Norfolk's Ed Balls in new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

Ed Balls is appearing at Stratford Literary Festival

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Ed Balls politician, academic, family man, entertainer and former Norwich City Football Club chairman has been busy since losing his seat and finding his dancing feet.  

After transforming from Labour heavyweight to sashaying cha-cha-champion Ed, who works as an academic economist, is now inviting us into his kitchen and into his past. 

Ed Balls stars as one of the celebrities uncovering their ancestry in the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? His journey into his past features his Norwich and Norfolk roots and an inspiring story of an ancestor, as well as the grim details of life as an assistant ship’s surgeon. 

Ed is also inviting us into his kitchen this autumn – with his book Appetite which has been warmly endorsed by celebrities including Delia Smith, Stephen Fry and Claudia Winkleman.   

Appetite is a feast of favourite family recipes and memories. Every chapter tells a few stories - a menu of family togetherness, famous names and political travails, seasoned with self-deprecating humour.

We learn about the dinners Ed's mum taught him to cook, and how he makes them for her now. “Sunday roast is an important family tradition, but it’s also one I love to share,” he says. “The night before the general election in 2015, when I lost my seat and my political career suddenly ended, I cooked roast beef for all my exhausted campaign team...When I was eliminated from Strictly Come Dancing the following year and invited my partner Katya over with her husband Neil, I chose roast beef to welcome them into our family.”  

Appetite by Ed Balls

Appetite by Ed Balls - Credit: Nicky Johnson

From his early childhood in Norfolk, and school lunches at Bawburgh, (“good and stodgy,”) Ed moves through camp-fire cooking with his Cub group and fish and chips in Sheringham to the meals he cooked to impress girlfriend, and now wife, Yvette Cooper.  

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They became the first married couple in British history to be in the Cabinet together and when the first of their three children was born Ed took on all the family cooking, from weekday favourites to Christmas dinner for all the extended family and some very elaborate birthday cakes.  

As befits a political family, there is plenty of debate when they get together, about everything from current affairs to football. Ed, who was chairman of his beloved Norwich City Football Club from 2015 to 2018 reveals: “I was regularly forced to explain that I neither picked the team, dictated the corner routines, or personally took the penalties.”  

He ends the football food chapter not with the match day pie he cooked for Mary Berry on Sport Relief Bake Off, when he didn’t dare counter accusations of a soggy bottom by explaining they are de rigueur for football pies, but with the strawberry pavlova he makes for family meals in Norwich after a game. “I think there is no better consolation after an unlucky home defeat than a big pavlova, oozing with fresh, whipped double cream and fresh fruit – preferably strawberries or raspberries,” he said.  

Appetite measures his life in the food he has cooked and eaten, and reveals the power of shared meals to bind families together through generations, and to express life-long love which even pierces the cruelties of aging and dementia.   

The book was born from a gift Ed’s daughter requested for her 18th birthday – a compilation of her favourite family recipes. Food and recipes are punctuated by anecdotes of games at Carrow Road, services at Norwich Cathedral, eating with Prime Ministers and pop stars and embarrassing his children (in an impressively wide range of ways.)