Celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager is making a return to our screens with a new BBC reality show challenging stars to consider retiring in India.
The Tunbridge Wells food expert, who owns The Cookery School on The Pantiles, features in The Real Marigold Hotel, which follows in the footsteps of the hit movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Joining the star chef for the series are dancer Wayne Sleep, actress Miriam Margolyes, darts player Bobby George, former Dr Who Sylvester McCoy, TV presenters Jan Leeming and Roy Walker, and singer Patti Boulaye.
The show, which is set in a North Eastern Indian mansion house in Jaipur, traces their progress over three weeks as they attempt to adapt to a very different way of life and culture.
During their stay, the group is taken out of its comfort zone visiting a city slum, as well as encountering the area’s royal family at the Rambagh Palace.
The celebrities are also tasked with dividing domestic chores, including shopping and cleaning, with decisions to be made over employing staff to assist them – which Rosemary admitted led to tensions boiling over.
They also have the opportunity to take in some of India’s finest tourist sites, including the Taj Mahal, and experience elephant riding and learning Hindi during their adventure.
Speaking to our sister publication So Tunbridge Wells magazine, Rosemary, 64, described her three-week experience as “wonderful” and a great chance to examine life overseas.
“I’m certainly not ready to retire and I have a business to run. However, I thought it would be a great opportunity to go and just find out what it would be like,” said the chef, who has appeared on TV series that include Ladette to Lady, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! as well as her own series in which contestants were invited to cook in a Michelin starred restaurant.
As she admitted, the experience in the extreme heat often posed a number of challenges between housemates.
She said: “We were all extremely different people, so this was going to be interesting. We had to start running the house ourselves and nobody could make any decisions. Quite frankly, it was a nightmare – I took over and said I would do the cooking.
“So the first day I went to the market and asked Roy, Sylvester and Wayne to come along.
“We looked at spices and vegetables and then went to buy a chicken.
The man killed it by slitting its throat and putting it into a bucket with the lid on as it was still moving, which was not for me.
“The day was so hot at around 40 degrees, which was making me very frustrated in not understanding anything.
However, at that moment, the most important thing was to learn a little of the language to get by. The meal was cooked, and if I was going to learn anything about India I had to give up the cooking temporarily.”
According to Rosemary, the male celebrities “wanted nothing to do” with the domestic arrangements, which resulted in the women of the house deciding to take on staff.
After putting in the early running with the cooking, the chef decided that taking events at a more leisurely pace made more sense
She added: “I started doing some yoga, which was amazing. It’s the meditation that I was more interested in, as it was so peaceful. I then decided to find a guru and started having some meditation.
“This prompted me to take a little more care of myself. I then went to a spa which is wonderful. I had the most amazing treatment with two women massaging me. It was quite unnerving to begin with, but I got used to it.
“When I came to pay it was £10 for everything, which is definitely something about India I like. In the evening, I watched the sunset go down with Wayne, which was magical.”
Over the course of her three-week stay there were occasions to soak up some of India’s finest sights. The group were also given a crash-course in language skills in a bid to improve the quality of their experience.
“We took a train to Agra. This was my favourite moment of the whole trip,” enthused Rosemary.
“Wayne and I met a group of women who were on a pilgrimage which was going to take 24 hours. They were singing and dancing and we decided to join in, which was magical. I had some Henna done and the people there were so lovely, they just accepted us.”
Despite some tensions between the housemates, Rosemary felt the overall challenge had been well-worth taking on. While she may not be quite ready to hang up her professional chefs’ knives just yet, her journey offered plenty of food for thought.
She added: “As the weeks went on, I found an inner peace. The whole atmosphere was spiritual, which I found very moving. The willingness and generosity to do anything was humbling. We can learn from how they take care of their elderly, they have so much respect.
“I would also like to explore more about the food, which is wonderful. Where we were in Rajasthan was mostly vegetarian, led by grains, though some meat is eaten there. In Southern India, it is fish and a lot of coconut based dishes – it is a country full of culinary diversity.
“We all left leaving a little bit of ourselves behind, and while I couldn’t retire there, I would love to go back.”
The three-part Real Marigold Hotel series is due to air later this month on BBC Two.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, was a signiﬁ cant box-office success on its release in 2012.
Based on the novel These Foolish Things, the movie followed the fortunes of a group of British pensioners seeking an adventurous alternative life in India for their retirement years.
The movie’s strong critical reception led to a sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, last year. Despite it gaining some favourable reviews, plans for a third and final instalment have reportedly now been shelved.