Dame Prue Leith on how she started Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth art campaign

The 82-year-old was speaking about her life outside the food industry.
The 82-year-old was speaking about her life outside the food industry.

Dame Prue Leith has said people are often surprised she was behind the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth art project as they mostly just associate her with cake.

The 82-year-old has made a name for herself first as a restaurateur and chef, and later as a judge on Great British Menu before moving to The Great British Bake Off in 2017.

But in her new autobiography and theatre tour she speaks about her life outside the food industry as a businesswoman.

Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth artwork
Samson Kambalu’s Antelope was installed on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in September (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Appearing on Friday’s episode of BBC Breakfast, Dame Prue said: “I think the thing that surprises them (the audience) the most is two things, one is that I was responsible for the Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square, which is a huge art project.

“We have different sculptors on it all the time. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for me.

“I’m such a bossy woman and I just interfere when I think that things need fixing and it bugged me that that the plinth had been empty for 150 years. Nobody ever put anything on it.

“What’s the point of a plinth that is just full of pigeon poo? So I started a campaign to get that done.”

The art project began in 1994 when Dame Prue, then chair of the Royal Society of Arts, wrote that something should be done with the plinth in Trafalgar Square in London which sparked a public debate.

The first artwork by Mark Wallinger titled Ecce Homo was displayed five years later in 1999 and a range of artists have been commissioned to create artwork for the space since then.

Currently residing on the plinth is a sculpture by Malawi-born artist Samson Kambalu which he said represents “standing up for justice and equality”.

Installed in September, the piece, titled Antelope, depicts a 1914 photograph of European missionary John Chorley and Malawian Baptist preacher John Chilembwe, who fought against colonial rule.

Previous Fourth Plinth commissions include Heather Phillipson’s sculpture The End, which depicted a whirl of cream topped with a drone and a fly; Marc Quinn’s sculpture of pregnant Alison Lapper and Yinka Shonibare’s scaled-down replica of HMS Victory, contained in a glass bottle.

Dame Prue said that another fact which often surprised people about her was that she has sat on a number of corporate boards including Whitbread, Woolworths and Halifax.

“I’ve been a businesswoman always but that’s all before Bake Off, so most people only know me for cake”, she explained.

Despite starring on Channel 4’s hit baking show since 2017, Dame Prue admitted that when she was first trialling the theatre show she was “really frightened” about getting on stage in front of an audience.

Having completed two shows, she said she was now “getting to really enjoy it”.

“I’m beginning to understand why comedians go on forever. It’s because if the audience is lovely, it’s like a drug”, she added.

“They’re just so nice and they laugh at the right places and they clap a lot.”

The celebrity chef will tour the show, Prue Leith: Nothing In Moderation, through the UK, including a night at The London Palladium, before taking it to the US.