Former Page Three model Lu Varley is now adding a touch of glamour to fine dining and is happier than ever as Diane Cooke discovers.

SEX and food sell, Nigella’s bank balance is testament to that.

But one woman has managed to be successful in both industries without resorting to suggestively licking chocolate cake mix off her fingers.

Lu Varley – if ever there was a perfect name for a glamour model – has been a sought-after Page Three girl.

These days she’s putting the sexy into fine dining as head chef and co-director at the multi award-winning Ramsons in Ramsbottom.

Naturally, Nigella is her icon. Not only because she’s a glamorous cook, but she’s also experienced the sort of domestic abuse that has tainted much of Lu’s life. But more of that later.

She is a fascinating woman. Quietly spoken, shy and demure, yet tough enough to have made a substantial living getting out her (still pert!) 34Gs for the lads.

She’s strong, yet vulnerable, two characteristics which attracted an army of male fans in her other life.

After changing out of her black chef’s jacket, she emerges in a clingy, size 10, black wrapover dress with a deep plunging neckline. The intake of breath from the male members in the room is audible.

Yes, at 45, Lu has still got what it takes to make grown men sweat.

But she almost doesn’t notice, which is probably why she’s got plenty of female friends. Women, it seems, like her, too.

And at a time when feminists are campaigning to get top shelf magazines hidden behind brown paper bags, Lu is happy to discuss her Page Three life because she’s proud of what she achieved.

“I went on TV with Heather Mills, who was a model at my London agency – to defend Page Three models,” says Lu. “We weren’t exploited. Throughout history the naked body has been appreciated for its beauty. I was proud to be part of that.

“The pictures in my portfolio are subtle. I was asked to model for Playboy and Penthouse at £25,000 a shoot, but I refused, because they wanted me to go full frontal and I wasn’t comfortable doing that. During my career I never did anything rude like that.

“Campaigning to cover up magazines is ridiculous when you consider some of the stuff that’s on the internet these days.”

Born in Bury, Lu’s family moved to Ramsbottom ‘because it was an up and coming place.’ At 13, her breasts were 32E which brought a lot of unwanted attention from boys, and bullying from girls.

“I spent a lot of time crying in the toilets,” recalls Lu. At 15, she decided to create a positive out of a perceived negative and with her mum and dad’s consent, she put herself forward as a model.

At 5ft 4 inches she was too short for conventional modelling, so was persuaded down the glamour route. She was assigned to the infamous Model Team agency in Manchester – the founder of which, ex-copper Peter Martin was jailed for rape in 1996.

Luckily, she managed to escape his clutches, ‘I always thought he was dodgy’ – but some of her friends fell victim.

She moved on to London glamour model-turned-agent Vivien Neves who specialised in Page Three work.

Her first job was a session for The Sun for which she was paid £90 for two hours’ work – a small fortune in those days. She also worked with top glamour model Sam Fox on a calendar.

Her career – which lasted from age 16 to 22 – introduced her to the bright lights of London and she was a regular at Stringfellows with her Page Three chums.

It was in London that she met her husband, a car electrician, who worked on Elton John, Freddie Mercury and all the celebrities’ cars.

“I was 18 when I met him and I don’t know now what attracted me to him. I can’t regret it, though, as I have two wonderful children.”

But the partnership turned sour. According to Lu, she was subjected to mental and physical abuse, at times ending up in hospital. The verbal abuse – his favourite was telling her she was fat and ugly – has left her with an underlying lack of confidence about her looks.

In 2008, after one violent encounter in which her wrist was broken, she summoned up the courage to involve the police. She took the kids and left. He was convicted of assault and fined £100 plus community service.

“I had given up my career to have children. I was terrified of leaving because he said he would take them away from me. I had no income, so I was reliant on him.”

Although Lu is not a trained chef, she comes from a foodie family. “I've been cooking since the age of nine,” says Lu. “My family has always been food lovers. My mum cooked everything from scratch, so I learned from her how to make things taste and look good. She now works alongside me in the Ramsons kitchen.”

Lu was working at her brother’s printing business when she met Chris Johnson, owner of Ramsons. They got talking about food and he could see she shared his passion for all things culinary.

He took her on to work front-of-house a couple of nights a week. He now aims to re-brand the business Lu Varley at Ramsons – a tribute indeed, considering the restaurant has a place in the Good Food Guide.

And Lu is upholding the restaurant’s formidable reputation having been nominated in Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s Top Chef and Restaurant categories last year.

She has also found true love in 34-year-old Iranian chef Farhad Ghassemi, with whom she lives in Ramsbottom and who also works at Ramsons.

“He is my soulmate and he is the perfect gentleman. He treats me with great respect and I haven’t had that before. Of course, it worries me that he is younger. I always think he will be embarrassed about me, but the age difference doesn’t bother him,” says Lu.

Lu could not particpate in last year’s Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) awards because Farhad was in a coma after being beaten up by thugs in a random attack on his car in Ramsbottom. Thankfully, he’s made a recovery and is back at work.

Lu recently raised £2,500 with a sponsored walk which was presented to the hospital that saved his life.

“When I look back, I’ve had some tough times and I never thought I would meet such a wonderful man, so you can imagine how I felt when I thought I was going to lose him. But the future looks so much better now,” says Lu.

“I feel as though I am re-building my life and I’m so grateful to Chris for giving me the opportunity at Ramsons.”