Pru Leith: I’m not proud of my affair but it was good for my business

It is not usually part of traditional careers advice, but it appears having an affair could be an unexpected asset in building a business.

Prue Leith, the chef, has spoken of how being a mistress inadvertently helped her form her successful career, giving her enough time to indulge her romantic side while working all hours of the day.

Leith, one of Britain’s most successful businesswomen, said her long-term affair as a young woman had given her the freedom to work after her lover went home to his family.

Speaking at the Henley Literary Festival yesterday covered by The Telegraph, Leith told an audience that she was not necessarily “proud” of her background, but could now see the positive side when it came to building her career.

She has previously spoken frankly about her personal life, which saw her conduct a 13-year affair with the writer Rayne Kruger, the husband of her mother’s best friend.

So close was the relationship between their families, Leith once told the Telegraph, that the affair was “practically incest”.

Yesterday Leith, 75, said the relationship had in fact given her much-needed time to build her catering business, dedicating many hours to her work.

“He was invisible and he went home at night, so I could work every hour,” she said. “I worked very, very hard.

“I’m not saying I’m proud of the fact I had a long affair with a married man, but it did help my business.
“By the time I married and had children I had the business under my belt.”

Prue Leith says that her South African background was the key to her success in Britain – Prue Leith: ‘His wife didn’t think I would fall in love with him – it was practically incest’

Once she became a wife and mother, she added, she threw herself into family life and worked during the school day.

One of her proudest moments, she said, was when her young son refused to believe she was one of the UK’s most successful businesswomen after she appeared in a Daily Telegraph feature after winning an award.

“He said, ‘You can’t be, Mum, you’re always here’. And I thought bingo, I’ve fooled him.

“I wasn’t always there. He was at school five days a week, all day, and I could take weekends off because I was the boss.

“It does help when you run the business – you can make the rules.”

Speaking of how she began her long career in food, Leith – whose new book is called Food of Love – said she had been inspired after living in Paris.

“You can’t live in Paris for two years and not fall in love with food,” she said. “Now honestly food in France has become so boring.

“I always go with high hopes and to get the kinds of food I remember. You can certainly get it in expensive restaurants, which are brilliant because there are still good skills there.

“But if you go to a routier, in the old days you could get absolutely brilliant food.

“When did you last get a decent frankfurter? Now they get those awful frankfurters that come out of a plastic packet, potatoes come out of a tin.”

The writer also told an audience of her earlier years as a novelist, after she was warned not to write about 60-something women because nobody would want to read it.
“I kept telling people ‘you’re crazy!’” said Leith. “Who’s got the time and the money and the inclination to read?” She later took the book to another publisher, where it became an instant bestseller.