A bit of advice. If you’re going to the Three Counties Food and Drink Festival this July, don’t commit a murder – because the most unlikely detective will be on hand. Katie Jarvis speaks with Rosemary Shrager, TV chef and crime-novel author

Rosemary Shrager is delicious. Like steamed treacle pudding or rich stew with dumplings (as always, no euphemism).

‘It’s my absolute pleasure – complete pleasure,’ she says (in response to my opening phone gambit), in the kind of posh accent you could poach with ginger, top with crumble, bake for 20 minutes (200°C/fan180°C/gas 6) until golden, and serve with custard, cream or crème fraiche. ‘It’s great to talk and I’m really looking forward to the show [Three Counties] so that’s brilliant!’

I’ve known her for c60 seconds and already I feel I could show up at her house, unannounced and demanding, and she’d say, ‘Brilliant!’

She is one of the nation’s favourite chefs; she did herself proud on Real Marigold and I’m a Celeb. (‘Now simply sautée that kangaroo penis in a little ginger and garlic paste – amazing!’) (NB: I made the kangaroo bit up.)

But I’m actually speaking with her about her latest book – The Proof in the Pudding – her second Prudence Bulstrode (sidekick: granddaughter Suki) detective novel.

Great British Life: The Proof in the Pudding by Rosemary ShragerThe Proof in the Pudding by Rosemary Shrager

Prudence – talented TV chef (tick);

Older lady (tick);

Gets on with granddaughter like a house on fire (double-tick).

‘Yes, I think I would make the best detective under the sun! Because I would be – I have to tell you – the most unlikely detective. When I write about Prudence, she’s very unlikely. An older woman; she’s actually a chef and she’s a very, very unlikely person. And I think this affinity with her granddaughter, who’s really whacky and slightly alternative and dark make-up, which actually is really funny; it works so well! Because Prudence is very straight but actually very whacky. And what shows she’s whacky are her glasses and her necklaces and her vehicle – a campervan.

‘I’ve always wanted a campervan so I’ve put one in there.’

[Pause – on my part – to take all this in.]

‘You haven’t got a campervan?’


Well, yes, maybe Rosemary/Prudence would make an unlikely crime-solver – although fictional murderers can't buy a simple chainsaw from a DIY store nowadays without falling over an older female amateur detective. (Wouldn’t personally try a lethal pair of pruners from a garden centre, either.)

But I am 100 percent with Miriam Margolyes (‘Rosie…has cooked up a storm’) and Alan Titchmarsh (ditto cooking-metaphor praise), who are big fans of her books. The stories are huge fun; very inventive. And – like Rosemary herself – incredibly comforting, warm and loveable. Honestly, from the second she begins speaking, I take to her enormously.

I’M NOT SURPRISED Rosemary Shrager writes fab crime novels.

Constructing them must be a bit like putting together a recipe?

‘You’ve got the whole point! That’s exactly what I did. I took the whole feeling of recipes – that something wasn’t quite right in here. There’s something really missing. This is not correct and we have to go back and find out. [I should really trim these quotes down, but I love the way she talks.] It’s layer after layer, which is exactly like cooking. So that’s exactly the thing – the layering of food.’

Except with recipes, one rather hopes no-one dies…

‘Don’t worry! They died in the Last Supper [her debut novel] but that was through something else.’

But, actually, I want to introduce another, completely different strand.

Because reading her own real-life story is an eye-opener. If you didn’t know – and she’s an open book about this – Rosemary Shrager’s life hasn’t always been brilliant/amazing/lovely at all.

And that’s what I really want to say.

That – though her novels are beautifully light-of-touch – any murder story by default has to flirt with the fragility of life; the resilience of human beings left behind. The knowledge that, out of the blue, one event can change a life in the blink of an eye.

Something that Rosemary knows from (I would say ‘bitter’ but she’s so not) personal experience.

Because overnight in the 1990s, her husband went bankrupt. Interest rates shot up; the bank called in loans. They lost everything.

Even now – though she talks about it with a generosity that’s astonishing – you can hear the emotion behind the words.

‘It was really funny because it was like the lights went out. We lost everything literally overnight. We lost everything…

‘I went to social security because I couldn’t actually feed my dog and my cat. I suddenly found I had nothing. Of course, they laughed me out because of my plum voice.’

They had assets but no cash. They’d sold everything they could.

She and her husband – who never got over the shock of that financial crash – separated; and Rosemary did the only thing she could think of. She decided to cook her way out of it. To leave Cornwall, where they lived, for London; to work night and day for herself and her family to salvage something from those burnt, lumpy ruins.

Can she remember her lowest point?

‘When I couldn’t even buy a train ticket to London. I was thinking at that time of suicide.’

She brushes aside my reaction with such kindness.

