Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson, of Highgate, launches range of sustainable seaweed oils
PUBLISHED: 10:45 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:44 04 July 2019
Between supporting The Who at Wembley and releasing a new album, the Highgate rock star talks about starting a food revolution with his best mate
Sustainable, plentiful, organic, plant-based and healthy - surely the Holy Grail of foodstuffs?
Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson certainly thinks so after investing with his marine biologist pal Dr Craig Rose in a range of seaweed-infused cooking oils. Sainsbury's have heralded Weed and Wonderful (strapline: "It's not weird, it's wonderful") among their "Future Foods", and Wilson even showcased their merits in his wholemeal scones on Celebrity Bake-Off.
"I won that round!" he insists, adding: "I was robbed of the show."
But the Highgate-based rocker understands the need to shift seaweed from the slimy stuff you fling at your siblings on family beach holidays, to something you drizzle on a salad.
"Getting people to accept it is a bit of a mission," he accepts. "But everything you do for the first time seems unnatural."
Watching his best friend start the business has rekindled the excitement he felt at starting the Kaiser Chiefs, who lit up the mid-noughties music scene with hits like I Predict a Riot and Ruby.
"It's all or nothing," he said. "You have to be passionate about it and believe in yourself. Over the years being in a band has afforded me the chance to do things I hadn't thought of doing, so I thought I could help with the rock and roll side - and there is a rock and roll side to seaweed, it's a revolution, a food revolution.
"It's a brilliant food substance in this vegan, organic world. It just needs introducing in a palatable way."
Dr Craig chips in that avocados and hummus, once niche items, are now top sellers at Tesco.
"Seaweed is a plentiful untapped resource, a powerhouse of nutrition, rich in iodine which you can only get from your diet," he said. "If you are deficient you get thyroid problems, weight gain and a slow metabolism. It's been used for millions of years as an umami flavour, but now people wonder what to do with it, so we've made oils which are really easy to use. You can drizzle it or fry it."
Seaweed is both clean and local - theirs comes from Scotland, and they already supply major retailers like M&S. It's also long been used in skincare.
"That's why we look so young!" interjects Ricky, who says he's eating much less meat these days.
"It's not a conscious decision - it's just the way the world's going. It's not the first aisle you go to in the supermarket."
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He even jokes that his wedding next year might feature seaweed. "Grace doesn't know this yet but there'll be a heavily seaweed theme for the celebrity guests."
One man who will be there is Craig, an old school pal from their hometown of Leeds.
"I broke my arm and wasn't allowed to play in the playground," said Ricky. "They sent an unfortunate boy to sit with me at lunchtimes, and we haven't stopped being friends since. He's my first and last friend until I die."
On Saturday the Chiefs support The Who at Wembley, watched by his mum and dad, which he says: "Is quite exciting. I could probably cycle there from Highgate."
Before Highgate he lived in Primrose Hill and loved the "Disney version of London like a Mary Poppins town" until he wanted a dog and started lookng further north.
"I fell in love with Highgate," he said. "It doesn't really feel like living in London, but I am only 20 minutes from Oxford Street - it's bananas."
He can also go unnoticed.
"I'm not really that famous," he insists. "I'm lucky I can be famous when I want to be and not when I don't. Besides, I'm probably the least famous person in my street. I've got the smallest house. The other day I went to get an Amazon parcel from my neighbour, who said: 'Oh, you live in the small house at the end.' And I'm a bloomin' rock star!".
The Chiefs' first album for three years is out on July 26, and Ricky says being signed again to a major label means "I don't have to get the Tube any more".
"I am incredibly excited and I'm not used to saying that about a record," he said. "I feel confident, and the label seem confident. And they are a business so they think they can make money out of us."
Duck was the album's working title, but instead of discarding it the band thought: "Screw it, let's call it what we want."
"We've always given our albums obscure titles, then gone for something safer for release. Reviews always use the title in a negative way - like, our first album was called Employment, so it was: 'Next it'll be the unemployment line.' But I've learned there's nothing constructive about a compromise so we decided go for it."
Dr Craig attests to seeing his friend go through "a really exhausting process".
"It nearly killed us," Ricky agrees. "This record has really taken it out of us - we knew we had to come back with something not just good but astonishing. But it should be something that overtakes you emotionally.
"When you are in a band, if there aren't days when you want to quit and say: 'That's it, I'm not doing it any more,' then you are doing it wrong."