After being diagnosed with a rare medical condition, Ella Woodward rethought her diet and transformed her life. Now her blog about healthy eating has amassed a huge following, as Lydia Slater discovers
Ella Woodward is floating around the kitchen of her sunny West London flat, spooning tahini over a dish of roasted kale and brussels sprouts, and looking the picture of glowing health. Her large grey-green eyes sparkle, her glossy brown hair tumbles to her shoulders and her Lululemon skintight yoga pants cling to her toned size eight limbs.
It’s almost impossible to believe that less than two years ago, a little-understood condition called postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTs) left her in constant pain, sleeping for 16 hours a day and so bloated she had to wear her father’s clothes. ‘Now I’m up at 7.30am, feeling so energised that I go off to my spinning class,’ she says happily.
Ella credits her astonishing recovery to a diet that makes Gwyneth Paltrow’s appear positively debauched. She eats no meat, dairy or eggs, no gluten, no refined sugars, no processed foods of any kind. When she makes brownies, she uses brown rice flour, raw cacao and sweet potatoes; her chocolate mousse contains whipped avocado. Naturally, alcohol almost never crosses her lips – if she doesn’t want to be a party pooper, she might have a vodka and lemon juice once a month or so.
And yet her daunting regime seems to have struck an extraordinary chord with people. Her Deliciously Ella blog, on which she posts weekly recipes, gets 2.5 million hits a month. When she released a recipe app earlier this year it shot to number one in the food and drink sector in both Britain and the US, and has so far been downloaded over 60,000 times. She has 242,000 followers on Instagram, 63,000 on Facebook and 25,000 on Twitter. ‘It’s quite a lot,’ she says modestly. No wonder she’s being hailed the new Nigella.
Now she’s bringing out her first recipe book, also called Deliciously Ella, and two more are already in the pipeline. Although I don’t agree with faddy diets and can’t imagine life without a bacon sandwich or glass of wine, I have to admit that on the page, her food looks scrumptious. But how does it taste?
She shoves a bowl of the sprout and kale mix in front of me and, nervously (I dislike both), I take a spoonful. It’s rich, sweet, nutty and utterly moreish. Her potato curry is equally tongue-tingling. In fact, by the time I leave her kitchen, I have all but decided to attempt the vegan lifestyle myself.
When I told my parents I was cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar and meat, they laughed!
But Ella is no more a natural green goddess than I am. In fact, rather less so. As a child, she detested fruit and vegetables. Eating a banana would take her an hour (she used to play eeny, meeny, miny, moe over every slice). ‘As for veg, I’d only eat baby corn, because if you stir it into macaroni cheese, you don’t really know it’s there.
If we had a Sunday roast, I’d just eat the chicken and potatoes. I’d even pick the tomato slices out of sandwiches,’ she says, laughing. ‘Food was a big part of our family gatherings, but it was usually pasta. We didn’t eat that well,’ she says. ‘Everything was home-made but not much veg or fruit.’
This is all the more ironic, given that Ella, who is just 23, is the eldest daughter of Camilla Sainsbury, the supermarket heiress, and Labour MP and former Cabinet minister Shaun Woodward. Her childhood was extraordinarily privileged – her family is worth many millions, so there were holiday homes, the best schools and live-in staff – but her diet, by her own account, was appalling.
Not a day went past without Ella getting her Haribo fix. At St Andrews University, where she studied history of art, her signature dish was a Rice Krispies cake, a nauseating mix of puffed rice, golden syrup, marshmallows and melted Cadbury’s Caramel chocolate bar, topped with a bag of pick ’n’ mix sweets: ‘That was my thing.’
Ella says she never got fat because she has her mother’s slender genes. ‘But my skin was grey. I wouldn’t say I looked well.’ That didn’t stop her being spotted as a model, though. She signed up to the prestigious Models 1 agency and was sent off to Paris for castings in the summer holidays of 2011. But overnight, her life was turned upside down.
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