Pause for a moment to consider what the name Jamie Oliver means to you. Undoubtedly, you could come up with a variety of words to describe him - chef, media personality, campaigner, philanthropist. All these indisputably and accurately illustrate the trajectory of Jamie Oliver’s career since he first burst onto our TV screens as The Naked Chef in 1998. But the latest string which has been added to his bow, that of record-breaking author, has caught many by surprise, not least, one assumes, Mr Oliver himself.
The figures for total annual book sales for 2010 have recently been released - and the numbers tell quite a story. Jamie’s latest cookbook, 30 Minute Meals, sold a phenomenal 1.2 million copies last year, making it the fastest selling non-fiction book of all time. This achievement is even more remarkable when one considers the fact that the book was released quite late in the year, at the end of September.
These astonishing sales figures make Jamie Oliver one of the most successful British authors ever, second only to JK Rowling. It is unprecedented that a non-fiction book, and a cookbook at that, could post such huge sales. Not bad for a dyslexic boy from Essex who famously said, “reading bores me to death, I’ve honestly never read a book from cover to cover in my life.”
All this has been like manna from heaven to the publishing industry. At a time when pundits are predicting the demise of traditional publishing, Penguin (the publisher of 30 Minute Meals) has posted record profits. A recipe for success other companies will be keen to replicate.
No doubt there will be some purists out there who will take exception to the fact that a cookbook, of all things, has been lauded as the saviour of the UK’s publishing industry - and to some extent they have a point; a recipe can hardly be described as high literature, can it? However, in these straitened times, let’s just be thankful that people are buying books, no matter what genre they happen to be.
Lastly, let's spare a thought for Jamie's arch-rival, the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay, who may now be regretting his catty, if somewhat prohetic, remark: "Jamie Oliver inspires me with what he has done - with his publishing arm."