Children's food guru Annabel Karmel is back on form after 'a hell of a year'

Children's food guru is back on form after 'a hell of a year'


Annabel Karmel had a tough 2014. In fact, it was "a hell of a year".

In May, the celebrity chef and best-selling author, who was made an MBE for her work in child nutrition, was dragged to an employment tribunal after being accused of sexual misconduct by her former salesman Mark Salter.

He said Karmel had dressed provocatively in a bid to seduce him and then fired him four months after he joined the company when he spurned her advances. He claimed that she had a policy of employing good-looking men only; and had invited him to the Playboy Club.

Karmel has vehemently denied the "ridiculous" accusations. Her partner of eight-years, lawyer Stephen Margolis, chair of the UK Jewish Film Festival, spoke out in her defence.

But Salter's accusations were laid out in the nationals after a judge lifted the gagging order taken out by Karmel's team in an attempt to protect her public image - a wholesome and motherly one.

I was upset, my children were upset, my mother was upset

"It was terrible," she tells me in her north-west London home, just after I have been greeted by Bono and Hamilton, two of her three dogs. "It's an example of what can happen to a woman in business," recalls Karmel, still visibly distressed by the case.

"It was very stressful. I was terribly upset, my children were upset, my mother was upset, everybody was upset - how could you not be? It was one of the worst times of my life.

"I thought I would never be happy again. I thought he had taken away…" She pauses. "I felt that everyone was looking at me as though I was that person he said I was.

"I was being abused by newspapers who love that sort of scandal, whether it's true or not.

"The headlines did not look good for me. You spend all your life building your reputation and within five minutes…"

Karmel says Salter, whom she hired via an agency in 2013, had demanded £50,000 to drop the case. When she refused, he asked for £10,000. She refused again.

"I won't be blackmailed," says Karmel, who racked up £60,000 in legal fees. "Yes, it would have been easier if I paid him but I'm not going to pay someone who tells a whole bunch of lies about me.

"He was sure I would pay him, but I didn't, because I stand up for myself.

"I didn't realise the consequences," she adds, pointing to the national coverage after the Daily Mail applied for the gagging order to be lifted. "[Salter] was so clever. He attacked me in the place I was most vulnerable. He knew how important my reputation was."

In the end, she says she paid Salter, "zero - he had gone as far as he could go -his lawyer said he wanted to settle.

"I walked away getting the moral high-ground, I didn't pay someone who tried to blackmail me.

"And you know what I've done? I've stopped him from doing it to anyone else. He can never do it again," she adds, now triumphant that the publicity has drawn attention to his history of having sued previous employers.

"I was fighting my own battle," she adds. "I did my own detective work, I followed up all the leads, I phoned all the companies he sued, I had to become a detective."

Understandably, the incident is something that Karmel - whose blow-dried tresses and French manicured fingernails are perfectly in line with how she appears on the covers of her books (there have been 40) - wants to put behind her.

She's ready to start afresh with her new book, Mumpreneur, which has just been released.

She hopes that her book will inspire other would-be "mumpreneurs" to implement their business plans. Karmel, who is worth around £10 million, was inspired to write her first book - which sold 4 million copies, after being encouraged by mothers at the St John's Wood Synagogue playgroup.

After her first child, Natasha, died at the age of 13 weeks from a viral infection in 1987, Karmel decided to research child nutrition. Her other children, Nicholas, Lara and Scarlett are now aged 26, 24 and 22, and Nicholas's difficult eating habits prompted Karmel to delve further into the subject

Her baby-food production now makes up two-thirds of her empire - the rest is from book sales.

"At the time," she recalls, I thought I was the only mum in the world who had children who were bad eaters, and of course I felt particularly vulnerable having lost a child and with Nicholas not eating.

"The recipes for babies were really not good, just so tasteless.

"I was thinking, 'why would babies like bland food when we like tasty food'.

"So I put it to the test, I let the babies decide.

"I had 25 babies around the table in St John's Wood Synagogue, and I soon learnt from there that a lot of people had children who weren't good eaters. I was giving them the recipes Nicholas liked.

"The mothers were saying, 'it's so good' and it was them who said to me, 'you should write a recipe book on feeding children'."

Karmel, who champions healthy eating in schools with the National Obesity Forum, recognises that mumpreneurs face unique challenges: "There are lots of mums out there who want to do something.

"I've learnt a lot from building my own business."

She adds: "You've got to find your own guilt threshold. Some will be a stay-at-home mum and be a horrible mother, because they're not happy and they're frustrated. They're much better off getting help and spending half their time with their child, and half the time working."

By her own admission, Karmel, a member now of the West London Synagogue, who is looking to expand her business into the Far East, is "totally unemployable.

"I don't like to be put into a box.

"I don't think inside a box, so if people put me inside a box, I will fight my way out. And that's an entrepreneurial spirit I think.

"I never believe in 'impossible'. Being an entrepreneur isn't a part-time job, it isn't a full-time job, it's a lifestyle.

"You live and breathe it; you work late into the night - I don't need a lot of sleep. I love my job and they say, if you love your job you never do a day's work in your life. I love my work."

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