Fifty-five year old Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace is rather enjoying lockdown with his beautiful young wife Anne-Marie.
The other evening, he tells me by way of example, they retired to their bedroom with some wine and cheese (‘we have a sofa and a coffee table in there’) to watch a Disney film.
Sounds very civilised. Life chez Wallace is well-organised and calm in a way it’s never previously been. Yes, Gregg has been married three times before, but it’s not just the 22-year age gap that’s different with this wife.
‘I’ve hit the jackpot,’ he says frankly. ‘It’s the first time in my life I’ve met someone who genuinely likes me.’
Gregg Wallace, 55, revealed his wife Anne-Marie’s (pictured) parents live with them at their five-bedroom mansion near Ashford in Kent
Consequently, you get the sense he likes himself, too. The man once famous for being, in his own words, ‘the fat, bald bloke from Masterchef who likes puddings’ is in the shape of his life, having lost four stone since meeting Anna, as he calls her, in 2013.
He’s convinced he can help other middle-aged folk take themselves in hand and to that end has launched his very own health and fitness website, with advice from a psychologist and his personal trainer.
Once a notoriously heavy drinker, he proudly tells me that he and Anna only managed half a bottle of wine between them at their bedroom soiree. Anna’s influence, he beams. He is now firmly of the view that men who drink too much (and eat too much) are simply unhappy.
‘Happy men are not the ones in the pub, laughing,’ he says. ‘Happy men are at home with their wives and family. There is no one happy in the pub.’
And Gregg is patently happy to be at home, with Anna, who is 34 (‘but looks 24’, he chips in) sitting at his side.
This interview is supposed to be with both of them, but she’s happy to let Gregg talk. To be fair, he does keep trying to get her to answer, but explains ‘she’s very shy’.
It quickly emerges that his recipe for a happy home life has some rather unusual ingredients. They are called Nonna and Grandpa.
Yes, the reason he and his wife were able to enjoy a civilised cheese-and-wine evening was because their toddler son — Sid turned one in March —was out of the equation. And the bedroom.
Gregg explained Anne-Marie’s mother Rina has been living with them since 2017, but Massimo (Max) wasn’t able to move in until he sold his business in Coventry. Pictured: Sid, Gregg, daughter Libby, Max, Rina and Anna
Anna’s parents, Rina and Massimo (Max), live with them, and not just for lockdown. Rina has been there since they bought the five-bedroom mansion near Ashford in Kent, in 2017, but now her husband has moved in too, to share the childcare (and every other household task you could think of).
The in-laws have baby Sid sleeping in their bedroom for half the week, allowing his parents to enjoy uninterrupted nights.
‘We had to wait for grandpa to close his business in Coventry. He had a Chinese takeaway, even though he’s from Napoli,’ explains Gregg. Then Max sold up and moved in, too.
‘We did have a discussion about it. I said: “Are you sure you are OK with this?”, and he said: “Yes, you are the head of the household now”.’
It’s an arrangement which will raise eyebrows, Gregg concedes, but ‘it just works’. Still, the detail of how they organise it is jaw-dropping.
‘Anna and her mum take care of all the house stuff. In the morning, they sit with their coffee. “I will do the ironing,” one will say. “Who is doing dinner?”. By the time they finish their coffee, they’ve planned the day.’
Gregg revealed that Ann-Marie’s parents wanted to contribute when they moved in, but he refused their money. Pictured: Gregg with fourth wife Anna and son Sid
Most afternoons, the grandparents take Sid out. Grandpa also does the garden (a considerable task, given the grounds run to five acres). ‘He does all the stuff I can’t do. If a handle comes off a window, if there is a leaky pipe, Max fixes it. He puts up shelves.’
Gregg’s role in this cosy family commune? Bread-winner, pure and simple. Every day he also makes lunch and in lockdown he has been doing the shopping, an expensive business ‘because we eat well’.
‘When they moved in, they wanted to contribute. I said “No way. You don’t need to spend your money any more. Enjoy your retirement. Come and look after us.” ’
Many men might baulk at the idea of having the in-laws move in. But for Gregg, it was a requirement of family life. Startlingly, he suggests Sid’s very existence depended on the in-laws being around.
He and Anna married in 2016. When they discussed having a baby (he has two grown-up kids from marriage No 2), he was concerned motherhood would rob him of his beautiful young wife.
Gregg said he gave Anna (pictured) conditions before they had a child together, including having someone to help in the house and being able to get away together every year
‘I said: “Yes, I’m willing to have a baby with you, but a couple of provisos … I’m not willing to swap my fun, sexy girlfriend for an exhausted mum. We make enough money, I’d like you to get help in the house.” Anna said “What about my mum?”. That was perfect.’
