a slice of jane
Marital status: Married to cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. Three kids, Katie, 40, Alexander, 32 and Rory, 30.
Favourite film: I do love horror films.
Favourite role: Maybe I am most proud of Closing Numbers for Channel 4. It was the story of a woman who was married to someone who may have HIV. It aired the issue in an unsensational way. And I loved Crossroads, playing a real bitch. Only about three people watched it, though.
Last good book you read: Stoner, by John Williams. Nothing much happens but it is totally gripping.
Death row meal: A lovely slab of cold rare roast beef with horseradish and salad. Or lobster with the works. I have very simple tastes.
Best career move: When I was 19, there was a fork in the road where I could have done a not very good film for a lot of money or do Look Back in Anger, which was the first serious remake. John Osborne was still around and it was wonderful to rehearse it with him. And that opened the door to lots of good theatre.
Current acting roles: One for children, a new sci fi series where I play a mad American scientist who has built a robot girl called Eve. Which I suppose makes me God? And I am doing three episodes of Stella with Ruth Jones.
What’s the secret to a great cake? Follow the measurements, the tin size and the temperature, exactly. It’s not like a risotto where you chuck stuff in. With cake you have to be scientific.
Relaxing outside a bar in Chelsea, bathed in glorious sunshine, Jane Asher giggles at the improbability of being an ambassador for a pound shop.
“When they asked me I thought, ‘Ooh, I’m not at all sure about this’ because I’m not an obvious match for Poundland. Also, and it sounds soppy, but people trust that I use what I promote, and I doubted they could make things well enough for me to say ‘I am happy to use them.’ So that was my initial reaction.”
Her agent talked her into giving them a hearing and the rest is Poundland sales history. The range, which launched in April 2014 with 50 products and now carries 80, has generated sales in excess of £2m. It’s also Poundland’s most popular and fastest-selling range to date.
“I assumed they would source some stuff from the Far East and I would say ‘this is going to fall to bits’ and that would be that, but it wasn’t like that at all. I’ve been as surprised as anyone by being so wrong, which is why I think it’s very clever of them to use someone like me. It’s ended up being a terrific fit. They are the nicest company I have ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot.”
Asher was “totally, completely involved” in developing the range - “I interfered at every stage” - and says her relationship with the buyer is “so lovely, so funny. I tell her ‘I know you can’t get me this’ and she says ‘Leave it with me. I’ll find something.’ And she does. She even found me scales. Now, they are not going to last you. If you were seriously into baking they would drive you mad, but for a child, or for somebody starting off, they are perfect. I love the idea you can have scales for a pound. I thought they would never do it.”
More products are lined up, including “things that are really exciting that I’m not allowed to talk about.” Then she talks about them anyway. “We are moving into edibles now. Edible glitter, hundreds and thousands, two for a pound. It’s all doing so well. Initially they thought they would be withdrawing the less successful lines, but we are adding more. I said we might have to make it JaneAsherLand. It’s the only answer.”
“The discounters are so much better than they were. They aren’t that different from the big four. But there aren’t many near Chelsea”
Poundland isn’t her first foray into celebrity endorsements. She had some “cake tins with Debenhams” then something similar with “Matalan, who were lovely.” Food-wise, she started doing cake mixes with Victoria Foods in 1998. “Like Poundland I was sceptical, but I sent them a recipe for a chocolate cake and their mix was amazing. We launched around 12 recipes in Sainsbury’s and they just took off. That started the whole craze for decent cake mixes because up until then, they had all been pretty awful.
“We did well for years but gradually the Betty Crockers and others come in and squash you. Then they were bought by Symington’s, who I still work with. We’ve got two still out there. Who knows, maybe that’s the kind of thing that might be happening in Poundland? I’m sure I’m not allowed to talk about it, but wouldn’t that be lovely?” She starts laughing again. “If one could do decent cake mixes at that sort of price? What a good idea. Who knows?”
What everyone knows for sure, and if they don’t they can probably guess, is where she shops for food. “I am a big Waitrose fan. It’s so obvious isn’t it? For fish we have a local fishmonger, which is rare, and we have a butcher around the corner. I try and patronise local shops, but of course supermarkets are incredibly useful.”
She also uses the discounters, though. They are “so much better than they were. They aren’t that different from the big four. If I am passing by and I need something, I go in. There aren’t many near here in posh snobby Chelsea. We don’t have a Poundland either. But it wouldn’t surprise me if we see one soon.”
The Great British Bakeoff
And then, of course, there’s The Great British Bake Off, without which the Poundland range may never have hit the shelves. Does she watch it? Of course she does. “I love the show,” she says. Was she asked to do it? “No, I wasn’t, but I’m not a professional baker. And you couldn’t be better than Mary Berry, she is terrific. I’ve known her for years, and she is a serious professional cook, which I don’t consider myself to be.”
Asher is famous for both baking cakes and for an acting career that started aged five, but which does she prefer? “Acting, but then again, some people might recognise me as that baking woman or that old bird from the 1960s. But I answer to anything. If you worry about your image, or what people think of you, you’ll go mad.”