Danish aristocrat and reality TV star CAROLINE FLEMING has put her foodie heritage to good use in her new cookbook. She tells Charlotte Pearson Methven how her balanced regime means ‘there’s absolutely room in my life for a bag of crisps’
There aren’t many people who could convince me that young children might ‘love’ eating steamed broccoli with sea salt and olive oil – for breakfast. But when Caroline Fleming says it, I believe her. The 42-year-old Danish aristocrat, model, author, entrepreneur and television personality (she has fronted several shows in Denmark, including Denmark’s Next Top Model, and appeared in two seasons of reality series Ladies of London) is passionate and very knowledgeable about food. Within a few minutes she has me in her thrall and mentally adding pink Himalayan salt – ‘the most alkaline ingredient on our planet’ – to my shopping list.
Danish aristocrat and reality TV star Caroline Fleming has put her foodie heritage to good use in her new cookbook. Caroline wears top, Three Floor. Trousers, Mo & Co Edition 10, from Fenwick
Caroline has led an intriguingly glamorous life: her family have a castle, Valdemars Slot in Denmark, and she was married for eight years to Rory Fleming, British banking scion and nephew of James Bond writer Ian Fleming. (She was a baroness, but gave up the title to wed a commoner.) Although she still flits back and forth to Denmark, she has lived for many years in London, which is where we have met to discuss her upcoming feel-good cookbook Cook Yourself Happy: The Danish Way. And such is her conviction that balance is at the core of good eating that I am quickly persuaded that even the juiciest steak can be ‘neutralised’ with a nice bowl of greens.
These beliefs are in line with those of many nutrition experts, including the world-famous Mayr clinics, which are based on the principle that diseases grow in an acidic environment, and so the acid-forming properties of certain foods – such as meat, dairy and sugar – should be counteracted by alkaline ones, such as leafy greens and citrus fruits, to maintain a healthy pH in the body.
But Caroline’s most passionately held conviction is that food must be enjoyed. ‘So many people struggle with eating, which I think is a tragedy because food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I would never look at a slice of cake and think, “Oh, that’s really bad; that’s full of calories.” I will look at it and think, “Mmm, I want that and I’m going to have it because I know that the kale, spinach, rocket, broccoli, cucumber, avocado, pink Himalayan salt, lemon, lime, garlic, ginger and olive oil that I put into my body every day will neutralise it.”’
Caroline puts her culinary philosophies into practice at the West London home she shares with her three children: Alexander, 13, and Josephine, ten, with Rory, whom she divorced in 2008, and Nicholas, six, with Danish footballer and former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, 13 years her junior (the two were engaged but split when Nicholas was a baby). All three children are, she says, ‘foodies’ already. ‘They love to experiment and are very conscious of their taste.’
Caroline puts her culinary philosophies into practice at the West London home she shares with her three children. Blouse, Related, from Oxygen Boutique
Caroline’s love of food was instilled at a young age by her parents and cooking helped her through the loss of her mother, when Caroline was 11, and of her father earlier this year. Cook Yourself Happy is a tribute to her idyllic early years with them. ‘I grew up in a home where, from dawn to dusk, the action was always in the kitchen.’ Caroline’s late father Baron Niels Krabbe luel-Brockdorff was a direct descendant of the celebrated Danish naval hero Niels Juel, who was gifted Valdemars Slot as a reward for commanding a great victory over Sweden in the 1600s. There is a statue of him in Copenhagen and he is referenced in the Danish national anthem. Caroline and her younger sister Louise are the 11th generation of the family since then and various members (including Louise and their beloved maternal grandparents, now in their 90s) live in homes on the estate. ‘My sister and I are very close – one of the reasons I go back to Denmark so often is so my children and I can spend time with her and hers.’
Last meal on earth
A fresh coconut with its water.
Who inspires you?
Mother Nature and my children.
Climbing so high in our cherry tree that I couldn’t get down. I was three or four years old.
Don’t save the best for last.
Popcorn made in coconut oil with pink Himalayan salt and raw honey.
In three words you’re…
Made of love.
