A woman of ferocious talent, Cerys Matthews MBE is celebrated musician, award-winning BBC radio presenter, composer, theatre curator, documentary writer and best-selling author. She tells us about life in her creative family home in West London and why it is community, rather than things, that give her home soul
CERYS MATTHEWS COOKING IN HER KITCHEN AT HER WEST LONDON HOME. IMAGE: OLI GREEN
Where do you live and why?
My home is in Ladbroke Grove, West London, where I’ve lived on and off since the late ‘90s. I live with my husband and we have five children between us. Two of those are adults now but they’re in and out as well, so it’s quite busy, which I like. That’s not to say that I don’t also love chucking everyone out on a Monday morning – which I do! I love the peace but, like everything in life, it’s the contrast that really defines what everything means. My home is like a little cottage, which is unusual for London; you look out of the windows and you just see greenery. Being a bit of a country girl at heart, I love that. We have a tiny garden and I plant potatoes in pots and lots of mint and we have a cherry tree.
What makes your house a home?
My collection of books and records, and a few guitars. Apart from those, I can’t collect many things because of the sheer size of our family and the logistics of living in a cottage. So I’m quite strict in that sense. I probably wouldn’t be that strict if space wasn’t such a huge issue, but I’d never move because this is where I like living. I know everybody here; I know people who work in the area, I know the families, the schools, the postman, the shopkeepers. It’s the people you’re surrounded by everyday that give your home soul. Home is less about things and more about community.
You recently released your book, Where The Wild Cooks Go – a glorious mix of recipes, poetry and music from around the world. Can you describe your kitchen at home…
When I’m in the kitchen I’m like the captain of my ship. When I’m cooking over the gas I can look down into the area where we all hang out and there’s a table and the garden beyond and it feels like I’m at the helm. It’s tiny, there’s only room for one, so when I’m cooking I can’t do anything else. So there’s an element of peace while doing something I love. We have a big old dining table which we eat around when we can. In fact when I first moved to this house, I found it in the garden. It’s solid oak, so I just sanded it down, oiled it and we sit around there. I like a bargain!
It’s the people you’re surrounded by everyday that give your home soul. Home is less about things and more about community.”
What was your childhood home like?
I was born in Cardiff and we lived there for the first few years of my life in a house that was really similar to my home now. It was a ‘70s new build development, terraced, with young families in each of the houses that spilled out of the front door onto a communal lawn area. In a strange way I’ve kind of regressed with my house in London to the same kind of mass-produced houses for young families that we grew up in in Cardiff. There’s this idea that the kids can use any of the terraced houses as their home, and they do. It is really is quite idyllic in that sense. It’s very ordinary, but I like ordinary.
What’s on your bedside table?
Books. I love books, and music obviously as well. Because of the nature of my radio show I’m sent a load of books on a load of subjects and I’m always behind on my reading, I can never read enough.
Can you describe your front door?
It’s bright red. The housing community where I live was built by the architect Terry Farrell. It’s ex local authority originally built for artists who didn’t have enough money, that then reverted into private housing in the ‘80s. It comes with its own committee and because Terry Farrell painted the doors red you have to keep them all that colour, which I don’t mind. We have one of the only defibrillators in the area so there’s this idea that we can, to a certain degree, self-care. There’s a lot of elderly people (I don’t like the word ‘elderly’ any more, I’ll say ‘people of experience’) who live here alone and there’s a really lovely element of co-caring. So if someone breaks their hip, we take them to hospital, pick them up, make them soup. This kind of model should be looked at by central government when they build houses and housing communities, because it makes a huge difference to safety and love and contentment.
CERYS MATTHEWS IN HER KITCHEN WITH HER TREASURED FRAMED PHOTOGRAPH OF HER ANCESTORS HANGING ON THE WALL
What’s the first thing you did to your home when you moved in?
I ripped out the kitchen and moved it from the front of the house, which is the darkest part, to where it is now, right in the middle of the house. We have a record player, so there’s almost always music playing and there’s lots of wood, so it looks and feels more like I have my hob and my fridge in the lounge. I’m fussy with my food and I try to buy sustainably where I can. I’m also passionate about knowing the nuts and bolts of dishes so I don’t buy readymade pastes or readymade spice mixes, which also allows you to eat with less plastic and less packaging as well. I like to know how it works, even it is quite basic, because I also like to cook quick.
What are some of the most memorable things that have happened in your home?
We used to have discos when the kids were really young. They’d love them. They could happen at any time of the day; we’d dim the lights, whack up the volume on the music and have dance competitions on the rug. I loved those times.
If the objects in your home could speak, which would have the best story to tell?
My father’s family were lead miners and somehow my father’s great grandparents stopped mining and opened a hardware shop in Abercynon. It was a successful shop and they must have earned quite a lot of money because they had a huge photograph taken of themselves, which must have been extortionate at the time. I’m talking maybe 90cm by 60cm and it’s framed on the kitchen wall. They’re dressed in their gladrags because they’re so proud, so she is wearing this gorgeous long-length, corseted, high-necked, low-sleeved, jet black dress with severe pulled back hair and little round wire glasses, and he’s stood up with a big old moustache, his gold pocket watch and one hand on her shoulder. It’s quite a stern black and white portrait and sometimes it feels like their eyes follow you around the room. My mum felt it was too spooky and used to keep it in the attic, but I love it.
Where The Wild Cooks Go: Recipes, Music, Poetry, Cocktails, by Cerys Matthews, published by Particular Books is out now. RRP £12.50. Download Cerys’ accompanying playlists on Spotify.