If someone had told 16-year old James Trevor Oliver that in 10 years’ time he would become not only a phenomenon in the world of food, but a world phenomenon himself, and one of Britain’s most famous exports, he probably wouldn’t have believed it.
The “Naked Chef” from Clavering, Essex, left school as a teenager with no qualifications and used to practice his cooking skills at his parents’ pub, “The Cricketers”. So how do you go from that to “Most Inspiring Political Figure” (Channel 4 Political Awards, 2006)? If you mix talent and natural charm with a bit of dedication and a pinch of luck, you’ll get Jamie Oliver’s recipe for success.
When the BBC producers discovered Jamie Oliver in 1997, they spotted, more than just talent, a marketing potential: he was witty, at ease in front of the camera, and had a certain “je-ne-sais-quoi” quality that made him instantly likeable. His poised but cheeky character would make the public feel comfortable and welcome in his kitchen, and that’s how the concept of his first series, “The Naked Chef”, came to be.
Jamie Oliver’s first TV show generated his first book, and as the show would run for a further two series, he wrote a book to go with each one. From then on, Oliver’s career as a chef, but mostly as a TV personality and public figure, snowballed.
The young chap from Clavering went from being Britain’s sweetheart to becoming a celebrity chef who shares his healthy cooking tips from Australia to Japan. Jamie Oliver’s programmes have now been broadcast in over 100 countries, having been translated into 30 or more languages, and his cookbooks have sold over 12 million copies worldwide.
His new book, “Jamie’s Great Britain”, is set to become this year’s Christmas number one, while his most recent show, “Jamie’s Dream School”, attracted over a million viewers in its first weeks.
The chef trades on his accessible, “guy next door”-type image and was in high demand for advertising campaigns right from the start. He promotes both Tefal cookware and Royal Worcester tableware, but his most famous collaboration is with Sainsbury’s, which is coming to an end after Oliver endorsed the supermarket chain for 11 years.
Jamie Oliver has effectively become a global brand. As his success has grown, the British chef has expanded his business interests, setting up various companies that cover enterprises such as “Fresh One”, his television production company. He owns his own holding company, “Sweet as Candy”, which has brought him enough money to be included in The Sunday Times “Richest Britons under 30” list.
For many, Jamie Oliver is no longer just a celebrity chef – he has become a concept. Forget Jamie Oliver, the person – now, it’s Jamie Oliver, the media personality; Jamie Oliver, the cookware brand; Jamie Oliver, the restaurants.
Another big part of the chef’s success is, in fact, his restaurants. They have been set up not only all over the UK but also in Holland and Australia, and have undoubtedly contributed to elevate Jamie Oliver to the status of “global brand”.
Fifteen, Oliver’s first restaurant, opened in 2002 and its story was filmed and turned into the programme “Jamie’s Kitchen”. It was named after the first group of 15 apprentices with disadvantaged backgrounds that Oliver trained as part of his initiative to give unemployed young people a chance to create a career in the restaurant industry.
“Many staff stay with us for many years and rise up to management levels”, said Jamie Oliver’s spokesman, Peter Berry. Fifteen’s popularity is a direct consequence of the success of the Oliver branding: “We get a lot of tourists from all over the world and the UK who really just want to eat at the restaurant they have seen on television”, Mr Berry said.
In addition to Fifteen, the other Jamie Oliver restaurants are Barbecoa and Jamie’s Italian. Barbecoa is a co-production with New York chef Adam Perry Lang with whom, according to Mr Berry, “Jamie works closely and develops all dishes”.
Jamie’s Italian is Oliver’s chain of 17 restaurants all over the UK that offers, as the name implies, rustic Italian dishes. They are the most affordable of the Jamie Oliver restaurants, but have also recently exposed the “Naked Chef” in a bad light.
Over the last 2 years, a number of the Jamie’s Italian branches have been inspected and displayed a number of health risks. The Nottingham branch, for example, grabbed national headlines after a mouse allegedly ran across a table.
Despite this, Jamie Oliver’s spokesman assures that every Jamie Oliver restaurant has “very strict rules about food provenance” and that they all have “excellent food hygiene ratings from the local Environmental Health offices.”
Adding salt to the wound, Jamie Oliver’s quest to make America healthier has been met with huge resistance. “Late Show” host David Letterman invited Oliver in March 2010, vividly expressing his lack of faith in the chef’s initiative, and Oliver had already suffered a setback when he broke down on his own show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”, after he realized he was failing to get his message through to American audiences.
That Jamie Oliver has been able to transform himself in a global brand is a fact. His enthusiasm quickly won Britain over, but will he be able to sell his brand to the rest of the world? In Oliver’s own words: “As you can see ladies and gentlemen, my challenge is big.”