Great British Life: Rosemary Shrager. (c) James EckersleyRosemary Shrager. (c) James Eckersley

‘No, no. It was circumstances. And so it was almost like a cry for help. Nothing to do with suicide, in a way. It was to do with crying for help.

‘So, I phoned a friend of mine and she sent me a postal order.’

On the train, with her suitcase, she bumped into a local who casually asked where she was going. As if it were an exciting few days away.

‘I said, ‘Oh, yes; I’m just going to London.’ And, of course, at that moment, I was leaving my whole life behind. My home, my dog, my husband, my cat; my everything behind, and just going to London with this postal-order ticket.’

Except that was also the moment when she suddenly thought: I will be all right.

If you constructed a Rosemary Shrager word cloud, I guarantee it would be filled with ‘fortunate’, ‘lucky’ and ‘fortunate’ again.

‘So, on one hand, I had this desperation.

‘On the other hand, I thought: I am so fortunate. I’ve got friends; I’ve got friends with houses; spare rooms; they all took me in. And, for me, that was the best time in the fact that people looked after me for about three years. I would go off and sleep in people’s… I know it was Cadogan Square; I know it was Fulham; I know it was Highgate and I know these are very posh places!

‘BUT, I was very lucky, and that’s why I really consider myself to be a very, very fortunate person.’

SHE IS POSH. That much is true.

Hers was a childhood of boarding schools, nannies, and a John Nash house in Regent’s Park, with garden cascading down to the old canal.

Yet it was starved of love.

‘All this stuff, but we had no love. I tried to take some pills at 14 years old, but not to commit suicide; just to get attention. Another cry for help.’

Her mother, already with three children of her own, adopted a fourth child. ‘There was something wrong with her. She needed the adulation. She had a challenging mental problem. She was born with it; genuinely born with it. I don’t know where it came from. Everybody knew what was going on in our home but nobody could do anything about it. Nobody intervened.

‘In those days, you did not intervene. From the outside world, we had an incredibly privileged life; from the inside world, it was really unhappy.’

‘I’m so sorry,’ I say again.

‘No, it made me who I am today.’

What interests me – what I admire so much – is this. It isn’t only financial adversity that Rosemary Shrager has turned around.

When her husband, Michael, was dying just before lockdown, she was by his side, despite their separation. In a sense, I think, she’d never really left.

‘I was with him right at the very end and it was a most wonderful… I was with him in the room and we just; it was, oh…’


‘It was very cathartic. It was a moment of just saying, ‘I love you’. We’d been through a lot; we’d done all this. All this was incredibly important – memories of the children and fun days; just remembering.

‘He could still hear, which was important.

‘He could still hear.’

Her mum died from Covid a few weeks later.

I feel I’m intruding. Yet I also feel she wants people to know about her husband; how she never stopped loving him. That she had to separate to survive. And that – even to this day – the separation hurts.

Perhaps that family background is another reason why Suki – based on Rosemary’s 17-year-old granddaughter – features in her books.

A desire to show the world another sort of family.

The family, so different from her own early years, that Rosemary Shrager now treasures.

‘Suki and I are so close. We talk for hours; we talk for hours in real life. Yesterday morning, she came and got into bed with me. It was so cosy. We chatted; we chatted for – I don’t even know for how long.’


‘Life; just life. All about her and her boyfriend and how she feels about life. She loves films – she’s very creative. She absolutely is the most remarkable young lady.

‘I love my grandchildren so much.’

YOU KNOW, I think that’s another reason why Rosemary Shrager is so open about her failures – maybe even more than the impressive successes she has notched up. Cheffing her way – through challenging, top-class kitchens – to the top.

Because her experiences have given her a compassion she might not otherwise have had. An understanding that so many of us are a few salary cheques away from a food bank.

Particularly in 2023.

The cost of living is shooting up.

Families are struggling.

Food prices are astronomical.

‘Now, I’m going to say one thing to you. My understanding of not having anything; you understand how scary Christmas is,’ she says, unseasonally but poignantly.

‘How scary. Christmas is one of the worst times for people when they’ve a family to feed; presents to do; when there are expectations all around. It is the worst time, honestly, in the world because you feel such a failure. For me, that is the time I try so hard to help people.’

Each year, she anonymously provides a Christmas dinner for a family she knows are struggling.

Because she, too, has loved, lost, earned, burned. Been through the most terrible times.

‘And also I’m a very fortunate person! The most important thing is, I have never had an ounce of resentment about anything; about anybody. I’m fortunate as a personality to never expect anything; to be grateful for everything I have.’

Grateful. Another one for that word cloud.

• The Proof in the Pudding is £18.99 in hardback; and Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery Course, paperback, is £15.99.

• You can see Rosemary Shrager on stage in a live cookery demonstration at the Three Counties Food and Drink Festival on Saturday, July 29. Taking place at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern, the festival runs from July 29-30.