You could make an argument that The Festival of Literature has painted itself into a bit of a corner. Admittedly it is a most elegant and eloquent corner filled with high ideas and poetic depths but it is a corner nonetheless. The continuing success in acquiring such great minds to talk here; scientists, philosophers, authors, poets, musicians and artists of all kinds, may have meant that the booking of a young, jobbing actor with a neat side line as a foodie might be off the core audiences radar, thus explaining the relatively low turnout. And that’s a real shame as Nicola’s breezy chat regarding her parallel career as a food writer was a wonderful interlude from some of the more brain freezing ideas that are often pitched from the same stage.
And anyway, not everything on offer has to sit in the realms of high concept physics or dark literary backstory and after all a man’s got to eat, dammit! But she certainly wasn’t going to let the statistics get in the way and her conversational, chatty and often less than focussed style not only suited the intimate situation perfectly, it more than suited the subject matter. Food! Real, honest, straight talking, glorious food.
And if you are thinking that another TV actor pitching a book full of the likes of Scraped Artichoke, Tormented Kale and Homespun Watermelon Tartare is the last thing we need, thankfully Milly, and I think under such relaxed surroundings she would be comfortable with me using her nickname, is anything but that girl.
Her mantra might be a cliché, but clichés happen to be clichés because they are true, which itself is a bit of a cliché…anyway, hers is “a little bit of what you fancy does you good,” a call to take up arms against a sea of truffles…not to mention quinoa, sriracha and trout ice cream, a return to good honest eating and an everything in moderation approach.
It is refreshing that a young women is advocating such a traditional approach to food and the most interesting and telling part of her talk comes in the Q&A session when asked about the pressure associated with the acting world that makes up the other part of her life. Whilst she has encountered first hand audition puppet masters insisting on a certain media driven conformity for a role, it is the fact that as a young, slim, blonde, attractive women, many book publishers could also only ever envisage her as the face of a vegan cookbook, as an advocator of clean eating or an ultra healthy lifestyle.
Maybe the most important aspect of the book is less its contents, great though they appear, and more about the association of a young modern female role model eschewing fad and gimmick, fashion and trend and advocating a return to common sense eating. It could be that for all its first impressions, as far as society, its modern perceptions and changing such attitudes is concerned, this talk could actually have been one of the most important events of the Festival calendar.