One fat lady puts up the shutters

CLARISSA Dickson Wright’s Cook’s Bookshop, an Edinburgh retail landmark and popular meeting-place for chefs, has closed as a result of her financial position after her recent bankruptcy.

The end for the tiny shop, which attracted a global following to West Bow for its assortment of recipe and cook books, is the latest in a long line of business setbacks that have dogged the former Fat Lady.

Last night, she told The Scotsman that she had to put money into the business every year and, now she was bankrupt, she could no longer afford to do it.

Ms Dickson Wright, 56, said: "If I hadn’t gone bankrupt, I would have kept it open. It never washed its face, I had to put money into it every year to top it up, and now I am bankrupt I can no longer do that.

"I opened it because that is what I knew, it is only a building and who knows what might happen in the future? I might re-open it somewhere else - a bookshop is only a place in your head really.

"I am sad because it is the end of an era, but it is the practical and pragmatic thing to do. It couldn’t have gone on and a lot of people will be sad."

Three months ago, Ms Dickson Wright was forced to file for bankruptcy after amassing more than 90,000 worth of debts. She had inherited more than 1 million and co-wrote several successful books following her BBC series with fellow Fat Lady Jennifer Paterson, but has struggled to remain solvent. This was despite a further TV series, Clarissa and the Countryman, made with her childhood friend, Sir John Scott.

Ms Dickson Wright reportedly turned down 1 million for a promotional deal with a major supermarket chain because of an issue of principle. In October last year, she angered officials at Aberdeen University, where she is rector, after calling on debt-ridden students to declare themselves bankrupt like she had done. This followed a disastrous spell at Lennoxlove House, the family seat of the Duke of Hamilton in East Lothian, where her catering business, Clarissa’s Company, ran a cafe.

Ms Dickson Wright fell out with the Duke, lost the Lennoxlove contract, and claims she was given three months to leave. She was forced to fold the business and left with debts of 25,538 connected to the venture.

However, despite the demise of the Cook’s Bookshop, few doubt Ms Dickson Wright will bounce back from this latest setback.

She has already survived a 12-year battle with alcoholism following the death of her mother, and last year laughed off receiving up to 15 death threats a day after becoming a figurehead for the pro-hunting lobby.

Yesterday, Isabel Rutherford, who ran the shop for the celebrity chef but insisted it was "Clarissa’s baby", said it was a great shame but they had "enjoyed a marvellous eight years and it was time to re-think and move on".

Ms Rutherford said: "We closed because of a number of reasons really. Clarissa has had the shop for more than eight years and I think we all felt we needed a change. I always regarded the shop as Clarissa’s baby, she was the one who brought it here, it was her brainwave. But recently, there has been an awful lot going on at the corner. For the last three months, we have not had a day go by without a large lorry go past or pneumatic drill going off. It has been very uncomfortable and it hasn’t helped trade."

She continued: "It has been enormous fun. I will still be importing books for chefs, I have travelled quite a bit and I shall just give them my new number."

Matt Dale, of the Grassmarket Traders’ Association, said it was always very sad when a shop closed but it was just one in a string of closures.

He added: "It was definitely a pull to the area, but it is not unusual for shops to close down here as more and more shopping is going out of town."

Tony Singh, owner of Oloroso restaurant, said: "It’s a real shame, I bought lots of books there and it was always a real meeting-point for lots of chefs, I’ll miss it very much."