Ready Steady Cook’s Unlikely Celebrity Guests

This daytime cookery show once booked a future Oscar winner, the stars of Doctor Who, and Lily Savage, fresh from a Christmas party…

Ainsley Harriot presenting Ready Steady Cook
Photo: BBC

Ah, Ready Steady Cook – you were a product of simpler times. The BBC’s teatime TV cooking show saw two contestants bring along a bag of ingredients, team up with a celebrity chef, (becoming Team Green Pepper and Team Red Tomato) and spend 20 minutes transforming what they’d brought into a tasty dinner. 

They only had a maximum budget of £5 (which these days would probably only stretch to half a cucumber and a pot noodle) so the dishes weren’t fancy – none of this nonsense about serving some daft gravy-with-notions and calling it a ‘jus’. No, the likes of Ainsley Harriott or Anthony Worrall Thompson usually just hastily assembled a lasagne, and then the audience voted for a winner – and by ‘vote’, we mean they lifted up a picture of a green pepper or a red tomato.  

It was sweet, harmless daytime TV, so when they decided to introduce a celebrity version, you’d expect the star contestants to be soap actors, the odd weather presenter, assorted members of Steps… and mostly, you’d be bang on the money.

But somehow, against all reason, they occasionally booked legends like Bond Girl Honor Blackman (who appeared in a 1997 episode), future megastar Kate Winslet and future national treasure David Tennant. Let’s take a look at some of the show’s best and most surprising celebrity contestants:

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David Tennant (2006)

Three days before Doctor Who series 2 began airing in April 2006, beginning his ascension from a relatively well-known actor to household name and undeniable national treasure, David Tennant was cooking chicken goujons with Brian Turner on Celebrity Ready Steady Cook

What’s lovely about this episode is that – while usually, the show pitted two celebs against each other – Tennant’s fellow contestant is his Dad, Sandy, who makes traditional haggis, neeps and tatties with his celebrity chef Nick Nairn. Sandy later went on to have an adorable cameo as a footman in Doctor Who episode ‘The Unicorn and The Wasp’.

Ainsley Harriott asks everyone who their favourite Doctor is, and Brian Turner chooses the second incarnation, Patrick Troughton, mistakenly calling him ‘the original’, which true fanboy Tennant can’t resist politely correcting. When Ainsley asks Sandy the same question, his answer is, of course, ‘David Tennant’. Like we said, adorable. 

John Barrowman (2008)

Another Doctor Who star to take on Ready Steady Cook is Captain Jack himself, John Barrowman, who appeared alongside Denise Van Outen, his fellow judge on I’d Do Anything, the BBC’s singing competition to find an actress to play Nancy in a West End production of Oliver!

Barrowman and Van Outen have excellent banter throughout, bursting into song, winding each other up and generally not being very helpful sous chefs, but it’s John Barrowman’s pan-fried ostrich that ends up winning the audience over.

Kate Winslet (1998)

Three weeks before Titanic won 11 Oscars, its star (and future Oscar-winner herself for The Reader) Kate Winslet knocked up some crab cakes with Ainsley Harriot. It’s a surreal watch from the start, as she makes wonderfully dorky jokes about her ingredients, bringing along crab because “I sort of became quite friendly with sea life during Titanic” and proudly holding aloft her “iceberg lettuce”. 

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She was just 22 at the time, and she and Ainsley have delightfully silly father-daughter banter, while Fern Britton gets her to practise her potential Oscars speech using a pepper grinder as a makeshift microphone. She’s up against Casualty star Gray O’Brien, who, ironically, would later have a main role in Doctor Who’s own Titanic-themed episode ‘Voyage of the Damned’.

Rakie Ayola (2008)

In this Holby City-themed episode, two of the show’s current stars went head to head: Ade Edmondson, who was better known at the time thanks to Bottom and The Young Ones, and Rakie Ayola, who had been on Holby for five years.

As she rustled up a Caribbean feast of jerk chicken and fried chocho with chef Levi Roots, Rakie talks to host Ainsley Harriott about her upcoming role on Doctor Who, playing the hostess in ‘Midnight’. She also says that growing up her ambition was just to be paid to act, and “everything after that is just a bonus”. 

This makes it especially gratifying to know she would go on to star in celebrated series like Noughts + Crosses, No Offence and The Pact, and win a BAFTA for her portrayal of Gee Walker, the mother of the tragically murdered teenager Anthony Walker, in hard-hitting drama Anthony.

Lily Savage (1998)

Less an ‘unlikely’ celebrity booking than a simply first-rate one, Ready Steady Cook’s 1998 Christmas special featured two queens of TV, Lily Savage (aka the much-missed Paul O’Grady) and Dame Barbara Windsor, and it was unsurprisingly an absolute riot. The clip above shows Lily at her quick-witted best, delivering one zinger after another as she shows chef Anthony Worrall Thompson the ingredients she’s brought in, including a still-frozen turkey she describes as so free-range “it’s been on a coach trip”. 

Her bag of goodies also features a half-empty bottle of Sherry (“I drank that on the bus”), a Christmas cake with a slice cut out (apparently, the bus got caught in traffic…), and a sandwich bag of sausage rolls, all of which she admits she stole from an office Christmas party she crashed the night before. “Hang on a minute, we gave you a tenner for all that”, Fern Britton chimes in, allowing Lily to deliver the classic punchline we’ve been waiting for, triumphantly pulling the unspent £10 note from her bra. What a legend.

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