Monday, 29 April 2013

Natalie Coleman from ‘Ackney - and her genuine, 24-carat Cockney accent - must win Masterchef

Okay, I’ll come clean – I’ve occasionally dipped into Masterchef over the years, but, until now, I’ve never cared enough about any of the contestants to actually root for them. But this series is an exception – along with (I suspect) every other Londoner, and most of the rest of England - I’ve got my fingers crossed for a 29-year old female DJ from the East End. Natalie Coleman is evidently an accomplished cook (she practices on her granddad), has proved a good team-leader, has a winning personality (reserved but not in the least wet) – and she has a fabulous, traditional East End cockney accent.

I heard my first cockney accent when I arrived in London, aged six, and have been surrounded by it ever since. It isn’t always attractive, of course (just think of Alan Sugar): it depends on who’s wielding it, and for what purpose. But most of the time, in ordinary conversation, it’s appealing, heartening and reassuring – chances are the speaker will be good-humoured, quick-witted, resourceful, common-sensical, trustworthy and, occasionally, surprising. I remember getting into a conversation with a middle-aged stall-holder in Peckham Market when I was 18.

“Wotchoo gunna do wiv yer life, mite?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, but I’ve just got into Cambridge,” I boasted.

“Waw done, sahn! Wotchoo studyin’, ven?”

“Philosophy,” I responded, feeling a trifle embarrassed at having chosen something so evidently above this churl's head. He'd be asking me what philosophy was next, and I wasn't quite sure.

“Joo no, vere’s nuffink I like better of an evenin’ van snuggling up wiv vuh sages.”

“Oh? Who do you like to read?”

“Schopenhauer ‘n’ Spinoza are me favourites. Oo do you like to read?"

As the wind rapidly left my sails, I burbled something about not really having got toe grips with any philosophers yet.

“You’ve got a treat in store, boy!”

Since then, I have never taken anything for granted when it comes to genuine, old school, working-class Londoners. Extraordinary breed.

It’s predicted that what novelist Pat Barker called the “parrot cheerfulness” of genuine cockney will have disappeared from the streets of the East End within a generation, to be replaced by Jafaican – in which the old tongue has collided with Jamaican patois and Bangladeshi to create a harsh, unappealing, multicultural working-class London accent. Real deal Cockneys have been decamping to Essex and Hertfordshire for over half a century: as Harry Mount put it here, “teenagers in Essex speak like Henry Cooper and Barbara Windsor; in Lambeth, they are more likely to sound like Ali G.”

I suspect that Natalie Coleman, whose “summinks”, “everfinks” and “nahffinks” are the real fing (she sounds a lot like East End boy David Beckham), is already a bit of an anomaly. Watch this video from about five minutes in, and you can imagine her selling you flowers in Covent Garden sometime around 1923:

Natalie (with a glottal stop in place of the “t”, naturally), is up against two Welsh blokes in this week’s final, one of whom’s a bit of a culinary wizard, so her success isn’t assured - but, whatever the outcome, I trust that her rapid rise to National Treasure status will guarantee her a future as a professional chef: I'd wolf down any meal she put before me.

One of the presenters - Gregg Wallace - was born in Peckham: let's hope he knows where his duty lies.


  1. You might be happy to know then that the first winner on this side was a girl from Mississippi named Whitney Miller...who sounded, and cooked, just like a girl from Mississippi.

    1. I was prompted to write this post after watching an episode of Undercover Boss (US version) which featured a charming guy from Georgia. I don't sound like I come from anywhere in particular, which may explain why I enjoy people sounding like they come from somewhere specific - even Birmingham (UK version)!

      As a food man, you might enjoy The Gallery of Regrettable Food, which another reader has just recommended :
      Only problem is I suspect that, like me, you'll actually fancy a lot of the featured fare!

  2. And she only went and won it - as she herself put it: "The girl from Hackney done good!"