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TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright dies aged 66

Clarissa Dickson Wright, pictured in Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh's Elm Row, in February 2011. Picture: Jane Barlow

Clarissa Dickson Wright, pictured in Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh's Elm Row, in February 2011. Picture: Jane Barlow

  • by JANE BRADLEY
 

CLARISSA Dickson Wright, one of television’s “Two Fat Ladies” whose love for eating badgers and dislike of vegetarians earned her widespread ­notoriety, has died aged 66.

She passed away in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on Saturday following a period of illness, according to her agent, who said the maverick cook would be “missed always”.

Her agents Heather Holden-Brown and Elly James said: “Loved dearly by her friends and many fans all over the world, Clarissa was utterly non-PC and fought for what she believed in, always, with no thought to her own personal cost.

“Her fun and laughter, extraordinary learning and intelligence, will be missed always, by so many of us.”

One half of the Two Fat

Ladies TV show with the late Jennifer Paterson, the chef also ran a bookshop on West Bow, near Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, called the Cook’s Bookshop, after moving to Scotland in the late 1980s, to live alone in a cottage near Musselburgh.

The bookshop was closed after eight years in 2004, after the chef was declared bankrupt for the third time. She had inherited more than £1 million and co-wrote several successful books following her BBC series but had been forced to file for bankruptcy after amassing more than £90,000 of debts.

She was also the first woman to hold the post of rector of the University of Aberdeen, for six years from 1998, and caused controversy when she encouraged debt-ridden students to declare themselves bankrupt as she had done.

A spokesman for the university said: “She brought her individualism and style to many University of Aberdeen events – including the creation of a medieval feast in support of student hardship funds.

“Our former rector was very popular with the student body, bringing to this role an incisiveness which reflected her former career as a barrister.”

Dickson Wright, a former Scotland on Sunday food columnist who left the legal profession after just a handful of years at the bar due to her struggle with alcoholism, was spotted by TV producer Patricia Llewellyn, who introduced her to Paterson and mooted the idea of a joint TV programme.

The pair, who were known for their rich cooking and making fun of vegetarians, were often pictured in their motorbike and sidecar before the show came to an end following the death of Paterson in 1999.

Ms Llewellyn said: “Clarissa was a marvellous cook and hugely knowledgable about food and food history. She was possessed of a formidable intelligence, and held strong opinions – a powerful combination that made her a commanding presence on television.

“She had a fiery temper. We called her ‘Krakatoa’ on location, because if you didn’t notice the rumbling, you could find yourself in trouble.”

She added: “She was a kind, generous and loyal friend. I will miss her terribly, as will people all over the world who loved her television programmes, her food and her passion.”

Her agents said Dickson Wright’s forthcoming birthday in June would have marked her 27th anniversary of giving up alcohol.

They added she had been “endlessly touched and impressed” during her time in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by the care of the doctors, nurses and support staff. It is understood she had been in hospital since early January.

“[She was] aware of the pressure under which they worked and the fact that sometimes their work was not as valued as it should have been,” they said, adding that she had been active until the end, ringing friends to ask them for help with any crossword clues with which she was struggling.

A keen huntswoman, she was a staunch supporter of the Countryside Alliance and presented a show, Clarissa and the Countryman, with sheep farmer Sir Jonny Scott, in 2000. She ran into controversy after admitting that, in her youth, she had often snacked on badger meat in West country pubs – and said that people should go back to eating the animal.

Her catering business, Clarissa’s Company, ran a cafe at Lennoxlove House in East Lothian – the family seat of her friend, the Duke of Hamilton – in the late 1990s, but the contract came to an end after she fell out with the duke and left abruptly.

Friends yesterday paid tribute to the chef, who recently said she had had “a fantastic life” and had done “everything I could have wanted to do and more”.

James Thomson, the owner of Edinburgh’s Witchery restaurant, first met Dickson Wright when she ran her bookshop in the capital.

“She was always full of life,” he told The Scotsman. “She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of food. She always blamed the Victorians for introducing butter and cream into our diet.

“She once came into the restaurant just as she was becoming famous and did a charity cooking night, but the galley kitchen was too small for the chefs to get past her and she ended up having to stand in the hall, shouting orders.”

Writer and television presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli wrote on Twitter: “Clarissa. She was some woman. Great fun, full of life, passionate.”

Dixon Wright, who was born to a wealthy family in St John’s Wood, London, in 1947, never married, but was in a relationship with a fellow alcoholic, Clive, who died in 1982.

 

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