Ainsley Harriott: thank heavens that he doesn’t make a meal of it | Rebecca Nicholson

The Ready Steady Cook fully deserves his MBE

After 30 years as a TV mainstay, Ainsley Harriott has been awarded an MBE for services to broadcasting and to the culinary arts. He popped to the palace to pick it up in the same week that Ready Steady Cook, the show that made him famous, returned to afternoon TV, after 10 years away. The rebooted version is hosted by Rylan Clark-Neal, who recently fronted Supermarket Sweep, continuing a run of 1990s TV revivals that will inevitably end in him running up the Travelator in a Mr Blobby costume while getting slimed by Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston.

At the palace, Harriott sang the praises of Ready Steady Cook, explaining that its mass appeal came, in part, from the accessibility of it all. The new version has cream cheese in a Mason jar and vegetables in reusable bags, but ultimately it’s much the same as it has always been: people bring in ingredients they enjoy eating, bought on a limited budget, and chefs help them knock up a meal in 20 minutes. “What I’ve tried to do over the years is to kind of open the door to say, ‘It’s a meal, it’s OK, don’t panic, don’t get worked up about it’,” said Harriott.

I think we sometimes forget the importance of simplicity. Foodie culture has accelerated at a staggering rate since Ready Steady Cook started in 1994 but, with a handful of enduring exceptions – the Jamies and the Nigellas and now the Nadiyas – TV cooking has moved away from instruction into a mostly competitive format, from MasterChef to Bake Off to Best Home Cook. (I know Ready Steady Cook is competitive in theory, but nobody is desperate to win, and in the words of every PE teacher I ever had, it’s the taking part that counts.)

I watch these competitions with a figurative and literal hunger, but have learned very little from them, other than foams are nonsense and that attempting to knock out a chocolate fondant under massive pressure will only ever turn out to be a stodgy disappointment. Which, coincidentally, is another thing I heard from every PE teacher I ever had.

Watching people strive for excellence is always fun (though the best rounds of MasterChef are the early ones, where people transform their panic into a roasted tomato garnish) but I also love watching a husband and wife try to outdo each other with a bog-standard curry. Ready Steady Cook and, by extension Harriott, taught me how to chop an onion and that 20 minutes is just about enough time to make a meal from scratch and really, that was all I needed to know.

Taika Waititi : the ideal man to reanimate Roald Dahl

Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi: ‘an eccentric eye’. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Netflix has announced that JoJo Rabbit director Taika Waititi will write and direct two new animated series based on Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with the promise of potentially more Dahl adaptations to come, including that soothing balm for the bookish child, Matilda, though if they mess up Miss Honey there will be consequences. I cannot think of a much better pairing than Dahl’s grim humour with Waititi’s eccentric eye and the news provoked the kind of low-key squealing excitement in me that I thought I had packed away with the books themselves.

I was mildly disappointed, just a little, at first, that it would be an animation, in part because Waititi would have made an excellent Willy Wonka. But the imaginative potential of an animated Chocolate Factory, one that can do absolutely anything that Dahl described on the page, from turning spoilt children into giant blueberries to attacking them with squirrels, all the while rampaging through rooms filled with semi-sentient sweets, is quite the promise. Netflix has good form with animation, too, turning out series such as BoJack Horseman, Big Mouth and Tuca & Bertie (RIP) that have far more emotional depth than many of their fleshy 3D counterparts.

While the first series will be centred on the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the second will be an original take on the Oompa-Loompas, “building out the world and characters far beyond the pages of the Dahl book for the very first time”. I have been disappointed by this before – who knew that the perfect-sounding Tim Burton would fumble his adaptation in 2005? – but Waititi is responsible for Thor: Ragnarok, the best Marvel movie of the several hundred that have been released, and I am as optimistic about this as I am that one day, lickable wallpaper will be in every room of every house.

Hilary Mantel: Meghan, you’re in safe hands

Hilary Mantel
Hilary Mantel: ‘I do think abominable racism has been involved.’ Photograph: Peter Summers/Getty Images

When Hilary Mantel gave her now infamous London Review of Books lecture, Royal Bodies, at the British Museum in 2013, she dissected the spectacle of the royal family, particularly its women. Having dared to offer an opinion on the public presentation of the Duchess of Cambridge, and a supportive one at that, the novelist found herself at the centre of what must have been an entirely unexpected storm, with added irony, given that the lecture ended with a call for us to “back off and not be brutes”. So it was inevitable that, when doing the promotional rounds for The Mirror and the Light, she would be asked about Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Dutifully, and wonderfully, she has answered, despite being burned in the past. “I think that Meghan was too good to be true,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “She was a smiling face in a dull institution, she cheered the nation up no end, or at least men and women of goodwill. I do think abominable racism has been involved.” She told the BBC: “I hesitate to call her a victim but I think there has been an element of racism in the invective against her.” Sometimes, amid the endless chatter, it is simply refreshing to have an articulate adult in the room.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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Rebecca Nicholson

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