GILL Watson is dynamite. With her wild badger striped hair and ‘no holds-barred tell it how it is’ attitude, she could be the Vivienne Westwood of the culinary world.

She’s no Nigella... thankfully. Suggestively licking chocolate mousse off her fingers is likely to make her gag.


And should she ever get her own TV programme, its title ought to be ‘Cooking With Cojones’, because she’s a food warfare guerrilla with the raison d’etre ‘Save the banana and spare the peppers’.

Sifting through ‘perfectly edible’ produce dumped by markets and supermarkets and handing it out to the poor around Nelson is her mission. The payback is seeing kids eat tomatoes for the first time in their lives. But more of that later.

Gill, 50, who lives in Brierfield with her goldsmith husband Ged and two children, grew up in Barrowford. “I hated the place and couldn’t wait to escape, ” she says.

She headed for the bright lights of London, travelled the world and picked up cooking skills along the way. She settled down for a while and opened a restaurant and hotel in Torquay with a girlfriend. She even bought a flat, but she was restless, so she headed off to Majorca for a week and never went back.

“A woman had come into the restaurant in Torquay and said I could make really good money as a private chef. On route to Majorca I went to London and visited her and that’s how it started.

“I trialled for a few people who wanted me to chef for them. One of them was Peter Soros, nephew of American financier George Soros. He is married to Flora Fraser, daughter of Lady Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter. They lived in an incredible Holland Park House with hundreds of staff. He had a reputation for being a difficult man to work for from a private chef’s point of view.”

But Gill had another contender for her skills, actor Pierce Brosnan who was filming the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, in London at the time.

“Peter and Pierce fought over me during dinner at Mirabelle’s hosted by Ralph Lauren and Peter threatened to put something in Pierce’s Martini unless he allowed me to be his chef.

“I think I was having a cheeseburger in McDonald’s at the time. He hounded me and went mad when I took the job with Pierce, but he came round and was very sweet about it in the end.”

Gill was fired by Brosnan’s people when she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement all staff were issued with after the Docklands location for the Bond movie had been leaked to the Evening Standard.

“It was the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen. It covered us for the rest of our lives. You were signing your life away. I didn’t sign it. I told permanent members of staff not to sign it and they got a bit upset about that. ”

She then went on to work for an American arms dealer in Florida. “I didn’t know he was an arms dealer when I was working for him. I’ve written a book about it and I had to ask his permission to publish it.

“As I’d written about his family I had to show the copy to his ex-wife whom I’d never met. Everybody’s lawyers read it, everybody went mad and then out of the blue I got an e-mail from his ex-wife saying she adored the book and that it described the situation and her family perfectly.

“She said ‘you have to go with your heart and get this published because it’s a work of art’. I e-mailed back and said her ex-husband had put a stop to it so she contacted him and he then gave me permission, but came back with a list of things that I had to change so he couldn’t be identified. They then gave the OK.”

Her book Eating My Words has not yet been published. She finished writing it two years ago and her agent sent it to five publishers. They loved it, but said they couldn’t publish until Gill was as famous as the people she was writing about.

It’s not something she’s concerned about. It will be published when the time is right, she says.

In fact, TV companies are interested in her. Two wanted her to host a series with her friend Johnnie Mountain, the chef who stormed off the Great British Menu when he was given a low score from Marcus Wareing. But she’s not yet found the right fit.

The BBC Inside Out series will be filming Gill at the end of the month at an outdoor pop-up ‘junk food’ restaurant in Brierfield.

Gill, who returned to east Lancashire because her husband’s business is based here, got involved in food warfare after reading how local children were going to school hungry.

She contacted the local food bank and offered to help. She then suggested that she contact the local schools about taking food in. The response came back that the schools didn’t have the manpower to serve the food.

“At some schools, governors were paying for packed lunches,” she says.

Barrowford Primary asked her to go in and last year they teamed up to set up the charity Pendle Helping Hands to provide holistic support for the wider community by providing food, budget cookery lessons and support.

A grant from Pendle Council provided money to buy a mobile cookery school for 10 people at a time.

Last summer she volunteered for a poverty cooking group based at the wholesale fruit and veg market in Manchester. Tonnes of produce was being dumped before Manchester Fare Share intercepted it and sent it out to charity and food banks. She also picks up food from Lidl six nights a week.

“I went to the market on a Friday and sorted out the food with my daughter and friends. We piled up my seven-seater Toyota until the suspension was at breaking point.

“I had tonnes of amazing summer fruits, cherries, mangoes. I posted a message on Facebook telling parents what time I’d be back, I had a big list of parents who were struggling and I went around all the houses. Then I started knocking on doors in areas where people were struggling and handed out the food. People started waiting on the streets for me on a Saturday morning.

“The situation was much worse than we’d thought with people not eating. The majority never go to food banks even when they’re desperate because there is a referral system.

“They have to give dates of birth of children, birth certificates etc and it terrifies people because they think their children will be taken off them because they can’t afford to feed them.

“You always get someone who’s worked in a food bank saying they’ve seen someone selling a tin of beans in the pub.

“For every person doing that, I’ll have 100 families who are genuinely starving and will never go near a food bank.

“The system is just not good enough. Every school should have a food store cupboard and every women’s hostel too. A woman is on the run grabs the kids and leaves everything else behind.

“She gets to a hostel where she is safe and then she has to go out and get a referral slip and take it to a food bank to get food. That is madness. Even doctor’s surgeries should have food parcels.

“A lot of these starving families have parents who are working but are on such poor wages that after paying their bills they can’t afford to feed the family.”

This summer Gill will be cooking in a pop-up junk food cafe at an outdoor kitchen site in Brierfield.

A local arts group, In Situ, has secured planning permission and £14,000 funding to build an orchard and the kitchen. Gill will be cooking with ‘waste food’ from Lidl, Fare Share and local food company Wellock’s.

Just before Christmas, the head teacher at Barrowford Primary asked Gill to come in for the last assembly.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “The parents had given pledges to do something for me and my family. I just stood there and sobbed. People are always willing to give back.

“Everyone I’ve given a food parcel to has said ‘as soon as I’m out of this mess I will give back and help you’, and that is what it’s all about.”