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Jamie Oliver: a chef with dyslexia

Jamie Oliver is a British celebrity chef with dyslexia. Read more to find out about his views and experiences on having dyslexia.
Written by Rowan Foster

Who is Jamie Oliver?

Jamie Oliver is a British celebrity chef. He has his own restaurant chain, has sold more than 14.55 million books, and has a reported net worth of over £240 million. He also has dyslexia!
He struggled a lot at school – he was labelled as ‘special needs’ and was mocked by the other boys for being taken out of classes. He has always struggled with reading. Jamie did not finish reading his first novel until 2013: he was 38 years old.

“I’m not a good reader. I’ve always tried to read a book and given up after the first page.”

However, he does not think that dyslexia is a limitation. In fact, he has found his dyslexia to be a positive thing! 

“being dyslexic or having special needs is not an excuse or reason for you not to prosper.”

What does Jamie Oliver think of Dyslexia?

Here are some positive things that Jamie Oliver has said about his dyslexia:

  • “If I’m in a meeting I just see the problems differently and I obsess about things differently.”
  • “Some bits of work need to be sweated over and cried over and crafted. Because I’m dyslexic, sometimes, when it requires a load of stuff to be done, I just do it. It’s like I’m a massive ten-tonne boulder rolling down the hill.”
  • “I’ve never struggled – my brain works in quite a weird way and I often imagine how it tastes and put concepts together in my head. I can 85% smell it and almost taste it, I’m normally about right. I’ve found my dyslexia to be such a gift in the job.”
  • “I’m humbled and excited that MI5 employ dyslexics specifically. Dyslexics look at problem-solving in a totally different way. This is why dyslexia is a gift, not a problem.”
Jamie Oliver stands giving eye contact to the camera and offering a plate of food forward. Wearing a blue shirt, with his short hair brushed back, Jamie Oliver is seen in what looks like a home kitchen.
Taken from an interview with Jamie Oliver about Dyslexia on the Guardian Website: “those with dyslexia [are] lucky”.

Made by Dyslexia

In 2017, Jamie Olivier was interviewed by the charity ‘Made by Dyslexia’. You can watch this interview over on you tube, or read the transcript, below:

Jamie Oliver can be seen sitting on a stool in mid-conversation. He is wearning blue jeans and a dark blue shirt. His hair is ruffled. The background is a blurred out, large kitchen with big windows.
Screenshot taken from the #MadeByDyslexia interview with Jamie Oliver on You tube

Jamie Oliver #madebydyslexia interview transcript:

I loved school. I really loved school. It was like a glorified youth club. I had nothing to offer at school – I didn’t learn much about myself at school, didn’t feel compelled to excel and put extra effort into any class at school. But I liked hanging out with my mates. I didn’t bunk off, cause I was happy, you know it’s almost like the one hardest ingredient of school is if the kid’s happy, you’ve got all the permissions to do everything else. I was really happy, but nothing else happened and there’s a bit of a weird one as well because when I was at school dyslexia wasn’t really- you were either almost blind or not dyslexic so I was just put in special needs, you know, you’ve got a thick kid, so you know.

But now my nephews kind of get a proper run down. They know so much more about the particular type of help they need, they get the assistance, they don’t necessarily get dragged out of class and put in a blimmin’ room at the top of the school, like a sort of dunce do you know what I mean? So it was a bit of a stigma when I was at school – didn’t bother me, because I was one of the bigger boys, but it I mean- it wasn’t great for self-esteem really.

They [the teachers] all said the same thing you know, lovely boy, you know- polite, respectable, you know I got on with teachers but you know that’s why I love the debate about education. You know who said education is what we say it is? Oh look, a couple of dudes from 500 years ago sort of set up the structure of it, English, Maths, Science, okay okay so if you’re not very good at black and white and sort of traditional academia, you’re thick? Therefore you have no value or?

So for me personally, I’ve always been passionate since leaving school about- well there’s different types of intelligence and everyone has the ability to do brilliant. And you know, school should really be about facilitating kids to find their sort of inner genius and their inner confidence, and help them with life skills, and just being good people whereas actually school is quite rigid.

Everything’s based on measurement and every child is different, every town, every school is different, every part of the country is different – so there’s no way of controlling it. It becomes more about culture than sort of hard measurements and you know- quite a few of- well there were only five people in my special needs class but three of them have done really well. I know people that left school with As As and As, but are really on just above minimum wage.

Personally I think my strength is just a complete obsession to any expression of empowering people and teaching people to cook. Whether that’s a book, the paper its on the photographer we use, sitting next to- you know, fifteen years later, the effort on design and how we lay out a page to try and empower Billy from Bognor to be able to achieve something that’s really affordable, that a king would be happy to eat. Ultimately that is what it comes down to for me. We’ve got a massive problem in this country with under-mentored, under-loved kids that don’t see that you could be good at something very simple, and turn it into a life’s work. That you enjoy, that makes you want to get out of bed with a spark in your eye.

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