Arlene Phillips: ‘My dish was a disaster!’

The former Strictly judge faces some tough criticism herself in the Masterchef kitchen when she joins the coookery competition on Thursday July 2 (BBC1, 9pm)…
How did you find being on Celebrity Masterchef?
“I loved it so much, such a joyful experience! My youngest daughter, Abi, watches every show and I watch the celeb one when it’s someone I know, like Craig Revel Horwood or Wayne Sleep. The feeling of being there in the Masterchef kitchen is hard to express. It was exciting and unlike anything I’d done before. When you get to my age, embracing a new experience was amazing.”

What were you fearing the most?
“The cooking! And the timing. When I was practising I would get someone to talk to me, to distract me, but the reality is that when the judges come to talk to you, it’s not the same. You can’t ignore them. Timing was the hardest part.”

How would you describe your cooking?
“Enthusiastic and odd! I do some strange experiments and it doesn’t always work! Normally I just guess but for this, I was following recipes. The really difficult thing for me was that I’ve always used gas and on the show you use induction heat which I’m not used to at all. It’s harder to control.”

For your first task, you made liver and onions, spinach salad and creamy mash. Did the judges approve of that combination?
“No, you see, I eat salad with everything. But they were not impressed and I was disappointed.”

Did you know any of the other celebrities in your heat – Corrie’s Craig Gazey (Graeme Proctor), former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, Blue Peter’s Andy Akinwolere and Big Brother’s Rylan Clark?
“Kimberley I knew before through her dancing, we’d recently done Comic  Relief together. Rylan I know and absolutely adore him. He’s amazing, so talented and so lovely. He and I do wicked banter anyway, so just being there with him was great. He’s such a sweet person. I was really lucky with my heat. I adore them both so there’s that mothering instinct in me going, Come on Rylan! Come on Kimberely!”

Are you competitive?
“I’m fiercely competitive but only when I know I can win. Even as a kid playing Monopoly I had to win…”

What was the best part of the show for you?
“Working in the professional kitchen at Massimo restaurant. If somebody said to me, ‘what would you do if everything stopped?’, I would ask them to take me on! I loved the speed, the yelling, getting the timing right. It is exhausting, it’s hard work but I could do that. I was in charge of the duck and I really enjoyed it. It was really exciting. I wanted it to go on. I was almost disappointed when lunch was over. It was an adrenaline high!”

Gregg didn’t think much of one of your puddings…
“Yes, it was a disaster!  It was such a shame because I still have boxes of my amazingly delicate, wonderful recipe of how it should have worked out. But it didn’t. Those things happen. The thing is you want to prove that you can do it. I have mastered something to perfection, but then it goes wrong. It is upsetting. At home, I’m in control.”

Are you glad you did it?
“Oh yes, the whole experience was amazing and I learnt so much. It’s changed the way I cook at home. I’m more adventurous and not afraid to do simple things that taste good. I always use white plates and I know how to cut plums properly. There is a method for cutting plums! I feel lucky. The family are benefiting from my cooking. My partner is still really good, he’s so fast and he can just do it, but he’s learnt to let go and let me take charge. That feels so good.
“People ask, ‘what are the highlights of your career?’ I say, I did this ballet or I’m doing a piece for the Royal Ballet, but because of what I’ve done I’ve been able to go on Masterchef. That for me, was such a joy. I have such happy memories of being part of the show and I can’t wait to watch it to see what other people have done.”

Any other things you’d love to do?
“Right now I am in the middle of making a solo for Ed Watson at the Royal Ballet. It’s a joy and I feel honoured to be invited. I never stop working, I need to be doing something.”

* Arlene’s heats of Celebrity Masterchef are on BBC1 on Thursday 2 July at 9pm and Friday 3 July at 8.30pm

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