Caroline’s father enrolled on a cookery course when, on finishing university, he found himself with time on his hands as his own father was still running the estate. ‘His speciality was sauces and stocks; he had a freezer that could carry 180 litres. He taught me that it is the sauce that makes the dish.’ He spotted Caroline’s mother Margaretha on the cover of a magazine – she had won a beauty contest in her native Sweden and moved to New York to work with the renowned Eileen Ford of the Ford modelling agency. ‘He followed her around the world for two years before she agreed to dinner and fell madly in love with him. She couldn’t boil an egg when they met, but his passion inspired her. She made jams and marmalades, sausages from scratch and her own vinegar – she had these huge clay pots in the larder, one for white vinegar and one for red, that she’d tend to daily. She also had a complete obsession with mushrooms.’ Caroline fondly recalls times spent foraging for them in the forests of Sweden and Denmark, as well as crabbing off a pier near the family home. She shows me a photo of her son Nicholas on the same pier recently. ‘Just look at that, surrounded by water, with the amazing Scandinavian evening light. It’s quintessential childhood.’
Caroline’s brand has been given its greatest boost by her role in Ladies of London, a US reality series
Losing her mother to cancer was, Caroline says, a brutal shock, especially as she grew up in the sort of ‘old-fashioned, formal background’ where matters of the heart were not discussed, and her father struggled to talk to his daughters about what they were going through. ‘To deal with these feelings was not something he had been given the tools to do – it’s not that he didn’t want to. Among the Danish aristocracy there is something similar to the British stiff upper lip, though plenty have now decided to wake up to their emotions instead of numbing themselves, which I think gives a far richer life. For so long, I had to freeze my feelings.’ Caroline says she experienced her first pure emotion since the death of her mother when she had her first child in 2004. ‘That was when I realised that I needed to go on a massive journey back and open every single wound, with this incredible therapist who held my hand through it all. That has given me tremendous strength. Now there’s no stone that hasn’t been turned, nothing that hasn’t had enough closure.’ There was just one thing Caroline still felt she needed to do: ‘No one ever told me what my mother died of – which cancer – and only yesterday I mustered up the courage to ask the hospital to release the medical report from when she died [aged 36] in October 1986. I am hopeful they will.’
Mentally rejuvenated, Caroline now feels ready to focus on her career and to build her brand creatively: as well as Cook Yourself Happy, she has a line of affordable kitchenware (‘organic, clean, Scandinavian-mood lifestyle items’) out in Denmark and a range of non-toxic cleaning products coming later this year. ‘I no longer have the noise in my head of unresolved issues. That’s not to say that my life isn’t without challenges, but I take everything on: right here, right now.’
Caroline declines to go into details of her divorce from Rory; clearly, her life moved on a long time ago. She will say only, ‘I’ve had a very difficult divorce and it’s not something I like to discuss. Reports of my settlement [said to be in nine figures] are so exaggerated as to be absurd. In truth, I have to work. I am proud to be financially independent and utterly tired of how this fake news gets repeated again and again.’
It is impossible to imagine the exuberant Caroline being anything but a grafter. She has had ‘a serious brand’ in Denmark for ‘a good ten years’, with several TV shows to her name. First was The Baroness, which, Caroline says, was sold to the family as a historical documentary about Valdemars, but turned out to be a reality show focusing on her. ‘They made it look as if I walked around in ballgowns, bathed in champagne and jumped on one private jet after the other, which couldn’t be further from the truth. My whole family felt exploited.’
Caroline’s love of food was instilled at a young age by her parents and cooking helped her through the loss of her mother, when Caroline was 11, and of her father earlier this year. Blouse, Related, from Oxygen Boutique
Being entrusted with a property like Valdemars is as much of a responsibility as it is a privilege. The castle is open to the public and Caroline’s family have worked for its upkeep as opposed to living like kings and queens, as her kitchen-centric upbringing proves. Since The Baroness, she has been ‘inundated’ with offers, but has been careful about which ones to accept. She did three seasons of The Baroness Moves In, a reality format made for her, in which she spent time living with a family in need, helping around the house and with their children and improving their eating habits – which I imagine she was good at. She also presented five seasons of Denmark’s Next Top Model.
