A Pair of Phenomenal Women

Let’s delve into the recesses of my CV to celebrate two extraordinary women – both now deceased – with whom I had the privilege of being professionally associated. 

Image by Celine Marchbank; Tulip documents her mother’s demise.

Sue Miles died back in 2010, aged 66. Not only did she have lung cancer, apparently, but also a brain tumour. How very Sue, to have a second fatal illness as back up, in case the cancer was taking too long.

Leslie Kenton died unexpectedly, but peacefully in her sleep, aged 75, at her home in New Zealand on 13th November last year, of ‘natural causes,’ appropriately. She was all about natural causes, not to mention effects, was Leslie, with whom I collaborated on a Juice book in 1996.

Sue Miles was a proper caffiene addict: her skin was coffee-tinged. She was the first person I ever met – I struggle to think of the second – who had an espresso machine plumbed into her domestic kitchen. Because she couldn’t be forever refilling a reservoir, or farting about with stove top coffee pots. Sue needed her drug of choice to be on tap.

My association with Leslie bought me limited cred. with the raw foodies because of Raw Energy, the truly seminal bestseller that she published with her daughter, Susannah, in 1984, which advocated a 75% raw diet. Still, when I visited Leslie’s cottage on the Pembroke coast a decade later to work on our project, the raw food lady served me sausages.

Imagine Sue & Leslie encountering each other, perhaps at some fabulous party in the Seventies, while Leslie was re-inventing Health & Beauty writing in terms of diet & lifestyle in Harpers & Queen magazine and Sue was Time Out’s first restaurant critic. Both had residual American accents and alcoholic fathers. Sue’s dad was US correspondent for the Daily Mirror and she grew up in Hollywood. Leslie’s father was Stan Kenton, the jazz pianist and band leader, who sexually abused her.

On the wall of the loo at Sue’s house in Camden was a letter from Albert Goldman, scurrilous and profane biographer of Elvis, fishing for gossip, re:Lennon. Her ex, Pearce Marchbank, had told Goldman that it was actually Sue who had introduced John to Yoko. Did she wish to tell him about it and, if so, could she give him a sign? “Yeah, I’ll give you a fucking sign, buddy!” cackled Sue, making the universal FU gesture.

With her first husband, Barry Miles, Sue had run the gallery where Yoko met John and had generally hung out at the groovy, swirling epicentre of swinging London before getting into cookery. As one does. Aged 19 and new in London, through a mutual friend, I got a job washing up in her kitchen at L’Escargot from its opening night in June 1981. Word was, Sue had talked a callow young Commodities Broker, Nick Lander, into buying the gaff!

My favourite Sue story is the one when Alastair cut his finger off. Alastair Little, Sue’s co-Chef, was accident prone. One hot night he stood on the hoist to open the heavy trapdoor in the Greek Street pavement, which swung back on its counterbalance and severed the tip of his finger. I was delegated to phone Sue at home, asking her to come in and cover for him. “That bastard,” said Sue with characteristic tact and diplomacy, “he’s done this deliberately to spoil my night off!”

I met Leslie on the phone early in 1994, when I wrote a weekly ‘food gossip column’, Gastropod. When some re-packagings of her books were re-marketed in January, I took the chance to tell her that she was a heroine of wagamama where, I informed her, there was a ‘Raw Energy’ section on the menu. “Actually,” she told me when we eventually sat opposite each other at wagamama, “that phrase is my trade mark.”

At Glastonbury Festival in 1995, I implemented a juice bar, a pretty radical proposition, which sufficiently impressed Leslie to bring me in as her co-writer on Juice High. I spent a weekend at her Pembrokeshire place planning it and we went on a short tour together to promote it, when published in the Summer of ’96. Our Manchester appearance was cancelled by the IRA.

Before Leslie moved down under, we had lost touch. Sue, I introduced to Emily Green, but I rarely saw her; then, not at all. Though hardly friends for life, both these women deeply impressed me. It was my pleasure to have worked with them.

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