Food wizard and TV presenter James Martin was only 21 when he was made head chef at the Hotel Du Vin in Winchester. But within weeks of opening, his restaurant was booked solid – thanks in part to a high-profile serial killer.
Speaking to podcast host Kate Thornton on an upcoming two-part special of White Wine Question Time about the success of the restaurant, which – alongside hard work – he puts down to a very famous trial that was taking place in Winchester.
“It’s thanks to Rosemary West as well,” James tells a shocked Kate on next week’s episode of the show, due for release on Friday. “The Rosemary West trial was in Winchester, because it’s the second highest court in the land apart from London. All of a sudden, there are judges there, the journos, everybody…
“We were rammed for eight months. You couldn’t get in.”
Rosemary West’s trial was held at Winchester to minimise the upset to victims' relatives in the Gloucester area.
The trial, which started in October 1995, saw Rosemary face 10 murder charges, including that of her own daughter, Heather. She was found guilty of all 10 murders on 22 November.
During the podcast, Kate said nobody she knew was thankful to Rosemary West for anything.
James agreed. He said: “Not many people want to thank Rosemary West for anything. I mean it sounds daft, but it put us on the map. It kicked fires.”
The Hotel Du Vin was also where James was discovered as a future TV star. Through The Keyhole star and sauce maestro Lloyd Grossman visited the restaurant with producer Mary Ramsay, who told James they were looking for new TV chefs.
The initial meeting didn’t go that well though when Mary asked James if he had an agent.
“I went, ‘Agent? I haven't even got an estate agent. I can't afford a house’,” laughed James. “She said, 'Well, here's my card.' And I went ‘Cheers, love: that's the oldest chat-up line in the book,' and walked off!”
Thankfully, she chased him and his first foray into television was straight in at the deep end.
“My first TV show was The Big Breakfast with Zig and Zag” he recalled. “It was straight into live TV – I'd never cooked live before.
“I got up at three in the morning to drive all the way there and loaded all the ingredients up because there was no such thing as a home economist then. You did all the prep yourself and that was it.”