Blimey. Is he really saying having the in-laws around will help keep his wife sexy?
‘The second condition was that I would get two weeks away with Anna every year, just us.’
I wasn’t willing to swap my sexy young wife for an exhausted mum…
From where he’s standing, he says, it’s obvious. Younger men might have the time to ‘lose’ their wives to child-rearing. But he had Sid at 55, ‘which meant I wouldn’t get my wife back until I was 75.’
It’s a bracingly honest admission, but one Anna is unfazed by. She simply says the arrangement suits them both, because she has all she ever wanted in life — a loving husband and a family.
‘Gregg didn’t want me to be all alone in a big house if he was away filming,’ she adds. ‘And that doesn’t happen with Mum and Dad here. And it does work. We never have an argument.’
But what about Sid? Well, that’s where the aforementioned organisation comes in.
Gregg revealed that he schedules the time spent with Sid (pictured), including a walk after lunch and bath each night
‘It is diarized that I spend time with him,’ says Gregg. ‘We have a walk after lunch, then we have what I call “splish splash” time. I get in the bath with him every night. So twice a day I have time with my little boy. The rest of the time, it’s his mum’s and his Nonna’s responsibility.’
Scheduling in time with your child might seem bonkers, but what becomes clear is that Gregg’s relationship with his diary is perhaps the most crucial one.
This is a man who lives by lists. His shirts are arranged with military precision in his wardrobe. Any that have been newly ironed (by Nonna) must be placed back facing a certain direction. Nothing happens — nothing — without being in the diary. Even that Disney film would have been arranged by his PA.
‘I don’t do this watching telly thing,’ he says. ‘I realise I am strange. A lot of people have what they call “sofa time”, but it just doesn’t exist in my world. If I want to watch TV, I get my PA to put it in the diary. I watch two hours of television a week.’
I want to be fit for her so she still fancies me!
Ditto reading a book, going to the gym, having a bath …
‘I can access the diary on the laptop, but it’s also linked to all our phones.
‘Nothing ever happens by chance. If I want to exercise or have time with my baby son, it goes in my diary. I like to have a 20-minute walk every day. Oh, and a 20-minute nap in the afternoon. If I don’t list them, they won’t happen!’. There are more lists for his new lifestyle. He counts calories, is meticulous about grocery shopping (‘it’s in the diary’) and gym sessions are sacrosanct. He often gets up at 5am, then works out daily at 6am.
Gregg (pictured) who once tipped scales at 16½ stone, explained that having a younger wife helps him to stay fit
Sometimes it seems Wallace has been shrinking for much of his TV career. At his heaviest he weighed more than 16½ stone, but he lost a few stone circa 2012 and at one time was an ambassador for WeightWatchers.
Meeting Anna, though, coincided with a new push to get in shape — focusing as much on fitness as diet. Now he’s reached his target of 12½ stone and has taken to showing off his six-pack on Instagram, treating us all to visions of him lunging in his garden. Some say they preferred him lunging into a pudding, but he’s undeniably sleeker. His secret weapon? A younger wife helps. ‘Anna says she doesn’t care what size I am, but she’s always going to be a lot younger than me. I want to be fit and healthy for her for two reasons. I want her to still fancy me and I don’t want to die prematurely and leave her on her own.’
With the evangelical zeal of the newly fit, he looks back on the old Gregg with horror.
‘Watching myself on TV was the trigger,’ he says. ‘I was just getting fatter and fatter. I was eating the wrong things, drinking too much. I was a terrible advert for myself.’
He’s unusually frank about the impact on his career.
‘We don’t like to say it, but TV is a hugely image-conscious industry. I know it might sometimes look like I don’t do anything, but I work very hard, and part of that is looking as well as you can. It’s an advert about who you are, what sort of person you are.
Gregg (pictured) revealed that he’s got more work on television since shedding his excess pounds, as he admits TV is a hugely image-conscious industry
‘Do you have discipline? Do you care about yourself? And I have got more telly work now that I’m slimmer. Maybe how you are physically is a sign of how you are mentally.’
There’s no denying Gregg is a different man to the one I interviewed in 2013, when he had recently split from wife No 3 (Heidi Brown, a biology teacher 17 years his junior, whom he met on Twitter when she asked him a question about celery) after only 15 months of marriage.
He told me at the time that marriage No 1 — to Christine, in 1991 — didn’t count because it lasted just six weeks. Then came a five-year union with pastry chef Denise. They divorced in 2004 after he had an affair with a colleague, and he gained custody of their children, then aged eight and ten.
