When someone who grew up in Naples tells you they love Portsmouth because it reminds them of the Italian Riviera, even the city’s most ardent supporters would have to ask: Really?
But celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo makes that very claim about his forthcoming visit here as part of the live tour based on his hit ITV show, Gino’s Italian Escapes.
But ever the charmer, he insists he’s being sincere.
‘Coming to Portsmouth, it’s one of my favourite places,’ he tells The Guide, ‘I like it when I go down there. And to be able to take Gino’s Italian Escape down there, is a dream come true, I’ve got a lot of friends there and it’s going to be an amazing evening – people can learn a lot of recipes, it’s going to be good.’
This will be Gino’s second live tour, and such was the success of the first in 2015 he’s doubling up in numbers, from nine to 18 dates.
‘Gino’s Italian Escapes is getting bigger and it’s got a lot of viewers on TV, so I thought, why not? Lets’ do it again, we had a lot of fun, and people enjoyed it.
‘I’ve never done the show in Portsmouth before, but I was keen to go here, which is why I made sure it’s on the schedule.’
Asked about what he gets up to when visiting friends here, he says: ‘We go out to bars and restaurants, but to be honest, every time I come there, I’m usually drunk by 8 o’clock, so it’s all a big blur by two in the morning. Even my wife, she asks me where did you go? And I say I don’t know! I know I was in Portsmouth, but I don’t know the names.’
For someone who got his big break in TV as a regular on ITV’s This Morning, it’s no surprise to hear that being on stage holds no fear for him.
‘For me, it’s the easiest thing ever, I was born doing live TV. When I started my career in television, it was live TV. For me it’s always been the best way to do it. I’m the kind of guy who’s not really afraid of anything, what can go wrong?
‘And even if it does go wrong, these are people who’ve paid to come and see me, they’re not going to criticise me or judge me like that. It’s a night of fun – does it really matter if something gets burnt? Or does it really matter if i couldn’t pronounce something? It doesn’t really matter because that’s who I am and that’s what I do.
‘I look at a theatre tour as a night out with my friends and new friends that I’m going to escape with.’
The tour is based around Hidden Italy, the most recent series of Italian Escapes – its fourth.
‘I wanted to show people all of the experiences that I had in the past year filming the show, the recipes, the places I’ve been – there’s going to be a lot of question and answers during the show too because I like that – at any time during the show – they can just put their hand up, and they can ask me anything.’
‘Yeah, and that’s where the problems lay,’ he laughs. ‘But if you ask me a question, I’ll answer it.
‘30 per cent of them are about cooking, 70 per cent is strange questions I’m forced to answer. I’ve had things like what flavour crisp do you like? What’s your shoe size? When you go in the sea, do you wear Speedos or shorts?
‘All kinds of weird questions which I think is cute in a way, if people are interested, then why not?’
With Italian Escapes doing well, Gino sees no reason to break a winning formula, and one that he can see a lot of mileage in.
‘Italy is built of 21 regions, each region is like a completely different nation, so I can do Gino’s Italian Escapes and different recipes until I’m 150. There’s always something new to learn, and always new things to experience – it’s impossible not to.
‘So far I’ve probably touched very briefly on all the regions except maybe one or two, but now I’m going more into detail in each region, because I’ve discovered so many new things. When I was talking to ITV, I said, why don’t we go into each region and show even more? Italy is big and the food is insanely good.’
With his British wife and three children Gino splits his time between here and their home in Sardinia.
‘I’m there probably four, five months a year, definitely the summer. If I’m here, the phone goes, people know I’m here and it’s let’s do this show, let’s do this appearance, and I don’t get to spend enough time with my children.
‘I work very hard during the year, so when the summer comes it’s my family time.’
And he also like being back in Italy as he gets his anonymity back – most of the time.
‘I’m not at all famous there, and that’s the beauty of it! I can do whatever I want, nobody stops me for pictures, unless of course I come across a group of British people and they’ll be like, Gino, what are you doing here? And I will give them a lot of time – they’re the people who made me what I am. I get annoyed when people in my position say things like, I get bored of this, I get bored of that. You know what? Nobody forced you to do it. So you have to take the good with the bad. They complain when they get stopped, they complain when people ignore them. If you really don’t like getting stopped by people don’t do television!’
n Gino’s Italian Escape is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Wednesday, May 10, doors 7pm. Tickets £31. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk