Come Dine With Me stars are celebrating after appearing on the Channel 4 series every night this week – and Newcastle’s James Ruddy being crowned winner.
Jade O’Callaghan, 36, from South Shields; 43-year-old Simon Taylor, from Springwell Village; 45-year-old Lee Richards, from Killingworth; 47-year-old Sophie Bruce and 27-year-old James have been on the show since Monday – with James being crowned king of the cooking show tonight.
And the group, who formed friendships from the programme, have spent the week together toasting their TV appearances.
Lee, who owns clothes shop The Stock Exchange, in Whitley Bay, hosted the guests at her house on Monday and admits the Champagne was flowing.
“We’ve just had the best time,” said the blond bombshell who applied for Come Dine With Me originally with her hubby, Wayne.
“Wayne and my friends all said I was really tame on the show at first, which is not like me at all! I was trying to suss everyone out. I thought Jade must have been a prison warden or an estate agent as she was quite stern on the first night and I was gobsmacked when she told us she was a sexual health nurse.
“I’m quite loud and I have a big personality and I thought the only way to top that would be for the producers to have a flamboyant drag queen on the show … and along came Simon.
James I thought must have been a Freddie Mercury tribute and Sophie, definitely a children’s entertainer. Obviously they’re not! Jade was funny with her competitiveness; she was gutted when I won the game. I’m actually not competitive at all.”
Lee confesses that she hates cooking and that she applied ‘just for the craic”.
“Honestly, we had such a great week. I cried all the way home on the Friday night after filming as I just didn’t want it to end.
“The only reason why I held the Greek night was to genuinely dress up as a Greek goddess and I wouldn’t change any of what I did if I could do it again.
“It was really tiring but overall I loved it – I would love to be on something like Gogglebox. I think me and Wayne would be hilarious together on that.”
On Thursday night, when Jade hosted a wild west themed night, the sexual health nurse held a party and screening of the show at The Waterfront pub, in South Shields.
In attendance was kidney dialysis nurse, Sophie, who revealed that the reason she applied was because after being diagnosed with cancer in April last year, her “perspective on life changed”.
“It was a really shitty year. Not only were we dealing with lockdown but I was diagnosed with breast cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. I’m a single parent and I just thought, I can’t die, I have three kids.
“I’ve been through a lot of treatment and it makes you think about life, I wanted to do things differently, push myself out my comfort zone. I didn’t actually make it onto the show after all the interviews, but I was on standby in case anyone dropped out.
“On the Friday, I got a call saying someone had covid and that they’d be filming on Monday! I was at work on the Saturday so I only had Sunday to prepare.
“It was pretty intense and non stop, filming for seven hours – but it was the best week I have ever had and the most fun I have had in such a long time.
“We genuinely got on and liked each other and we have all promised to stay in touch. I’m holding Jade to saying she’ll climb Ben Nevis with me as that’s another one on my bucket list.”
Speaking about watching herself on TV, Sophie said: “I struggled a bit with that as my cancer treatment makes me really bloated, but I’d rather be fatter and alive.
“I thought at first that I came across as a bit rude too, but people have said I’m funny – I’ve been watching it through my fingers.
“The producers encourage you to be a bit controversial and I definitely played up to that. If everyone was just nice all the time it would be boring TV.”
Just before the pandemic hit, Sophie and her children were set to appear on Jamie Oliver’s TV series, but it got cancelled due to covid.
“TV’s ticked off the list now, and I won’t be going back on but I will stay in touch with everyone.”
Flamboyant Simon, who dressed up as a cowgirl for Jade’s wild west night added a dash of sass to the show.
“I was really worried at first about being on the TV, I’m a 43-year-old gay man and I just kept thinking ‘what will I sound like?’ no one likes to hear their own voice, and ‘what will I look like?’.
But after the first episode I just relaxed. I don’t know what the producers expected from putting us all together, but the chemistry was just amazing.
“We all thought we were being too nice so we turned it up a bit and played to it. The reactions over Twitter I have just loved. People were posting pics of Dolly Parton and Kenny Everett. I am just so grateful for all the kind comments I have received,” said the manager of Green Ginger Hairdressing, in Newcastle.
“I don’t have a filter. What you see is what you get, but friends said I was a bit reserved at first, until the kids’ party, then they were like ‘there he is, there’s Simon.’
I think the producers had to do some editing as it was on before the watershed,” laughed the 43-year old.
“Clients have been coming into the salon too and asking to have their picture with me, the support has just been unbelievable – even my boss sent an email to all the clients to say I was appearing on the show so they could watch it.”
Openly speaking about his sexuality, Simon says he was bullied at school and that instead of wilting he ‘blossomed’.
“Yes, I’ve been bullied for being gay – I’ve heard it all, but you can either let it affect you or grow from it, and I am definitely not a shrinking violet.
“I’ve done panto for 10 years, I’m the gay that wears the frock, I’ve appeared on The Weakest Link and I love cooking. In fact, I almost became a chef when I was younger but I decided the hours were ridiculous for the same amount of money I was getting as a glass collector three days a week in my local social club.”
Although he has a love of cooking, Simon wasn’t crowned winner – the title was taken by emergency service planner, James.
“I was pleased my efforts paid off but by that point I’d had so much fun it didn’t really matter who won or lost.
“People kept nagging to do it, I’m a great fan of Nigella Lawson and I needed to prove to all the people who have previously been served crap dinner party food by me that I actually had it in me,” says James, who’s hosting a party at his home in Newcastle this evening with Jade, Simon, Sophie and Lee all in attendance.
“It was a laugh from start to finish.”