Every blogger dreams of making it big. And every so often, they do. Think fun-loving Belle de Jour. Or Julie Powell, whose blogged attempt to cook her way through a Julia Child cookbook became a Hollywood movie. Now there’s Jack Monroe. She’s also had an offer to make a film of her life, although her story is not as simple as one woman’s struggle with a coq au vin.

Monroe turned down the movie deal, but if they ever do make it, the director would probably yell “Action!” just before Monroe gave birth to her son in 2011. When she returned from maternity leave to her job in a fire brigade call centre she applied for some flexibility in her working hours. Her employer refused. After repeatedly trying, and failing, to make the situation work, Monroe reluctantly quit and started looking for something else. Hundreds of new job applications failed. Money got tight.

She applied for benefits but was told they would take three months to come through. Things got desperate. Monroe sold everything to raise cash. The money she raised didn’t last. The heating went off. Cupboards emptied. Her toddler was hungry. Monroe was starving. The tailspin got so bad she ended up lying on the bathroom floor, vomiting up an overdose of paracetamol and sleeping pills.

“Dark days,” she says. “I was in bad debt with bank charges and rent arrears. Christmas is a very dark time when you’ve got a child and you can’t give them anything.”

Blog salvation

Monroe found it “a therapeutic release” to vent her spleen on a blog called A Girl Called Jack, tapped out on an old Nokia, pouring forth on local politics and social deprivation. Occasionally she threw in budget recipes. And for all the strident political opinion, it was these that caught the eye of visitors to her site - or rather it was the mere pennies (eg veggie burgers for 9p) it took to make them. Readers began chipping in, leaving encouraging comments. The positive interaction made her blog a bright spot in an otherwise miserable life.


Name: Jack Monroe

Age: 26

Marital status: In a relationship

Kids: Jonny, aged 3

Essential ingredients: Carbs. Canned tomatoes. I panic if I don’t have a tin of tomatoes. And herbs and spices. I don’t have many. I use a jar of mixed herbs, paprika, turmeric and cumin. If I’ve got those four in the cupboard, I can make anything. I wrote my book with that in mind. There isn’t a single recipe in my book that says go and buy this one ingredient that you won’t ever end up using again. They are all based around a core of basic essentials.

“Imagine getting up every day and your whole day is completely unsuccessful. You go into shops or pubs and it’s raining and you’re dragging a toddler behind you handing over soggy copies of a CV and everyone says ‘No’. You feel like you’ve done nothing. Then you get home and make a successful meal and write about it, and people write nice things back. That made me feel better. The blog didn’t make me any money but my world wasn’t a negative, stagnant thing anymore.”

Monroe’s pragmatic and unique approach, which saw her unashamedly champion the value ranges in her local Sainsbury’s, combined with her dramatic back plot, saw her blog get pick-up in the local press, particularly after an emotional post in July 2012 entitled Hunger Hurts laid bare her frantic, frugal existence. Then the nationals got hold of the story. The Daily Telegraph visited her for a ‘49p lunch’ in March 2013. And attention bred attention.

Monroe started making regular appearances on TV talking about food poverty. She started writing about food for The Guardian in July 2013. She was hired to do the same by the Daily Mirror in November. In January 2014, she was commissioned by Sainsbury’s, along with three other bloggers, to promote using leftovers in TV ads. She also contributed recipes for the Sainsbury’s blog. Then she went global on the front page of the New York Times - and last month, she made her live TV cooking debut on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch.

“I was an absolute mess before I went on air,” she laughs. “I was flapping thinking ‘I’ve got two million people watching me put this egg on the bread!’ I’m not an actress, I’m not a celebrity, I’m self-conscious, I’m an ordinary person. It’s a lot of pressure.”

We’re talking the day after Sunday Brunch and two days before her first cookbook ‘100 Delicious Budget Recipes’ is officially released. Her schedule is so tight we do it by phone. During the call she bolts down food between answers and zips across London in a cab, racing from a book signing at Penguin to an interview with BBC Radio London.

This newfound lifestyle, filled with excitement and success (the book hit number one in the bestseller charts two days later - she’s now writing book two) is a long way from the hopelessness of the bathroom floor.

