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Changing Rooms’ Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen recalls a family meal during the UK’s first lockdown...
Sitting on board the plane out of Sydney was a moment of phenomenal relief. It was the last weekend in March 2020, and I’d been in Australia for two weeks filming reality TV show House Rules when the country went into lockdown. After production was cut short, it was touch and go whether I’d get a flight home. So the moment I finally made it, via Doha, to our 17th-century manor house in Siddington, Gloucestershire, was unforgettable.
Knowing all my family members were safely gathered in one place during such a destabilising time was hugely comforting. After a leisurely bath – customary after a long-haul flight – I changed into some linen trousers and a shirt, prepared a gin and tonic, and padded on to our sun-trap terrace. There was a real sense of unwinding emotionally and physically.
Just like, I imagine, how it feels to take your bra off after a long day! In spring, our mature, verdant garden is hitting its peak, full of tulips, fritillaries and ferns. On the lawn, our two old cherry trees are covered in beautiful white blossom and, that afternoon, I remember the sound was also magnificent. For months all I’d heard was hotel air-conditioning, but in our garden, with no air traffic, the birdsong was practically deafening.
The garden is a perfect backdrop for summer suppers, but on sunny days, rather than using formal garden furniture, we like to bring out our kitchen chairs and table. We’ve had our table for 25 years. It’s made of old floorboards, painted white, and although I keep meaning to change it, there’s something wonderful about the fact our girls sat at it from the ages of three and seven, and now Albion, my grandson, is doing the same. In our household, my wife Jackie is the queen of cooking, but my eldest daughter Cecile is a strong contender.
While Jackie collected me from Heathrow, Cecile roasted a couple of organic chickens, bought from our local farm, in lemon, garlic and rosemary picked from the garden. She then served the chickens with a crisp green salad and roast potatoes – very simple, deliciously Mediterranean fare, complemented by one of our favourite wines, The Guv’nor. My family all call me ‘the governor’, so a bottle on the table always looks impressive.
For dessert, we tucked into a selection of cheese, more wine and enjoyed some mixed berries. Luckily, I don’t have a very sweet tooth, and I’m also not a big carbohydrate fan. I could live perfectly easily without pasta or bread, and I’m drawn to healthier food, which is not particularly unusual when you’re in your mid-50s. I love fish, salad, sushi and would happily eat chicken rather than steak. I’m no foodie, but I’m a big believer in the ceremony of eating, and during lockdown we treated meals quite formally, particularly Sunday lunch.
We’d eat in the dining room on a table laid with a nice cloth, our best cutlery, napkins and decorated with an arrangement of freshly picked flowers. Sartorially, we also became a bit dressy, not to show off to others or for Instagram but because, simply, we thought: ‘Hey, we’re worth it!’ During that first meal back home, not knowing what we were facing, there was a sense that I had ducked and survived something.
The pandemic has, of course, been a tragedy for the world and many people have died. But in terms of my microclimate and my family bubble, we’ve undoubtedly emerged better people. We really came together and now that will never change.
TV design guru Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen presents Discovery UK’s My Lottery Dream Home International; Changing Rooms returns to Channel 4 this year.