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Born in Hampstead, London, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a privileged upbringing with his father Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall coming from a landed gentry background and being educated at the reputable Eton College. Growing up in Gloucestershire, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall became proficient in a range of outdoor activities such as horse riding, leading him to return to living in the English countryside later in life.
Following his study of philosophy and psychology at St Peter’s College Oxford, Fearnley-Whittingstall temporarily moved to Africa where he debated entering the field of wildlife conservation which he eventually decided against. Yet his care for animals and their treatment throughout their lives would be critical to his style when entering the culinary world.
Returning to London, Fearnley-Whittingstall found himself becoming sous chef of the renowned River Cafe. However, this would not be a position that Fearnley-Whittingstall would remain in for long - the chef was fired, which he later marked down to his ‘lack of discipline’. Yet, Fearnley-Whittingstall does not see this as a mark of shame but rather an important part of his culinary career, defining the firing as ‘the best thing’ that could happen to him, giving him invaluable experience if not a full-time job.
Following his time at River Cafe, Fearnley-Whttingstall entered freelance journalism writing for a number of newspapers including The Evening Standard and The Times. By 1997, Fearnley-Whittingstall would purchase a dairy farm in West Dorset naming it ‘Riverside Cottage’ after a home he would rent on the weekends. Expanding the property to 44 acres, the chef would convince Channel 4 to produce a series of cooking shows based on his experiences at the dairy farm. This series, titled ‘Escape to River Cottage’, would ultimately become his big break, gaining a nationwide following on his experiences at the farm, leading to several more documentaries detailing his experiences as he moves from production to building a business from River Cottage Dairy Farm, producing locally sourced, ethically treated food.
The ‘Riverside Cottage’ series would prove such a success, that Fearnley-Whittingstall would continue the series for many years, showing recipes to the public. This allowed him to branch into other TV series such as ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight’ where he would confront unsustainable fishing practices across the UK; This would earn Fearnley-Whittingstall a BAFTA for ‘best feature’ in 2011.
Throughout the 2010’s Fearnley-Whittingstall has continued to bring activism into his TV shows, with his 2018 show ‘Britain’s Fat Fight’ attempting to tackle the obesity crisis facing the UK.