Clarissa Dickson Wright

Clarissa Dickson Wright

Dickson Wright at a fundraising dinner for the Countryside Alliance in 2011.
Born (1947-06-24)24 June 1947
St John's Wood, London, England
Died 15 March 2014(2014-03-15) (aged 66)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Occupation Television personality, celebrity chef, businesswoman, author, barrister
Years active 1996–2014

Clarissa Dickson Wright (24 June 1947 – 15 March 2014) was an English celebrity chef, television personality, writer, businesswoman, and former barrister.[1] (She claimed to be the youngest person to be called to the Bar at the time).[1] She was best known as one of the Two Fat Ladies, with Jennifer Paterson, in the television cooking programme. She was an accredited cricket umpire and one of only two women to become a Guild Butcher.

Early life

Dickson Wright was born Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright[2] in St John's Wood, London,[3] the youngest of four children.[4] Her father, Arthur Dickson Wright, was a surgeon to the Royal Family, and her mother, Molly (née Bath),[3] was an Australian heiress.[1] She was the cousin of actor and comedian Alexander Armstrong.[5] Her father was an alcoholic who subjected his wife and children to verbal and physical abuse.[6] However, her elder Sister, Heather, says Clarissa’s claims in her 2007 memoir Spilling The Beans that their father was a brutal drunk who beat her and their mother Aileen, known as Molly, are ‘a total betrayal of a great man’.[7]

At the age of 11, Wright was sent to Sacred Heart School, a former independent school for girls in the coastal town of Hove in Sussex. The school closed in 1966. After school, Wright studied for the Bar at Gray's Inn, while pursuing a law degree at University College London.[8]


Early career

At the age of 21, Dickson Wright passed her Bar exams and became England's youngest barrister.[1] After her mother died of a heart attack in 1975, she inherited £2.8 million. Her mother's death, combined a few years later with her father's, left her in a deep depression, and she drank heavily for the following 12 years.[8]

In 1979, Dickson Wright took control of the food at a drinking club in St James's Place in London. While there she met Clive ("no surname, because he has children" according to Dickson Wright), a fellow alcoholic, and they had a relationship until his death in 1982 from kidney failure at the age of 40.[1] Shortly thereafter she was disbarred for practising without chambers.[9] Dickson Wright claimed that, during her alcoholic years, she had sex with an MP behind the Speaker's chair in the House of Commons.[1]

In the early 1980s, she was homeless and staying with friends.[10] For two years she was cook-housekeeper for a family in Sussex until she was fired for her alcohol-induced behaviour.[11] After being charged with driving under the influence, Dickson Wright started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, counselling, and a detox centre.[1] She attended the Promis Recovery Centre at Nonington.[12] In her 2009 book Rifling Through My Drawers she expressed a belief in reincarnation. She was a keen supporter of hunting.[13][14]

Cooking and television

Seven months after leaving Promis, Dickson Wright was asked to run Books For Cooks, a shop and café in Portobello Road, London, for the shop's owner.[15] After seven years, the owner decided to sell the shop; it was offered to Dickson Wright, but she did not have the money, and was sacked by the owner.[15] She then moved to Edinburgh and ran the Cooks Book Shop.[15]

During her time in Edinburgh, television producer Patricia Llewellyn asked her and Jennifer Paterson if they wanted to make a television programme; they made a pilot in 1994.[15] After the pilot, BBC2 commissioned a series of Two Fat Ladies. Three successful series were made and shown around the world.[15] Paterson died in 1999 midway through the fourth series.[16]

Later years

Two Fat Ladies ended after Paterson's death. Dickson Wright appeared with Johnny Scott in Clarissa and the Countryman from 2000 to 2003 and played the gamekeeper in the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous in 2003.[8] In 2005, Dickson Wright took part in the BBC reality television show Art School.

