CHARISMATIC television presenter and eco-expert Dick Strawbridge is a self-confessed foodie and ‘telly tart.’
Dick was at the South West College in Cookstown on Tuesday (September 24) to speak to businesses about resource efficiency.
The mustachioed celebrity was talking to professionals about identifying and putting into practice improvements to reduce their energy, water, waste and raw material costs at the seminar which was delivered as part of Cookstown’s Resource Efficiency Programme, funded by Cookstown District Council and Invest NI.
The friendly and charming Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Francis Strawbridge, MBE, better known as Dick, took time out to talk to the MAIL about his early life and his time at Sandhurst as well as his experience of Scrapheap Challenge and more recently Celebrity Masterchef in 2010.
Born in Burma and raised in Bangor and Antrim, he attended school in Ballyclare after the family moved to the Province in the early 1960s. Dick who describes himself as ‘Northern Irish’ received a commission in the British Army in 1979, after attending Welbeck Sixth Form College eventually becoming a Major in September 1991.
He was awarded an MBE in 1993 for his distinguished service in Northern Ireland and he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in June 1999.
“I was the first of seven children to leave home which I did at the age of 16,” the 54-year-old says. “I never wanted a proper job, working in an office 9am to 5pm, so the military made sense,” Dick explains in his distinctive Northern Irish twang.
“The whole army experience is all about learning,” he says. “One of the good things is you get more education and then you get more experience and it grows a bit at a time. I’m 54 now and you are the sum of all your experiences up to this age. Every single thing I’ve done - I’ve worked in industry, I’ve been a troubleshooter and more recently a telly tart - it’s all about building up your experience.”
He first came to prominence on the show Scrapheap Challenge, which he describes as the first engineering show in which ordinary people had the opportunity to show off their inventive skills.
Dick was the leader of the yellow team for six episodes in the first series and to date he has appeared in over 30 shows, winning the Scrapheap Challenge trophy in series 3 along with his two younger brothers.
Some years later he turned his attention to Masterchef in which he starred in series five of the celebrity version alongside personality and author Christine Hamilton and eventual winner, actress Lisa Faulkner.
“Going from Scrapheap Challenge in 1998 to Celebrity Masterchef in 2010, quite a lot of things had happened. I was growing my own food and killing my own animals, so I was asked to do the show, but I didn’t realise what I’d let myself in for,” says Dick.
“I like my food - I’m a foodie, I always have been. On the show you have to make the food more tarty and pretty!”
Dick confesses that one of his biggest fears is cooking for vegetarians!
“From my perspective, good vegetarian food is more than just cheese,” he enthuses.
Dick says he’s made quite a few vegetarian dishes but the fact he has sharp teeth, means he’s destined to be a meat eater.
The eco-man is also a successful author of a range of books on eco-friendly living and food, including cheese. Interestingly his favourite cheese is a Cornish Blue, although all of the blue variety rate highly on his taste scale.
“Cornish Blue, which was the world champion is my favourite. I like a good blue, even a Stilton or a Danish. And the good thing is when you have a cheeseboard, not everybody eats it, so you get more!” he laughs.
Dick and his son James, with whom he has worked on several shows including It’s Not Easy Going Green and The Hungry Sailors, continue to experiment with food which they grow, pick, cook then eat. They practice sustainable living at their smallholding in Cornwall, home to gastronomic adventures.
“James and I have competitions even when we’re not on the telly!” he adds.
Tuesday’s seminar, part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland, saw Dick bring his expertise to business people in Cookstown
“Resource efficiency says it all,” points out Dick. “It’s all about not wasting money,” the expert explains. “That’s where I’m coming from. I’m not talking about recycling, this is all about using money in the best way possible for the business to be sustainable. And in business, you have to make a profit to be sustainable. A business that does not make a profit will not survive and I think that’s fundamental.”
And his advice to businesses - “If you don’t like a bill change it, and that’s my mind set. Let’s get done what we have to. Anyone who runs a small business in this area works hard,” he said.
Back to Dick’s Masterchef days, the MAIL asked which of the infamous presenters he prefers, John or Gregg.
“That’s such a hard question because they’re two very different people. I’d say Gregg because he likes his rugby and he and I will sit and have a beer and talk about rugby.
“It’s a bit like Morcambe and Wise - they’re joined at the hip, aren’t they?” he quips.