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Prue Leith – a life full of colour!

From her sunny disposition to her love of colour, food, books and life- the sun always shines on Prue Leith.  With a schedule that would floor most of us, Prue continues to embrace life. We catch up with her for an exclusive one-to-one.

Did you cook as child and did anyone inspire you?

No, I was brought up in South Africa in a very privileged family and we had a wonderful Zulu cook called Charlie. But it never occurred to my parents, or to me, that I should learn to cook. They just thought I’d go to university and do something like be a lawyer or a translator. I got the cooking bug in Paris when I was at Uni there.

Your love of books and writing, did this come at a young age?

As a child I was more interested in horses and ponies than in books. All the books I read were about animals. I guess that was the start: Black Beauty, My Friend Flika and the Paul Gallico books like Jennie and The Snow Goose.

Did growing up in Cape Town inspire your love of the outdoors and gardening?

I think it did subconsciously. I never did any gardening but I think my love of bright colours comes from Africa. We spent most of our time outside, we didn’t have a television but we had a big garden, went on holiday to the game parks and camping up mountains or on wild beaches.

What advice would you give to aspiring young chefs?

Get a Saturday job in a restaurant and find out if that’s what you really enjoy and then work full time before going to catering college. The hours are long and unsociable and the pay is not great, so better to know you really love it before you are too committed.

And to young entrepreneurs and authors?

To be an entrepreneur you need to have a lot of stamina and determination. Half- heartedness just won’t cut it. To be a writer you have to do two things. Read and write. Read all the great writers, and write all the time. Many would-be writers say they are going to write a book one day, but unless they are writing now, they probably never will.

Your enthusiasm for life is inspirational, where does your drive come from?

I think I’m just lucky, born with a lot of energy and a fair bit of ambition. I like my life and I’m interested in lots of things and I’m generally optimistic. It’s no great virtue, it’s all about the serotonin levels in your brain. Some people are just more pessimistic and unhappy than others. I’ve been lucky, that’s all.

How do you stay looking so young and well?

I’d love to say I exercise every day, stick to a beauty regime, never eat the wrong things, but the truth is luck. Also I am very happy, I’ve not had the knocks in life that age one.

Where does your passion for colour originate from?

I guess my South African background. I’ve always loved rich vibrant colour but when I met my husband John ten years ago, he encouraged me. He hates beige and grey and the more outrageously colourful I am the more he likes it.

Any exciting collaborations in the pipeline?

I’ve got a new range of my glasses (made by Ronit Furst) coming out and a new range of Lola Rose jewellery. I’m also working on some other fashion stuff, but that’s a secret!

What achievement are you most proud of?

I think starting and leading the successful initiative to use the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as an exhibition space for contemporary works of art. The plinth was originally intended for an equestrian sculpture of William IV but he was so unpopular that when he died no one would pay to erect it. It took me and my committee at the Royal Society of Arts (of which I was the Chair) five years to get it through thirteen committees.

It’s been a huge success with the public, and almost every top sculptor you can think of (Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Tracey Emin) have all had their year on the plinth. It’s the one thing I’ve done that I think might be here to stay.



This article features in the Spring issue of ‘Noticed’ magazine

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