Caroline couldn’t be further from the caricature of the lady who lunches while living off a divorce settlement. Yet, ironically, her brand has been given its greatest boost by her role in Ladies of London, a US reality series (aired in the UK on ITVBe) that followed a group of glamorous, well-to-do women as they hobnobbed around the capital, getting in a fair few catfights along the way. It recently wrapped its third (and, the word is, final) series. Caroline agonised over whether to join for the second season when she was approached.
‘I don’t involve myself in bitchiness and I don’t care for gossip – that is so not the way that my heart beats – so it was a challenging format to be a part of. I watched 20 minutes of the first season and thought, “If I watch any more, I won’t do it. How can I throw myself into the tiger’s den?” But I also thought, “I have so many dreams and so much I want to do. Maybe this has landed on my plate for a reason.” I am very spiritual and have a loving relationship with God, so I left it to him. I asked him to send me a message and he made it clear to me in a dream the night before I signed my contract.’
Thankfully, Ladies was a positive experience. Caroline – who is, by all accounts, a devoted friend with an openness that makes her impossible not to like – was warmly received by viewers and widely considered the most likable and ‘real’ of the lot. She was often filmed concocting delicious feasts for the others and still regularly lunches with ‘the girls’. Julie Montagu is ‘a darling woman’; Caroline has a ‘colourful friendship’ with Caroline Stanbury, the show’s fiery Queen Bee, and ‘our young boys adore each other’. Marissa and her husband Matt Hermer are ‘dear friends’ whom Caroline recently saw in Los Angeles, and she shares loves of karaoke, wine and skiing with Juliet Angus.
This high-profile stint also helped in her quest to build her name globally. ‘I knew I needed to financially secure my family and to help preserve the estate, which meant growing my brand beyond Denmark’s borders.’ Ladies was such a hit in the US that on a recent holiday in Florida ‘people came up to me saying things like, “Your positivity is so infectious, we could bathe in it.” It was adorable.’ And now she has gained the recognition needed to publish the cookbook she has always dreamed of, which she describes as ‘my greatest passion besides my children’.
Cook Yourself Happy brims with recipes that celebrate the seasons, encourage use of local produce and embrace all food groups. There’s her mum’s sausage casserole, a rib of beef with creamy potatoes and a section devoted to baking, with sugary, buttery cinnamon buns among the mouthwatering offerings. Caroline is not one for elimination, but clean-eating staples such as kale, avocado and cucumber feature heavily, too. There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods in this book.
Caroline as a child with her sister and parents. Losing her mother to cancer was, Caroline says, a brutal shock, especially as she grew up in the sort of ‘old-fashioned, formal background’
Being entrusted with a property like Valdemars is as much of a responsibility as it is a privilege. The castle is open to the public and Caroline’s family have worked for its upkeep
Caroline at her wedding to Rory Fleming, nephew of James Bond writer Ian
‘Your body will ask you for balance,’ she insists. ‘I might want a gratinated pasta dish with five kinds of cheese for lunch, but if I have that, my body will scream to have cucumber and avocado on the side, probably with rocket and lemon juice. So you’ll find both kinds of recipes in my book.’ What her body does not crave is processed food, but she is no food snob either. ‘There is absolutely room in my life for a bag of crisps; you can get some really high-quality ones now, with great salt and vinegar. I have no problem with that! And being Danish, I have a very sweet tooth, so in my house you will see big containers filled with lollipops.’
While she may be a Lady of London, poised to take on the world, Caroline is certain that her balanced, mindful attitude is thanks to her Danish-ness – and the much-written-about concept of ‘hygge’. ‘Thousands of times I’ve tried to explain to English people what hygge is: it’s cosy, it’s gorgeous, it’s a feeling, a smell, a sense of security and of freedom; the quality time you spend with the people you love. It’s fundamental to love for your children, your family and your friends. Now it has shot off like the wildest firework and I couldn’t be more pleased. Denmark is such a happy country – it deserves to be celebrated.’
Cook Yourself Happy: The Danish Way by Caroline Fleming will be published by Jacqui Small, on Thursday, price £25. See below for recipes from her book.
- Follow Caroline @carolineflemingofficial