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Big family on menu; Sarah willingham the big interview.

TALK about a speedy service! Sarah Willingham knows a good restaurant doesn't keep diners waiting - and she can do an equally quick turnaround when it comes to making a family.

The judge on the hit BBC2 reality show The Restaurant has produced three children in quick succession.

Sarah is six months' pregnant on the series, filmed in the summer, and is now the proud mum to sixweek-old Nelly, sister to Minnie, who's just turned three, and twoyear-old Monty.

But businesswoman Sarah reveals she's not finished yet, as she'd like to have fourth baby.

"I've always been pregnant or just given birth when I've made The Restaurant," says Staffordshire lass Sarah, who is married to Michael.

"The timing for this series wasn't too bad though - if we'd filmed much later I would have struggled, and if we'd filmed earlier I was throwing up every day.

"I hadn't had pregnancy cravings before, but with Nelly I couldn't get enough grapefruit juice. It was crazy, I was getting through a couple of litres a day.

"Now I'd like another baby, and quite quickly again. We want our family to grow up together.

"I don't really enjoy the pregnancies but I love having children. I'd have ten if I didn't have to have them myself !

"Nelly is divine but I have got my hands full. I couldn't survive without someone coming in to help around the house."

There's more at stake in the latest series of The Restaurant, as Sarah is going into business with her fellow judges, Raymond Blanc and David Moore.

They will all invest in the winning couple's new eatery.

"That means the discussions we have with Raymond about who goes through are more passionate. Before we were finding the best people to work with Raymond, but now there are three of us, with different skill sets and personalities. "I come at it from the High Street, he has an amazing two-star restaurant, so we have a different approach.

Heated "I get on extremely well with Raymond, but the discussions did get quite heated and went on for much longer than you see on TV.

"I haven't seen any of the TV footage until it goes out, so I'm enjoying watching it as a viewer. I'd forgotten some of what happened, so I was on the edge of my seat with my head in my hands when the couple tried to open a coconut and a can with a large knife in the first episode.

"We had to send them home immediately as they were a danger to themselves.

"And no, we didn't have anything to do with finding the nine couples, that was down to the BBC!

"It is a difficult time economically to be opening a restaurant - you have to be the best in class. The mediocre restaurants will suffer and fold. The best offer added value and impeccable service."

Sarah, who Raymond describes as "excessively bright", lives in Oxfordshire but grew up in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where her father worked at Wedgewood and her mum was a maths teacher.

Her love of restaurants started at an early age, when she took a parttime job at just 13 in Gio's Cafe on Newcastle's High Street.

So she knows about good service and won't stand for anything less, as the contestants on The Restaurant, who she's called 'numpties' and 'comedy acts', know all too well.

"I love food, I really do. It's been a big passion all my life. There's nothing I don't like to eat, unless it's badly done. It doesn't have to be Michelin-starred, but I want it to be what I'm expecting.

"I had an onion soup the other day in a well-known, respected restaurant and it was inedible. It still had lumps of flour in it from where they had tried to thicken it. I thought 'you must be joking'.

"Even worse was the waitress's reaction when I complained. She started arguing with me, telling me it was part of the soup and noone else had complained. I won't be going back!

"I always say when I don't like something, but I also make a point of saying when the service has been good.

"I was in Pizza Express with my kids, my son was being a bit of a nightmare and the baby wanted feeding. It was chaotic but the waitress went out of her way to help, so I found the manager and told him."

fact file NAME: Sarah Willingham AGE: 35 CV: After two business degrees, Sarah rose through the ranks of Planet Hollywood to head up UK development. She was poached by Pizza Express, then bought, expanded and sold the Bombay Bicycle Club chain of Indian restaurants. FANCY THAT: Last year she was named one of the most successful UK women under 35 by Management Today.

CAPTION(S):

TOUGH: Sarah Willingham with her fellow judges on The Restaurant, Raymond Blanc (centre) and David Moore.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 6, 2009
Words:820
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Next Article:Festive ads put me in the Christmas mood; Telly talk.


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