At 28, Prue Leith fell into secret romance and shared apple pie with drunk neighbor

Prue Leith tells Bustle she would have definitely watched The Great British Bake Off when she was 28 - had it existed and had she owned a television. But in 1968, she wanted no more hobbies. The chef is busy preparing to open her first restaurant, Leith's, in London's Notting Hill neighborhood. "All the restaurants in London, if they have good food and are very smart, are so snobby that they won't let anyone in if they don't have a jacket and tie," Lees said. “So I wanted to open a really nice restaurant but with the casualness of a bistro or bar.”

Brick floors, turquoise-carpeted ceilings, theater lights on the tables, Leith's Bar is still a work in progress - like its namesake, a caterer who spent the night behind the bar. “[I’d] flip burgers or prepare a pig for roast,” she said. "I would be the one sweeping the bloody floors in the middle of the night. I would reverse the car." She also had a 13-year romance with family friend Rayne Kruger. They later married and had two children. "It's all on the way," she said. "I'm in love with a wonderful man. I'm building my career. I'm really successful. I think I'm very lucky because I'm the first woman to own a formal restaurant in London, so I've got a lot publicity."

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It would be decades before Leith, now 82, would achieve as much fame as hosting The Great Britain Bake Off , which she has hosted since 2017. But technically her screen career began in her 20s when a friend at the BBC asked her for help practicing the broadcaster's transition to color with a fake cooking segment. She was tasked with demonstrating risotto, except the studio didn't have a stove set up—just a table with four burner rings painted on it. “I finished my presentation incredibly quickly, partly because I was nervous and partly because I wasn’t waiting for anything to happen,” she recalls. This first appearance heralded an exciting screen career ahead for Leith.

Below, Liss opens up about a secret relationship and treating her famous neighbor to treats.

Let me go back to 1968. What was life like for you at 28?

I was really excited because I was trying to put together my first restaurant and open it the following year. I am determined to open a restaurant before I am 30 years old. So that's what I did.

Why is this happening? Thirty is still young enough to own a restaurant of your own!

That's interesting, isn't it? People talk about how scary it is to be 40, but I love being 40. That's fine. But by the time I was 30, I was working very hard. I'm from South Africa and started my small catering company. I also work in my stable shed. But I always wanted to open a restaurant, and when I turned 28, I thought I might be able to do it.

Where were you calling home at that time?

At that time, I fell in love with a married man. I was once asked by a newspaper if I would recommend adultery because it seemed to be good for me. But the fact that I said I couldn't be with this person all the time really helped. I visit him every chance I get, but I don't have to cook for him. I don't have to stay home because I work evenings and weekends.

So you’re not cooking for a man – what’s your favorite meal yourself?

Because I’ve been catering and living off other people’s leftovers. I do remember a friend coming over for dinner one night and for some reason we didn't have the usual leftovers and I didn't have time to put them together. So I went and bought some Birds Eye ready meals - I think they were the only ready meals I'd ever eaten in my life. She was absolutely shocked that I was making this roast dinner out of a foil tray. do you know? It was delicious. This is very good food. But she was deeply shocked and told all her friends that I provided ready-to-eat meals.

What music did you like when you were 28?

It was the Rolling Stones, the Beatles – I’m still mad at Elvis Presley, who was way before that. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by The Beatles is one of the best songs ever written. I had a little Mini with darkened windows so I could pretend I was a VIP and drive around London. I would turn on the radio and play "Lucy in the Sky" as loud as I could and it felt great. The fact that I was delivering sausages to a construction site, to the delight of many workers celebrating the roof - wasn't that glamorous. Although in my heart, I am a movie star.

The Great British Bake Off is a comforting show for people. What brings you comfort at 28?

Sounds very simple, but I do it anyway. At the time, yogurt was just becoming a big thing. There is a company called Ski Yogurt, and they used to make hazelnut yogurt. If I'm feeling down or tired and too lazy to cook, I go to bed with a book, a pot of yogurt, and a cup of tea. What could be more innocent and simple than this?

Nowadays, I might want a glass of red wine for comfort. I just did a one-man show [ Prue Leith: Nothing in Moderation ] Things went well last night at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles. When I came off stage, my mood was so high - of course, all I wanted was a big glass of red wine. When I was 28, I wouldn't have thought about this.

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Is 28 an era that you've been reflecting on in your performance?

There are many things about that period. I'm happy, I don't want to get married and the craze for having kids hasn't come yet. I have a lot of friends. At the time, my next-door neighbors were a pop band called The Hollies. They are very interesting and I occasionally go to their concerts. They used to hide weed in my herb shelf.

do you know?

Of course I am! I didn't smoke, but they would often go home after the show and stay up all night and they would be as excited as kites. I remember one of them standing and looking at the apple pie I was making. He just kept looking at the pie and said, "I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life! It sparkles. And it's moving." They left the fairies.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity .