Ahead of his appearance at the Maltings on 28 September, Gregg Wallace opens up about his life and his new show.
Gregg Wallace modestly describes himself as “a spoon for hire.”
But he is doing himself a disservice. As his millions of TV fans will testify, he is in fact a highly charismatic man with enough star wattage to power the kitchen of every restaurant in London.
To emphasise the point, Gregg is embarking on his first ever solo tour – named “Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This” after his catchphrase on the immensely popular BBC1 cooking competition, MasterChef. After just a few warmup gigs, he has already taken to live performance like a duck – or should that be a duck a l’orange? – to water.
After getting a very positive reaction to the after-dinner speaking that he was doing at charity functions, Gregg wondered if he had a live show in him. So he took some ideas to a promoter who immediately told him: “Mate, that’s a show.”
Gregg, 53, takes up the story. “I did four trial dates. Sometimes I played in front of only 40 people, but I absolutely loved it. My agent sat at the back and at the end said to me, ‘You’re obviously having a whale of a time!’”
That’s the key to Gregg’s appeal. Whether he is performing to ten million viewers on MasterChef or to an audience of one (me) over breakfast in a central London cafe, he is utterly mesmerising. People are irresistibly attracted to his sheer effervescence, his lust for life and his endlessly sparkly personality. He possesses the magnetism to draw all the iron filings in the country towards him.
Which is exactly why his live shows are proving so popular. In fact, I would advise you to book early, because tickets are already flying off the shelves.
It is a delight to spend an hour in his company. Gregg is really fun to be around, bubbling with good humour. At one point, for instance, he interrupts the interview to ask me: “Do you want to see an impression?” He throws a blueberry across the table at me, before deadpanning: “Chuck Berry.”
Later, Gregg takes the mickey out of his Peckham accent. “Audiences who come to my live show will obviously know that I’m not going to be doing Hamlet. Anyway, with my accent, it would be ‘Amlet!”
He doesn’t take himself at all seriously – always a very appealing quality. For instance, he displays a very light-hearted attitude when filming. Gregg reveals that on the set of MasterChef, “I often say to the cameraman, ‘Just press the on button’. He replies, ‘**** off, baldy. Just pick up your spoon and eat things!’”
Gregg, who has a son and a daughter, goes on to fantasise about unfulfilled ambitions, which include having a cameo on EastEnders. “Could I turn up as Gregg Wallace? Could I appear out of the blue at Christmas? Would I be looking for my real father? Might there be someone on EastEnders I was married to that I had forgotten all about?”
It is this really cheerful, irrepressible sense of bonhomie that will win audiences over when Gregg performs “Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This.”
The presenter, who was also fronted Celebrity MasterChef, MasterChef: The Professionals, Inside the Factory and Eat Well For Less, confesses that he simply can’t wait to hit the road.
Gregg, a passionate rugby fan who has gained two coaching badges I the game, explains the complete rush that he has experienced thus far when performing live. “I have played rugby very badly all my life, but I’ve never played in front of more than a couple of grandads and an Alsatian.
“However, when I came on stage during the warmup gigs and said, ‘I don’t know if you should be honoured or dismayed to be here’, the audience cheered.”
He continues that, “When that happened, I thought, ‘This must be what it’s like to be a rugby international’. I got an enormous buzz, and I don’t think I landed for the next 24 hours. At that moment, if I could have gone out into the auditorium and cuddled every single member of the audience, I would have done!”
What is great about live performance, Gregg carries on, is that, “You instantly know whether people think you’re funny or not. The reaction when they laugh is huge. I didn’t expect that sort of thrill.
“I much prefer the sound of laughter to silence. Even if you make a point on stage that’s clever, what does clever sound like? I know what funny sounds like, but I couldn’t tell the difference between clever and really bored!”
That buzz is a gift that keeps on giving, Gregg adds. “You don’t want to go to bed after the show. It’s no good driving home. You want to go to the bar to keep the excitement going. I’ve got to be careful. I don’t want to drink myself into an early grave during the tour!”
“Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This” also plays to one of Gregg’s other great assets: he’s a brilliant people person. He affirms that, “In a lot of my roles on TV – MasterChef, Each Well For Less and Inside the Factory – the subject matter is people. That’s what they use me for – to chat to people. I think that will be my strength onstage.”
Gregg, who lives on the Kent coast with his wife Anne-Marie, proceeds to give an example. “People feel they can talk to me. They don’t feel threatened by me. If a contributor is nervous before filming on Inside the Factory, ten minutes before the cameras roll, the producers say to me, ‘Go and talk to him, Gregg’. So I go over and ask the contributor, ‘After 20 years working in TV, do you want the benefit of my advice? Don’t mess it up!’ People always laugh at that and start chatting to me. They are immediately relaxed.”
In the show, Gregg will be covering the waterfront of subjects. As well as “love, marriage, hair loss and weight loss,” he will be discussing his background. He will be outlining how he rose from being a greengrocer to one of Britain’s leading TV presenters and how he copes with fame. He will also be providing lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes about MasterChef and looking in detail at what we eat and drink.
In addition, Gregg will be playing a variety of entertaining games on stage. “At one point, I’ll get couples up on stage and they will have to guess which sweetcorn is tinned, frozen, organic and standard. Then they will have to guess which wine costs £5 pounds, £20 and £70. The couple that guess the sweetcorn correctly get the wine, and the couple that guess the wine correctly get the tin of sweetcorn!”
“Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This” will feature a revealing and humorous Q&A, too. Gregg, whose autobiography, Life on a Plate, was published in 2012 by Orion Books, will be answering such frequently asked questions as: Are John Torode and he really mates? Is John really Australian or is he in fact born and bred in Dublin? Is Gregg going to remain married this time? Is he really bald? Is the food on MasterChef cold? Is the competition fair on the contestant who goes last because the judges won’t be hungry by that point? Does he want to spit the food out? Are the families on Eat Well For Less real?
I’m afraid I can’t tell you the answer to any of these questions. You’ll have to come to “Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This” and hear them for yourselves!
The show is a celebration of Gregg’s wonderful life and career. He reveals that, “I have decided the best thing is not to be humble, but genuinely happy. The last 20 years have been absolutely amazing!”
So what does Gregg hope that audiences will take away from “Doesn’t Get Tougher Than This”? “I’d like them to look at food slightly differently and start to read the labels. Don’t take advertisers word for things. I also hope they go to work the next morning and say to their mates, ‘Do you know what Gregg Wallace said about John’s Road? And did you know that on MasterChef they regularly…? No, I didn’t know that, either.’
“But above all, I hope that audiences come out of the theatre giggling. I hope they have had fun and a really good laugh.”
Don’t worry about that, Gregg. Entertainment Doesn’t Get Better Than This!
Gregg Wallace is appearing at the Maltings on Friday 28 September at 8pm.
Tickets are £20 with an option for pre-show dining for an additional £9.
Premium tickets are available for £30 which, as well as your ticket to the show lets you get your hands on some signed merchandise.
For the Gregg Wallace superfans, there are also limited VIP tickets available for £40, which allows you to attend an exclusive Meet & Greet with the man himself.
More details and tickets here.