The first spirit I ever drank was whisky, which Kenny Everett introduced me to,” says Cleo Rocos. “He used to say that it cuts through the cholesterol in your veins.”
If you’re over 35, you’ll probably remember Rocos as the cartoonishly sexy foil to the eponymous star of BBC comedy series The Kenny Everett Show. Twentysomethings may recognise her from a Celebrity Big Brother appearance in 2007, when she stoically shared a house with Shilpa Shetty and Pete Burns.
This Eighties icon still appears on our screens occasionally. However, she’s being introduced to a whole new audience thanks to her award-winning premium tequila brand, AquaRiva (named after one of Aristotle Onassis’s tenders that was used to ferry guests to his yacht, Christina O), her position as president of the Tequila Society, and now, a new book called The Power of Positive Drinking.
She puts her alcohol expertise down to “practise”. So you could say that the late Everett (who, apparently, loved Chivas Regal and Cragganmore malts), got the ball rolling with that initial dram.
“Usually whisky drinkers appreciate tequila and I think that’s why I developed a palate for it,” says Rocos. “But really, it’s all your fault, you naughty Scottish people with your whiskies.”
Thus, we’re also indirectly to blame for The Power of Positive Drinking, which presents ways to imbibe that are, according to its author, better (or, at least, not as bad) for you.
“I’m not telling people how much, or how much not, to drink. Maybe you should cut back if you’re getting to the point when you can’t move your legs,” Rocos says. “It’s like eating – if you’re going to do it, then eat fruit and vegetables, don’t eat a lot of mucky, stodgy cakes that are going to make you feel sick and fat. Drink the good stuff.” Chapters include How to Win with Gin, Why They Keep Schtum About Rum and How to Reign with Champagne.
As you can probably tell, it’s very light-hearted, despite the fact that Rocos, who judges spirits competitions worldwide, really knows her subject. So, all the jokes and amusing quotes are peppered with handy hints.
For example, who knew that filtering a bottle of cheap gin through a Brita Water Filter could make it smoother? Or that spirits should always be judged at room temperature? “If you like it like that, THEN have it cold,” she tells me.
It also features handy tips on what to say when sampling wine, in order to win the respect of fellow diners. If you’re sipping a glass of red, after a pause, comment, “It’s jammy, isn’t it?” or, for white, “It’s very indicative of the region.”
It’s only when we discuss the chemicals that are added to booze that Rocos gets serious. Is this a bit like the horse burger scandal, in that we don’t really know what we’re drinking? “Exactly,” she says.
Her own brand of tequila is made from 100 per cent agave and, in the book, Rocos endorses other independent and artisan products, which she feels tend to be “purer”.
“There are too many big brands that encourage people to drink really ropey stuff,” she explains. “Don’t fall for the hype. Even a lot of the mixers contain aspartame, which is hugely controversial. There are up to 200 legally approved chemicals that go into a bottle of wine. Just because they’re approved, doesn’t mean we want them inside us.
“When it comes to tequila, I had the same experience as everyone else has and thought I never wanted to go near the stuff again. However, the drink we get in a lot of bars, which they call tequila, is only 51 per cent agave and the rest is chemicals, flavourings or sugar cane-based alcohol, which is why you feel so revolting on it.”
The Power of Positive Drinking also contains recipes for cocktails that are lower in more everyday baddies, such as sugar (as she says in the book, “sugary additives turn good spirits into evil ones”). Her version of a margarita contains no triple sec liqueur, or salt around the rim of the glass – thus, it’s less hangover-inducing and its calorie count is reduced from the 414 mark to 163.
There is little muddling in this read, and no molecular mixology. After all, Rocos wants to demystify the more pretentious side of drinking.
“The cocktail culture is huge, but whenever you see them being made on the telly, it’s always men who look too trendy or frightening, like a dentist or funeral man,” she says. “It makes me nervous.”
According to her, if we disregard those too-cool-for-school bartenders, and take advice from this book instead, we may manage to entirely avoid brain-ache. As she says: “Nobody wants to wake up the next day and feel as if their head is in a small shoe.”
At her flat in London, Rocos regularly hosts tequila parties and invites a dozen of her starry friends – “from Derren Brown to Leigh Francis, Holly Willoughby and Emma Bunton,” she says – and, apparently, “no-one gets a hangover”.
You’d imagine that the parties thrown by Rocos, who peppers her conversation with the word “fabulous” and, at one point, in a flattering manner, calls me a “noodle”, would be the hottest ticket in town.
We’re certain that Everett (who also took Rocos, when she was just 16 years old, for her first “naughty margarita”), would have loved to be at one of them. After all, the duo were well-known on the A-list party circuit back in the day, when they would entertain the likes of Princess Diana, Gore Vidal and Elizabeth Taylor.
Would he be proud of what she’s doing now?
“He really would,” says Rocos. “Anyway, he’s up there in some cocktail bar, helping everyone else have a fabulous time. He’ll be rubbing his hands together and saying ‘great cocktails’.”
The Power of Positive Drinking is out now, £9.99, Random House. AquaRiva is stocked at Bon Vivant (55 Thistle Street, Edinburgh, 0131-225 3275, www.bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk)
Cleo Rocos will be at Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh on 29 July, tel: 0131-524 8388 for more details.