Last night we celebrated the launch of Cooking People, by Sophia Waugh, at Daunt on Marylebone High Street. Here is my speech in full.
Ladies and gentlemen, Sophia Waugh, the author of the book we are celebrating this evening, is very close to my heart.
It was thanks to her father, whom I had met casually on a number of occasions without ever really getting to know him and who subsequently wrote me an unexpected letter in 1984. It was a request for me to consider interviewing his eldest daughter Sophia – described by him as beautiful and fresh out of university – for a possible job at Quartet Books, an outfit he always referred to in the press as ‘Naim Attallah’s seraglio’.
I duly obliged and asked Sophia to come and see me at Namara House, where I had my headquarters. She arrived, simply dressed, and seemed totally confident and relaxed. She sat opposite me with her legs neatly tucked under her bottom and prattled away with no hint of inhibition or any special concession to formality.
I was won over by the sheer warmth of Sophia’s personality and had no hesitation about offering her a job.
Her response was spontaneously joyful as she accepted it on the spot and said she was prepared to start as soon as possible. Instead of shaking her hand as she left the office, I bent forward and kissed her.
Unbeknown to me she had already attended another interview with Alexander Chancellor, the then-editor of the Spectator and a close friend of her father. He too had offered her a post and according to his account she had said she would take it.
When the news broke that Sophia would be joining Quartet, Alexander complained to her father of his disappointment that she was choosing Quartet over the Spectator. Auberon was forthright with his response: ‘You should have kissed her, as Naim did.’
Well, this heralded the beginning of my warm and loving association with the Waugh family – especially with Bron, whose memory will remain with me until the day I too depart from this earth to the unknown beyond.
But we are here today to launch Sophia’s excellent book, Cooking People. With modern cookery books always at the top of the bestseller lists, Sophia looks at the differences – and the similarities – between cooking then and now. Looking not at the grand dishes of the courts, but at the domestic cookery at the heart of our culture, Sophia traces the food writers who have changed the way we eat.
Her contribution is an ideal Christmas gift since the Festive Season invariably entails indulging in culinary delights. So it is an opportunity to show Sophia the generous side to your character by purchasing more than one copy of her book to make her evening a memorable event.
I will now conclude this longer address than usual by quoting her own words, which encapsulates the thrust of her subject: ‘We eat, we think about eating, and we write, and read, about eating. Fashions may change, but there are some things that never can. On the walls of the oldest known tomb of an Egyptian woman are painted pictures of bread-making so detailed that they amount to a recipe…’
I hope after all this endeavour you will come up trumps by dipping deep in your pockets and flashing fifty-pound notes, and requesting little change.