After Heidi left him, he was a man on the edge, bombarded with advice from his managers to ‘be careful’ with women (‘Stupid advice,’ he recalls now. ‘What does it mean? Am I supposed to hand out a questionnaire?’).
He had also just started seeing Anna, again after meeting on Twitter (she asked him whether rhubarb goes with duck). A few days after our interview, he was involved in an unseemly brawl at a function, embarrassing his BBC bosses. His career seemed in jeopardy. All things considered, I gave their relationship zero chance.
Yet here they are, seven years on. Has he matured, changed somehow?
Gregg revealed that Anna got him to stop drinking by getting him to focus on the feeling after each drink. Pictured: Gregg and Anna with Sid
‘It’s Anna, just Anna,’ he says. ‘She just likes me. It’s effortless with her.’
Who is in charge in their relationship, I wonder?
‘She’s in charge.’
Anna disagrees. ‘Is anyone in charge?’, she says, frowning at him. Actually I think she might well be in charge, but in a quiet and clever way.
She stopped him drinking, he says, not by telling him to stop, but by getting him to ‘focus on the feeling after each drink’. ‘Italians do that. We don’t,’ he says. ‘By the second, we have that feeling of euphoria and keep going because we want it to continue, but by the ninth, we are crying. Anna made me think about that.’
What of the age thing? She shakes her head and says ‘age is just a number’. Gregg admits it embarrassed him, at first. He refused to hold her hand in public, ‘because I could imagine people thinking she was the mistress, or she was a gold-digger’. He met Anna’s parents a few months in, taking them to dinner at Le Caprice. Rina barely spoke — ‘I realised later she was starstruck because I was Gregg Wallace off the TV’ — but later said the fact Gregg’s teenage children lived with him convinced her he was a ‘good person and a family man’.
Gregg who adores being the breadwinner, initially assumed Anna would want her own turn in the limelight. Pictured: Gregg and Sid
Gregg and Massimo had a man talk. ‘We went out for a cigarette and I’d arranged for the manager to follow us out with two glasses of whisky. I asked him if the age thing bothered him and he said “my daughter looks very happy to me”. That was enough for him.’
As it turned out, Anna is exactly the sort of woman Gregg hadn’t realised he wanted: a homebody. This unsettled him at first. He assumed Anna would want her own turn in the limelight.
‘Anna does all the recipes for the new website. She’s the best home cook I know. I wanted her to be more up front. I said: “I can help you with a media career.” She said: “But you don’t understand. I don’t want that.” All she wanted was a husband and a family.’
He, meanwhile, adores being the breadwinner. ‘I love it. It’s really old-fashioned and I feel I should apologise sometimes, but I do like it. I take it very seriously.’
So much so that he had a ‘blind panic’ at the start of lockdown, when filming halted.
‘I had real anxiety, rashes coming out on my legs. All I do is work and all of a sudden that had been taken away. Then I realised I had enough money to see us through.’
He has clearly done the maths. ‘I’m still ambitious, though I feel I’m running out of work years.’
Gregg revealed that Anna (pictured) contributed £35k in savings to the purchase of their house and continues to buy High Street fashion
His daughter Libby, 24, lives with them too and adores Rina (‘she calls her The Golden One’). He would like son Tom, 26, who lives in Bristol with his girlfriend, to join them. (‘I asked what it would cost me for him to move in. He said: “Could you buy me a pub?”’).
When they bought the house, he didn’t expect Anna to contribute. He was amazed when she did. ‘When we met she had £35k in savings,’ he says, turning to check she’s OK with him mentioning the figures. She nods.
‘I said, “Blimey, Anna, where did you get that sort of money? A lot of women your age have £35k in credit card debt.” She’d saved it up. When we bought this place, she transferred every penny to my account and told me to put it into the house.’ Anna says, calmly: ‘I wanted it to be ours.’
Now, he finds it hilarious (and reassuring) that she continues to shop in Primark and M&S. ‘I say “if you see something you fancy in Armani…”’ Anna shudders. ‘I’m not like that.’
Even once the family arrangement was agreed, they were warned they might struggle to have children. Anna had severe endometriosis, and they thought they would need IVF. ‘But then a miracle happened,’ says Gregg.
After Sid’s birth, she had a hysterectomy, ruling out more children. ‘But we only planned to have one anyway,’ says Anna, with a quiet note of decision.
They’re both besotted with Sid. Gregg reckons he is going to be a rugby player, a dream which luckily, even as an older father, he is now in shape to handle.
‘I coached my older son in rugby. I wanted to be fit enough to do that for Sid too, and now I am.’
Gregg and Anna’s website, showme.fit launches today