Dickson Wright campaigned for the Countryside Alliance and was the first female Rector of the University of Aberdeen.[8] Her autobiography, Spilling The Beans, was published in September 2007. In 2008, she presented a one-off documentary for BBC Four, Clarissa and the King's Cookbook, where she makes recipes from a cookbook dating to the reign of Richard II.[17]

Along with racehorse trainer Sir Mark Prescott, Dickson Wright was charged with hare coursing with dogs in North Yorkshire in March 2007 under a private prosecution lodged by the International Fund for Animal Welfare under the Hunting Act 2004.[18][19][20] On 1 September 2009, she and Prescott pleaded guilty and received an absolute discharge at Scarborough Magistrates' Court. They said that they were invited to the event by the Yorkshire Greyhound Field Trialling Club, which told the court that it believed it was running a legal event by using muzzled dogs.[19]

In October 2012, Dickson Wright appeared on Fieldsports Britain to discuss badgers and their nutritional value, saying: "There's going to be a cull, so rather than just throw them in the landfill site, why not eat them?"[21] In November 2012, she presented a short BBC4 TV series on the history of the British breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was a supporter of the Conservative Party[22] and lived in Inveresk, Scotland.[23]


She had been in hospital since the start of 2014 and died in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on 15 March 2014.[14][24] Her funeral mass was held at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh (Roman Catholic) on 7 April, after which she was cremated.[25]


Books written by Dickson Wright alone include:

She co-wrote books including: The Haggis: A Short History with Clare Hewitt (1998), A Caledonian Feast with Annette Hope (2002) The Game Cookbook with Johnny Scott (2007), A Greener Life with Johnny Scott (2009), Sunday Roast with Johnny Scott (2010), The Great British Food Revival: Various Authors (2011) The Game Cookbook with Johnny Scott (2012), Garlic: the Mighty Bulb: Cooking, Growing and Healing With Garlic with Natasha Edwards (2012)

Her A History of English Food was described by The Independent as "richly informative" and "surely destined for classic status". The reviewer noted that she had seen badger hams on the bar in the West Country pubs of her childhood, and that a tripe seller in Dewsbury market sold "nine different varieties of tripe, including penis and udder (which is remarkably like pease pudding)."[27]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Jardine, Cassandra (6 September 2007). "Clarissa Dickson Wright: 'I do like to bait people'". The Daily Telegraph.
  2. Morris, Steven (17 March 2014). "TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright dies". Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  3. 1 2 Who's Who 2012
  4. Pardoe, Tim. "Clarissa Dickson Wright – Transcript of Interview from 'Desert Island Discs'".
  5. Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. 11 June 2014. Challenge TV.
  6. "Clarissa Dickson Wright didn't just survive an abusive father, she outed him". The Guardian. 17 March 2014.
  7. Stretton, Heather. "'Clarissa was a cheat and a fantasist'". Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Presenter biographies". BBC.
  9. "Clarissa Dickson Wright: 'They don't call me Krakatoa for nothing' ", Daily Telegraph 13 September 2009
  10. "Two Fat Ladies Chef Clarissa Dickson Wright Dies at 66" , ABC News 17 March 2014
  11. "Clarissa Dickson Wright: Broadcaster, cook and former barrister who found worldwide fame as one of television's 'Two Fat Ladies' ", Independent 18 March 2014
  12. "Clarissa Dickson Wright – obituary" 17 March 2014, Daily Telegraph
  13. Rifling through my Drawers Hachette UK, 2009 ISBN 9781848944237
  14. 1 2 "TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright dies", Guardian, 17 March 2014
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Clarissa, Dickson Wright (25 August 2007). "Clarissa Dickson Wright: The Fat Lady spills the beans". Mail on Sunday.
  16. Clarissa, Dickson Wright (January 2000). "Larger Than Life". Waitrose.
  17. Banks-Smith, Nancy (8 May 2008). "Last night's TV". The Guardian.
  18. "TV chef facing hare hunt charges". BBC. 25 September 2007.
  19. 1 2 "TV chef admits hunting offences". BBC. 1 September 2009.
  20. "Top TV Chef Facing Court Over Hare Coursing". Yahoo!. 25 September 2007.
  21. Fieldsports Britain. "Fieldsports Britain : Shooting badgers and wheelchair guns". Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  22. "BBC NEWS - UK - UK Politics - Election 2005 - Who's backing whom at the election?". BBC. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  23. Dickson Wright, Clarissa (2012). Clarissa's England: A gamely gallop through the English counties. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 9781444729139.
  24. "TV chef Clarissa Dickson Wright dies aged 66", The Scotsman, 17 March 2014
  25. "Tributes at Clarissa Dickson Wright funeral". Edinburgh Evening News. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  26. 'The Critical'. "A review of A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright & its reviewers with commentary on the character of some newspapers". British Food in America. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  27. Hirst, Christopher (21 September 2012). "A History of English Food, By Clarissa Dickson Wright". The Independent. Retrieved 6 February 2016.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Allan Macartney
Rector of the University of Aberdeen
Succeeded by
Robin Harper
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