Social media critics

Not everything is perfect, though. In the British tradition of build ’em up and knock ’em down, Monroe has come under attack in the wake of her success. Her Twitter feed is full of praise, but it’s also littered with abuse, much of it accusing her of selling out by promoting her book, or signing with Sainsbury’s.

Monroe insists the Sainsbury’s deal was simply a natural progression. “I was approached by other supermarkets who wanted to work with me, but I shopped at Sainsbury’s and writing about its basic range was what I did. And I figured if other supermarkets are interested, then Sainsbury’s would come along sooner or later.”

The other supermarkets included Tesco. Monroe says they offered her a “ridiculous” amount of money. “I said no. And that ridiculous amount of money kept getting even more ridiculous.”

Tesco’s final offer was a staggering £120,000 to “write some stuff for the internet. I could have banged it out in 10 minutes. In terms of workload, they wanted me to do less than Sainsbury’s and they offered far more money, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. My blog is about me and what I’ve done and my life. If I advertise Tesco, it becomes different to what it was. I don’t want to be doing things just for money.”

If Monroe is a sell-out, she’s useless at it. Unfortunately the insults aren’t limited to that. Following her appearance on Sunday Brunch, where she knocked up a chickpea, tomato and rosemary loaf topped with a runny egg, she re-tweeted a few of the tweets she received. “F**king hell Jack Monroe you massive tw*t. Elitism and fascism in reverse,” read one.

“Some of it is harsh and unfair, some is fine,” she sighs. “People tell me not to read them, but it’s important I do to stay grounded. If you only read sycophancy, you get a warped view of the world and your place in it. I try not to let it hurt me too much.”

Jack Monroe

Inevitably, some of it is does. Twitter is notorious for harbouring a hotbed of ‘trolls’, a catch-all colloquialism that includes even the vilest misogynists with a vicious line in rape and death threats. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Monroe, often doe-eyed and shy on camera, has fallen victim. Yet it’s not just a moronic sub-section of social media having a go.

In a typical fit of punchy ignorance, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn erupted in November 2013, branding Monroe “beyond parody” after she blogged a recipe for kale pesto pasta (42p). Then, last month, former MP Edwina Currie launched a bizarre personal attack on Monroe during a Channel 5 televised debate on benefits, which Monroe says continued after the cameras stopped rolling. I suggest both Littlejohn and Currie have been trolling opponents professionally for years, but Monroe is more magnanimous.

“Criticism is fine but you shouldn’t be allowed to lie or abuse someone. Liz Jones wrote a piece of vitriol about me promoting cruel battery-farmed meat, but I only use free-range. Then I came under fire for using free-range when I’m supposed to be cooking on a budget. My reply to Littlejohn was simply stuff he got wrong about me. It was an embarrassingly long list. And Edwina had no political point to make so she stepped in with a personal attack to divert from a political debate. It’s an old politician’s trick I should have been ready for. I wasn’t, but I will be next time.”

Jack Monroe soup

Monroe says if she was just ‘single mum writes food blog, gets famous, keeps mouth shut’ then she “would get a lot less sh** than I do. But I have an opinion. And I don’t back away from political debate.”

It’s what she started blogging about after all, before food took over. Now the blog has been turned into a book. So what’s next?

Monroe says she is bombarded by offers to make a TV show but hasn’t come across one that’s “right” yet. She has also ruled out a suggested range of ready meals, recognising how “unusual” it would be for a champion of scratch cooking to put her name to one. “I’d be a massive hypocrite,” she laughs. “By having principles and morals, I’ve seriously limited my career opportunities.”

That said, she seems to be doing OK career-wise. “I write for the Guardian and the Daily Mirror. I have the campaign with Sainsbury’s. I work with Oxfam. I’ve got my book orders coming in. It’s unstable because I’m a freelancer but I have an income. I get up and go to work every day. I’m so grateful that those dark days appear to be behind me, although I don’t entirely believe it. I pay myself a living wage and save everything else. I am ultra-careful. I never want be in that position again.”

Then the cab screeches to a halt and she hops out with an apologetic “I’ve literally got to go”. Another interview awaits.