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Annabel Karmel talks to Lisa Williams about her childhood and family

Cookery writer Annabel Karmel has published 42 books on the topic of weaning and feeding babies and children, and has her own range of children’s meals. Her business is estimated to be worth £10 million. Born in London, Annabel was raised by her architect mother and business man father, and has one brother. She was a professional harp player but became an author after her first daughter Natasha died, aged three months, from encephalitis. She has three children: Nicholas, Lara and Scarlett.

What you were told about your own birth?

Not much. I remember my mother said that she stayed for a week in a hospital after I was born. Which is extraordinary. It wasn’t a caesarian either. And I was due on her birthday but was a week late.

Do you know whether you were breastfed or bottle-fed?

I was breastfed. Also all my nappies were ironed and washed. And she said I was really bad eater. She told me that she went to a doctor when I was under a year, and he said that I should have Carnation milk. When I grew up I used to eat just potatoes and pasta. And look at me now, I’m tiny, but goodness, I packed it away. I also drank tea from a young age, but can’t drink it now.

Can you describe your childhood in three words?

Molly-coddled, educated, and confined. My mother was very protective of us. I wasn’t given a lot of freedom as a child, which is a pity. I give my children a lot more freedom in comparison. My mother also believed in education.

What’s your earliest memory?

I remember being in playpen and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the fact that I was behind bars. I wanted to get out, I did eventually find a way to get over the top of it and landed on my head.

Did you have any early passions?

I was obsessed with two things: one was to have my own horse, which I wanted to keep in my garden. And I wanted to be a ballerina. I loved dancing. But my mother had other ideas for me.

What did she want you to do?

She wanted me to do music. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter of time. She really wanted me to play the harp. It hurt my fingers quite a lot but she used to bribe me with sweets. So I eventually got to play it quite well and I became a professional musician. I played for many years but I stopped playing when I lost my first child, which changed my life.

Where did your passion for food come from?

My mother was way before her time with cooking. She used to put cottage cheese into an ice-cream scoop, so it looked like an igloo in the middle of a plate. And she put triangles of different fruits around it so it looked really nice and I probably would have not eaten it if it did not look so appealing. So I learnt the importance of presentation.

Did you have a favourite teddy or a toy you were attached to?

I had a rocking horse called Mandy, and I was very attached to Mandy. And of course I had my own security blanket. I couldn’t sleep without it. It had to be washed very quickly and given back to me.

Did you have a favourite book?

I loved Flat Stanley. It’s about a boy who was flat. And when he goes abroad they can post him in an envelope. It’s beautifully written.

Do you remember your childhood birthday parties?

We had incredible birthday parties. We had wild animal birthday parties, where they brought snakes, tarantulas, chinchillas to the house and the children could stroke them and touch them. We would lie down on the floor and the snake went over our tummies…

Do you remember your first day at school?

Yes, I didn’t like it. And I put my uniform on top of my cupboard. I said I am not going there again. And I thought by putting the uniform away I wouldn’t have to go.

Do you get your drive from your parents?

My mother managed to work and earn a living and be a wife and a mother. I was always brought up to be able to survive, because my father lost his business quite early on and my mother had to be the main breadwinner. She has made me quite a driven person. I work hard. And maybe I also compensate from the insecurity that I felt during when my father lost his business. I remember we had to come back from holiday and I knew things were wrong and I didn’t quite understand.

There is a deep insecurity in my life because of what happened to me as a child. And we didn’t have a huge amount of money. We didn’t have lavish holidays. When she throwing those amazing birthday parties, I am sure she had to scrape it all together.

Do you feel grateful to her?

Yes I do. No, I do. I think she made me work hard. And I think it was really hard for her when I lost my child. It was very hard, because I wanted to be strong for her. I didn’t want her to see me upset. I had to be strong for my mother. And then my father had a stroke the same year so I went through a difficult time. Although that was just before I wrote my first book, which really changed my life.

:: Starting your weaning journey? Annabel Karmel’s new Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is filled with 120 quick, easy and nutritious recipes, essential advice and tips to let your baby take the lead.