Ainsley Harriott (born 28 February 1957) is an English chef, television presenter, and entertainer. He is known for his BBC cooking shows Can't Cook, Won't Cook and Ready Steady Cook.

Early life

Harriott was born in London on 28 February 1957, to Chester and Peppy Harriott. He has Jamaican heritage. Chester's cousin was free jazz alto saxophonist Joe Harriott. Harriott trained at Westminster Kingsway College (formerly Westminster Technical College), Harriott obtained an apprenticeship at Verrey's restaurant in the West End and later worked as a commis chef.


Harriott's talents also lay in comedy and singing as well as cooking and Harriott formed the Calypso Twins with schoolfriend Paul Boross, releasing a hit record in the early 1990s, "World Party". The Calypso Twins went on to be regular performers at the Comedy Store and Jongleurs; they also performed in America and on TV and radio shows. Harriott became head chef at Lord's Cricket Ground's Long Room. He was asked to present More Nosh, Less Dosh on BBC Radio 5 Live, and also has appeared as an extra in Hale and Pace.

Television work

Harriott became the resident chef on Good Morning with Anne and Nick and later the main presenter of Can't Cook, Won't Cook and Ready Steady Cook, both shows involving members of the public. He has presented more straightforward how-to-cook programmes such as Ainsley's Barbecue Bible, Ainsley's Meals in Minutes, Ainsley's Big Cook Out and Ainsley's Gourmet Express.

Harriott played the part of a GELF chief in the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf in 1993. In 1998, for the show's 10th anniversary, Harriott presented a special edition of Can't Cook, Won't Cook called Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg with the cast of the show cooking a meal while remaining in character.

In 2000, Harriott made his debut on US television with The Ainsley Harriott Show, syndicated by Buena Vista Television, which ran for more than 100 episodes. Following this he went on to host Ready.. Set... Cook!, the US version of Ready Steady Cook. Ainsley was guest chef on Something for the Weekend on 10 May 2009 and 21 February 2010 alongside guests JLS. In February 2010, Harriott joined the morning show GMTV with Lorraine featuring cookery recipes. From 2002 until 2007, Harriott appeared in TV adverts for Fairy Liquid.

In September 2008, Harriott took part in the genealogy documentary series Who Do You Think You Are?. Harriott knew that his great-grandfather Ebenezer Harriott was in the colonial West India Regiment, and had assumed that they were descended from slaves. In Barbados, he confirmed that his great-grandfather had a distinguished military career, and learnt that he had fought for the British Empire in the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898 – an increasingly violent protest against British tax collecting in the protectorate. Although Harriott had assumed that his great-great-grandfather, James Gordon Harriott, was a black slave, he was revealed to be the descendant of a long line of white slave owners. James Harriott was found on the 1825 register, owning eight slaves. The registers had revealed that James Gordon's father was George David Harriott. A deed of sale showed that George Harriott purchased slaves from his own father when he was just four years old. The Harriott family were from Jamaica.

Harriott appeared in the final My Family Christmas special in 2010 "Mary Christmas". On 11 August 2015, he was announced as the second contestant of the thirteenth series of Strictly Come Dancing. On September 5, 2015 it was revealed Harriott was paired with professional dancer Natalie Lowe for the thirteenth series. He was the fourth contestant to be voted off and finished twelfth.


Harriott is a best-selling author, publishing twelve books as well as numerous others in conjunction with his television shows. Including foreign-language translations, he has sold over 2 million books worldwide.

Other work

Harriott was the President of the Television and Radio Industries Club (TRIC) 2004–05 and presented their awards ceremony that year. He markets his own range of food, including couscous, risotto, soups and cereal bars.

Harriott played the role of the Narrator in The Rocky Horror Show at the New Theatre, Cardiff in March 2010, at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley in October 2010, and again at the Richmond Theatre in November 2010.

He made a guest appearance in the BBC radio comedy series Giles Wemmbley Hogg Goes Off as himself in 2006.

Personal life

Harriott married former costume designer Clare Fellows, the youngest sister of comedian actor Graham Fellows. They have two children. In November 2012 the couple were reported to have separated and they remain on good terms.

Harriott is a supporter of Arsenal.


1988Hale & PaceExtra
1992–1996Good Morning with Anne and NickResident chef
1993Red DwarfGelf Chief
1994–2010Ready Steady CookChef / presenter
1995–2000Can't Cook, Won't CookPresenter
1997Ainsley's Barbeque BiblePresenter
1998Ainsley's Meals in MinutesPresenter
1999Ainsley's Big Cook OutPresenter
2000–2001Gourmet ExpressPresenter
2000–2001Ready.. Set... Cook!Presenter
2000The Ainsley Harriott ShowPresenter
2003The Mark Steel LecturesRobert Boyle
2005–2007City HospitalPresenter
2013Great British Food RevivalPresenter
2015Ainsley Harriott's Street FoodPresenter
Strictly Come DancingContestant; 12th place
Len and Ainsley's Big Food AdventurePresenter, with Len Goodman
2016The Best Dishes EverNarrator