Sophie Thompson steps back on the boards after MasterChef success
After wooing a fearsome collective of Italian restaurateurs to become the winner of Celebrity MasterChef 2014, Sophie Thompson is understandably taking a bit of a timeout from the kitchen.
In last month’s final, the actress’s main course of oven-roasted brill with pepper crust, seared scallops, black pudding and chorizo oil was enough to persuade judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace to choose her ahead of fellow finalists Jodie Kidd and Charley Boorman.
Yet by the time she sat down with her youngest son, Walter, to watch the final two months later in her East Finchley home, the cuisine was a more modest affair of “crisps and pop”, and having already resumed her acting career, there’s been no time to bask in her new culinary credentials.
“Straight after the show, you do feel a bit cooked out because you just have to practise everything and find recipes that you can feasibly cook in time. And, of course, now that I’m rehearsing, I just don’t have the time.
“What I try and do is do the things I always did before: slow cook meals in the evening so they’re ready the next day for the family. The thing I think I really noticed about the whole experience, though, was that it did reignite my whole enjoyment of the kitchen again. It really was so lovely.”
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A “north London girl through and through”, Sophie grew up in Hampstead as the second daughter of actress Phyllida Law and actor Eric Thompson – the first being fellow actress and movie star Emma Thompson.
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While to many, Sophie’s celebrity status came through her year-long stint in EastEnders as the deliciously wicked Stella Crawford, she also bagged an Olivier Award for her star role in the Donmar’s 1999 revival of Into the Woods.
It is this pedigree of performance she is hoping to bring to her latest show, Guys and Dolls, which is soon to open at Chichester Festival Theatre.
“It’s just an amazing experience,” the 52-year-old says of the musical. “In my opinion, it’s one of the best shows out there, so we’re just trying to make a good job out of it. Most people would know at least one song – it’s one of those musicals where every single one comes up and you go, ‘Oh God, I love this one’, and then the next one comes up and you think, ‘Oh God, I love this one too’.”
Having recorded the final of MasterChef two months before it screened, Sophie had to keep a tight lid on affairs even while her castmates watched the programme throughout early rehearsals.
“I guess it’s a bit like being in The Mousetrap,” she laughs. “You can’t tell people whodunnit otherwise it spoils the fun. I told my sons and that was it. I didn’t even tell my mum!”
Interestingly, however, the bubbly – and just a little ditzy – mother of two found there were crucial parallels to be found within cooking and acting.
In fact, she says, putting together a meal is not too dissimilar from rehearsing and performing a play.
“A recipe is … you know, if you got the same recipe as me, we’d do it differently. It’s like a script. You interpret it your way, you cook it your way and then you serve it up and hope people like it.
“It’s very much like what we do as actors. You get the script and often it’s been done a million times before – as is the case with at the moment with Guys and Dolls actually, because it’s one of those musicals that most people know and a lot of people love – so you feel like you’ve got a really important recipe on your hands and you want to cook it up as well as you can and make it tasty and new and your version of it.”
So does she now see cooking as an art in itself?
“Oh, definitely. That’s why I loved going into the professional kitchens because you’re kind of being allowed to go backstage. That’s where I spend a lot of my time, because you see what goes on in the wings.
“If you go to one of those special restaurants, they call it front of house as we do in the theatre, and with the people out there serving it up, it’s like the show. We’re in the service industry as entertainers. It’s the same thing as restaurants – people pay their money and they want a good meal and you want to serve something that they’ll gobble up.”
With further television and stage appearances planned in Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorist and Victoria Wood’s The Day We Sang, audiences probably won’t be seeing Chef Thompson following previous Celebrity MasterChef winners such as Lisa Faulkner and Nadia Sawalha into the cookery world professionally.
The trophy does, however, take pride of place in her office, wrapped with the blue headscarf she wore in the series. Describing her fellow contestants as “such lovely people”, she regards the experience as one which will change her day-to-day life forever.
“The analogy in my head is like, ‘Well, I had salt and pepper, but now I’ve got MasterChef as a condiment’ and I don’t think that will ever go away. I’ve got S on my shelf and I’ve got P and now I’ve got MC. It was very inspiring and now I’m revisiting my kitchen in a whole different way.”
Sophie Thompson will be performing as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at Chichester Festival Theatre, from August 11 to September 21. Visit cft.org.uk or phone 01243 781312.