Wendy:

I don’t really have a first memory of Janice as such – she’s always just been there but I suppose my earliest memories were of this very glamorous woman in a beehive hairdo in the height of the Swinging Sixties who led such an exciting life.

Janice has had a massive influence on me. My parents almost had two separate families – they had Janice and my brother Roy just after the war and then much later they decided to have another two children and I came along in 1960 and my sister Gill, three years later. Because of the age difference, Janice was almost like a second Mum to me.

Our childhoods were very different. Janice grew up in the austere post-war years whereas I grew up in the sixties and seventies, which in comparison was a time of much greater prosperity. When Janice was growing up, my Dad was in the Army and spent a lot of time abroad whereas he was working for the GPO and home every night when I was a child.

I’ve had such a wide range of life experiences because of Janice. She had two parallel careers – she worked in sales during the day but at night she was part of the London club scene in the Sixties and Seventies working as a Hostess is some of the top clubs of the day and she met everyone and everyone loved her. She mixed and socialised with multi-millionaires, politicians and stars and met all the big names of the day like Diana Dors and Barbara Windsor (who is still a big star of course). Through the clubs she also met people from all walks of life, including the shadier side – she even met the Kray Twins!

When I was a young teenager, Janice would take me to the clubs to do a bit of work helping in the kitchens and this opened my eyes to the world of hospitality. She believed anything was possible but you had to work for it and experience life. She took me to all the new restaurants, which was a great confidence builder, but it was never all about the finer things. One week, we’d travel in a Rolls Royce to the Ritz for afternoon tea, next week it might be a pie and mash shop or a traditional ‘boozer’ in the East End. She got on with everybody and taught me the valuable lesson that if you treat others with respect and kindness, they will do the same back and help you and that has stood me in good stead.

Janice taught me that we are all who we are – we’re all individuals and that is to be celebrated. It’s not our place to judge others. For example, today we celebrate gay marriage but in the Sixties, it was illegal to be gay but that didn’t stop Janice having gay friends. She’s the most non-judgemental person I know.

We get on really well but we’re also like a comedy duo at times, bickering like an old married couple. We’re both strong personalities, but it may surprise some people to know that when the family all get together, I’m the quiet one!!

Janice has always been the epitome of a big sister but I’m not sure that I was as good a big sister to my little sister.

Even now that she is nearer to seventy, she still has great physical strength and energy and throws herself into anything she does – she never stops and she can’t work with shirkers! After the clubs scene, she was one of the first single woman publicans in the country and was very successful. “Treat the bar as your front room and give everyone a special welcome and you won’t go far wrong” she used to tell me.

Janice has always been there for me – she lent me the money to start up bartlett mitchell, and if I need help with anything, ever, I know that she’ll move heaven and earth to help me or any of my friends out. How lucky am I to be blessed with a big sister like that?

Janice:

My earliest memories of Wendy were when I returned home from my paper round one day and there she was, born at home. There is a big age difference between us – 13 years – so I suppose Wendy has been a bit like a daughter to me as well as my sister and I’ve always wanted to help her and show her the opportunities that were available to her. Life should be an experience and I always told her that if you put in the work, the returns will come to you.

The biggest influences on me in my early life were my Mum and Dad and they weren’t your ‘regular’ parents. They were wonderful people and we were lucky to have them with us right up until 2-3 years ago. They taught us to be strong individuals and independent.

Dad showed us how to do so many things – I remember when I needed new brake pads, he took me out, showed me how to do it, then took them off and made me do it for myself under his watchful eye. I learned a lot and so did we all – Wendy can wallpaper and tile like the best of them, although she doesn’t have much time for that any more!

I’ve always been a go-getter. I had my first paper round at 11 and had a weekend job as a market trader when I was 13 and I did well. I had the opportunity to show Wendy different life experiences and I loved it.

She probably got her love of food from Mum and Dad. They were keen gardeners and Dad grew wonderful fruit and veg on his allotment and we had far more interesting and unusual things to eat than any of our friends. They used to take Wendy to the Acropolis Greek Restaurant quite regularly and that was at a time when families didn’t really go out to eat much at all. It all seemed very exotic back then and Wendy would always choose something different every time, whereas my other sister Gill always went for her favourite dish. I think it started Wendy on her food discovery journey and that’s still going on today.

Wendy is an explorer – she is always up for new experiences in food, travel and life and I love that about her. If she wants to do something, she’ll do it. I could see this in her from a young age and I used to love to take her to the clubs with me and show her another side of life. I knew so many rich and famous people back in those days and we used to go to all the best clubs like the Townhouse Club or Crockfords. But it was also important for her to see all walks of life – I knew some high society but I also had friends who had nothing and you have to be able to get on with everyone with respect.

When I started out, smart restaurants were daunting and very formal places but I quickly discovered that if you are nice to the waiting staff, they will help you out. If I was faced with a lobster or snails or something unusual to eat and wasn’t sure what to do, the waiters would always discretely help me out. That reinforced the important lesson my parents taught us that if you’re nice to people and treat them with respect, they will usually be there for you when you need it and I always used to show Wendy how true that was.

Wendy is a carer and despite the tough shell that she sometimes portrays, she is one of the kindest and most generous people I know. She treats her team like one big family and knows them all but as the company gets bigger and more successful, that becomes tougher to do and that will worry her. The team have always been like her family – Mum used to bake for them and I still run errands for them when they need me and I really enjoy that. She’ll be one of the first people to offer to help and she’s great because she makes things happen and I think that’s one way that we’re similar.

We are alike but we’re also very different in some ways. Wendy is so organised it’s scary! It’s the standing joke about asking her to email me a slot in her diary so that I can call her! I think she’s a bit too organised and should go with the flow more but you try telling her that! But at the same time, because she is so focussed, I can see why she has been so successful. We do tend to bicker a bit though – someone described us like a couple from that TV show Gogglebox!

It was tough for us all when Mum and Dad died. They were such a huge part of our lives and yet gave us so much freedom to learn and explore. We’re all very close and now that Mum has gone, my brother Roy tends to cook those family get-together meals now. If Wendy has been away for a while, the first thing she’ll ask Roy to do when she gets back from the airport is to cook her a proper Sunday lunch, because it’s just like Mum used to cook and she will have missed that being away.

I am in awe of Wendy and what she continues to achieve. She has won so many awards and a moment of huge pride for me was going to Windsor Castle with her recently when she received her MBE from (to be confirmed on Tuesday!!). I hope that I’ve played a little part in the person she has ultimately become – I know we’ve certainly had some great fun and experiences along the way.

The above appeared in B&I Magazine, August 2015. You can download the full article here

My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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