Celebrity Best Home Cook champion dedicates win to mother living with dementia

Alex Green, PA Entertainment Reporter

Ed Balls has dedicated his win on Celebrity Best Home Cook to his mother Carolyn, who has dementia, and the recipes she taught him as a boy.

The former shadow chancellor said he hoped she was able to recognise him on the TV and “deep within her” was proud of his achievement.

The 53-year-old triumphed over journalist Rachel Johnson and actor and presenter Tom Read Wilson to win the Golden Spoon trophy in the final of the BBC cookery show’s first star-studded series.

Hosted by Claudia Winkleman, it saw famous faces tasked with impressing Dame Mary Berry, leading chef Angela Hartnett and produce expert Chris Bavin with their kitchen exploits.

Balls told the PA news agency it was “actually quite nice to win something for a change”.

He added: “I have not done that for a long time. It was important to me in that final. It had been very competitive. Tom and Rachel are both great cooks but I was thinking of my mum and her teaching me to cook all those years ago.

“She might recognise me on the TV now – she has dementia – but she will probably be watching and I would like to believe that she would be proud that the recipes that she taught her son are now not only popular in our family but actually winning a BBC show as well. That was a nice moment.”

During the “rustle-up challenge” from Bavin, in which the contestants had to prepare a butternut squash dish, Balls made a Thai butternut squash and courgette curry with a side salad and rice.

Finalists Ed Balls, Rachel Johnson and Tom Read Wilson (KEO Films/Nicky Johnston/PA)
Finalists Ed Balls, Rachel Johnson and Tom Read Wilson (KEO Films/Nicky Johnston/PA)

Johnson left the competition following Hartnett’s eliminator challenge, where she and Read Wilson were tasked with making a croquembouche, a complex pastry tower, from scratch.

Balls then went head to head with Read Wilson in the final, where Dame Mary asked them to create an “ultimate picnic” for the judging panel.

The finalists were told to make four items, including one sweet, one meat, one plant-based and one fish.

Read Wilson created mini salmon and asparagus quiches, chicken liver pate with gruyere cheese scones, and mini chocolate orange cakes.

But Balls won out with a crab and samphire tart inspired by his Norfolk upbringing, herby lamb cutlets, chargrilled broccoli and asparagus, and a banana bread with cream cheese frosting.

Celebrity Best Home Cook - cast and hosts
Desiree Burch, Gareth Thomas, Karim Zeroual, Ruth Madeley and Ferne McCann also competed on the show (KEO Films/Nicky Johnston/PA)

He told PA his mother had been his “culinary inspiration” throughout the series.

“She taught me to cook when I was really young and then I have been cooking ever since,” he said.

“I go back all the time to her recipes, her lasagne, her shepherd’s pie, her gravy.

“As I have got older I have tried new things, different recipes from around the world, but the most special ones are the ones that my mum taught me.”

He added: “I hope that deep within her she will see some of those recipes and be proud of her son.”

In 2016 Balls appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and was a hit with viewers when he partnered with Katya Jones.

He joked that his experience on the cookery show had been more frightening than his time on Strictly.

“Mary Berry is much more formidable than the Strictly judges, more formidable than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown,” he said.

“She is the best, she is an expert, she is very tough.”

After the programme aired, Balls labelled it “such a lovely lockdown show with fab fellow cooks” in a post on Twitter.

Johnson congratulated Balls after the programme aired.

She tweeted: “From the pho to the pirate ship it was always going to be Ed Balls Day.

“Well done ⁦@edballs and ⁦@TomReadWilson for putting in your astonishing shifts.

“A man’s place is in the kitchen!”

Other contestants who appeared on the show included reality TV star Ferne McCann, Years And Years actress Ruth Madeley, Doctor Who’s Shobna Gulati, and CBBC presenter Karim Zeroual.

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