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By Killian Fox / The Guardian

Photo Credit: L: Hunter S. Thompson (Rs79/Wikipedia); C: Steve Jobs (Matthew Yohe/Wikipedia); R: David Lynch (Denis Makarenko/Shutterstock)

Their eating habits may not be quite as “insane” as former royal chef Darren McGrady branded them earlier this month, but the British royal family have their share of foibles around food. The Queen hates garlic and eats off diamond-encrusted plates, but also munches fruit out of yellow Tupperware. The Queen Mother was so reliably late to the table that they would lie to her about dinner time, telling her it was 8.15pm when everyone else was down for 8.30pm. Bejewelled crockery aside, however, the Windsors seem quite normal compared to these notably eccentric diners:

Novelist Patricia Highsmith ate the same thing for virtually every meal: bacon and fried eggs. She began each writing session with a stiff drink – “not to perk her up”, according to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, “but to reduce her energy levels, which veered towards the manic”. Then she would sit on her bed surrounded by cigarettes, coffee, a doughnut and a saucer of sugar, the intention being “to avoid any sense of discipline and make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible”.

Almost every morning for 15 years, the painter Lucian Freud had breakfast at Clarke’s restaurant in Notting Hill, London—often returning a few hours later for lunch. He would arrive at 7.30am with his assistant David Dawson and consume saucer-sized pains aux raisins or Portuguese custard tarts with extra-milky coffees (referred to by staff as “Mr Freud lattes”). After innumerable hours sitting in her restaurant, Freud invited owner Sally Clarke to his Victorian townhouse a few doors along on Kensington Church Street to sit for a portrait. He painted her three times, the final work interrupted—along with a decade and a half of loyal custom – by Freud’s death in 2011.

David Lynch claims his relationship with coffee began at the age of three. At one stage, the film-maker was drinking 20 cups a day; nowadays he averages 10, although the cup size has increased. A good coffee, he says, “should have no bitterness, and it should be smooth and rich in flavour. I like to drink espresso with milk, like a latte or a cappuccino, but the espresso should have a golden foam. It can be so beautiful.”

“Coffee is a great power in my life,” wrote Honoré de Balzac in 1830, “I have observed its effects on an epic scale.” Indeed he had. When in the grip of one of his “orgies of work”, the French novelist and playwright would get up at 1am and write until 4pm, with a 90-minute nap in the middle. To fuel himself, he imbibed as many as 50 cups of coffee a day. He also dabbled with “a horrible, rather brutal method” which involved eating pure coffee grounds on an empty stomach. When he did this, he wrote, “Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages.” For Balzac, the battle raged until his death at 51: he wrote 91 long and short works of fiction in the space of just 16 years.

Marlon Brando had difficulties with his weight throughout his life, veering between crash diets and gorging sprees. Early in his career, he was known to eat peanut butter by the jarful, boxes of cinnamon buns and huge breakfasts consisting of cornflakes, sausages, eggs, bananas and cream, and pancakes drenched in maple syrup. He would devour up to six hotdogs at a time in late-night feasts at Pink’s in Hollywood (they named an all-beef hotdog after him in 2012). Defying attempts by work colleagues and loved ones to regulate his diet, he would break refrigerator locks at night, flee film sets with giant tubs of ice-cream and enlist friends to throw burger bags over the gates of his Mulholland Drive estate.

Journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t known for his restraint when it came to intoxicants. With food, it seems, his appetites weren’t much less modest, particularly when it came to breakfast, which he described in his autobiography, The Great Shark Hunt, as “a personal ritual that can only be properly observed alone, and in a spirit of genuine excess. The food factor should always be massive: four bloody marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon or corned beef hash with diced chillies, a Spanish omelette or eggs benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert … All of which,” he concluded, “should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.”

“I was on one of my fruitarian diets [and] had just come back from the apple farm.” This is Steve Jobs explaining the origins of the Apple company name to biographer Walter Isaacson and revealing something of his eating habits in the process. Jobs was a vegan for most of his adult life, dabbled with the even more restrictive fruitarian diet* and would spend weeks at a time eating only one or two foods, such as apples or carrots. (He believed his diet neutralised body odour and meant that he didn’t need to wash regularly or wear deodorant, though his co-workers believed otherwise.) Sometimes Jobs stopped eating entirely, savouring the “euphoria and ecstasy” of fasting, though he was also acutely appreciative of a good avocado. “He believed that great harvests came from arid sources, pleasure from restraint,” noted his daughter Lisa.

* The diet varies, but usually entails eating raw fruit (at least 75% by weight) and a sprinkling of nuts and seeds.

Walden author Henry David Thoreau professed little enthusiasm for food in general. “The wonder is how … you and I can live this slimy, beastly life, eating and drinking,” he wrote. He avoided meat and alcohol. Coffee and tea were dangerous temptations. Salt he regarded as “that grossest of groceries”. Cranberry-pickers were like butchers who “rake the tongues of bison out of the prairie grass”. Even water was an indulgence he would gladly have shunned were he able to live without it.

Legend has it that Jackie Onassis would eat one baked potato a day stuffed with beluga caviar and soured cream. She watched the scales “with the rigour of a diamond merchant counting his carats”, according to her social secretary Tish Baldrige. If she went a couple of pounds over her usual weight, she would fast for a day, then confine herself to a diet of fruit until she was back to normal.

This is an extract from The Gannet’s Gastronomic Miscellany by Killian Fox, out now (Mitchell Beazley, £11.99). Buy a copy for £10.19 at

Killian Fox writes about film, music and books, among other things, for various publications including the Observer, where he worked for two years.
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