10. She has rock 'n' roll connections.
Well, sort of. Smith actually baked the cake that appears on the cover of the Rolling Stones' classic 1969 album Let It Bleed.
Happy birthday, Delia Smith!