It’s not that long since Jessie Ware was so disillusioned with the music industry she was about to give it all up. She may have been nominated for a Mercury Music Prize for her first album and her career was going from strength to strength, but she’d nearly had enough. “I was juggling so many things and just not enjoying it any more. I had a new baby and I was trying to keep my career alive – I was trying to do everything. It’s a really hard industry, I was trying to do too much and prove that I could do everything. I really wanted to do something different. I was nearly ready to give up music.”
Then someone suggested she should do a podcast. “My mate said I should do a podcast, but I didn’t want to do one about music or about me. I listened to This American Life which I liked.
“My mum was so great at having people over and having dinner parties and food has always been a massive part of my life, that I thought ‘why don’t we do just that? Recreate one of my mum’s dinner parties and have guests over and just eat, drink and chat’.”
Ware says she had no idea just how popular it would turn out to be. More than 30 million of the podcasts have been downloaded and they have recorded 12 series and next year will take Table Manners on the road.
The original idea was to gather a group of Ware’s interesting showbiz friends for dinner, and record them all chatting, eating and gossiping.
Ware’s mum Lennie would cook; Ware would steer the conversation. By the time Table Manners went online, in late 2017, it had evolved into a one-guest-per-show format with Ware and her mother sharing hosting duties. Both cooked, both talked to their guests with blasts of candid curiosity. Most of the guests on Table Manners have a drink while they are on, and their hosts certainly do.
Guests have included Ed Sheeran, Nigella Lawson, Sandy Toksvig, Paloma Faith, George Ezra, Annie Mac, Sir Paul McCartney and Kylie Minogue, who recently released single Kiss of Life with Ware, which they performed live on the Jonathan Ross show this month.
There are no scripted questions, no set format, just fine food and wine and the conversation flows often going completely off on a tangent.
Ware is under no illusion that it is Lennie who steals the show. “Mum being on it is what’s made it the success it is. I don’t think she even knew what a podcast was but she could see I was so unhappy with music and was happy to help and it has just gone from there. I’m supposed to be the pop star but I think she’s more famous than I am now.
“People just seem to love the family dynamic,” she says. “It is all so natural and people have really bought into it and really want to be at the dinner table with us.”
A publisher signed the two Wares to a book deal. A live tour was arranged, but then the pandemic hit. “We had a cookbook coming out and the tour planned and everyone was talking about it, and then everything shut down,” recalls Ware. But they decided that they could adapt Table Manners during lockdown – like most of the nation they took to Zoom.
“I was really worried about my mum,” admits the 37-year-old who gave birth to her third child in July. “She was used to having lots of people around her, including her grandchildren and then suddenly it all stopped and she was on her own. She thrives off other people and really doesn’t like her company very much. So I decided we should keep the podcast going – at least in some shape or form.”
In fact, it turned out Table Manners thrived during lockdown. “I got my friend Grimmy (Radio DJ Nick Grimshaw) to do it and it worked. Suddenly all these celebrities wanted to do it. They had time for a change as all their gigs were cancelled. We got Dua Lipa, John Legend and Dolly Parton all wanting to be in the kitchen with us. People were so up for it and we built a bigger audience as a result – I think people really wanted that familiarity.”
Ware, her mum and their guests were all in different locations and although some guests asked if they could cook the same food they soon abandoned that and just had a good old chat instead. “It just seemed to work and to be what people wanted at that time when they couldn’t get together with their own families,” she says.
Doing the podcast not only turned out to be a huge success, it reignited Ware’s love of music.
“It gave me the confidence to change my label and my management and just to be me. Luckily people seem to like it.”
She is currently on a European tour, despite having three children under five and her baby being just four months old. Ware is married to her childhood friend, Sam Burrows who she says is brilliant with the children.
Other than worrying about her mum and recording music and making music videos at home, Ware says lockdown gave her more time to spend with her young family.
During our Zoom interview I meet her two youngest who, in traditional Zoom form, want a piece of the action – or rather a piece of Mummy’s attention. She takes it all in her stride.
Ware comes across as an energetic whirlwind, speaking 100 miles an hour but is generous with her time and her openness is refreshing.
She says she never planned to go into the music business.
London-born Ware was a high achiever and studied English Literature at the University of Sussex before working as a journalist on the Jewish Chronicle and the Daily Mirror. Her mother is Jewish and she was brought up in the faith. Her father is John Ware, a BBC Panorama reporter. Her parents divorced when she was ten.
She may be touring solo at the moment, but her mum will definitely be with her next year for Table Manners Live.
The upcoming five-date tour will see the pair take their podcast on the road, with a special guest joining them for each show – although their identities will remain secret. Kicking things off in Edinburgh where they previously debuted Table Manners Live at Edinburgh Fringe, they’ll also perform in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and at London’s iconic London Palladium.
“We’ve been waiting to do this for two long years,” says Ware. “What started out as a chat in mum’s kitchen with just one person has turned into a tribe of food loving devotees and we cannot wait to bring Table Manners up and down the country.”
Jessie Ware is at the O2 Academy Leeds on December 7.
Table Manners Live will be at - Sheffield, City Hall on May 4. Tickets are on sale now from https://www.jessieware.com/live/