'I wanted to be judged only on the cooking' - Masterchef winner kept cancer battle secret from judges
The winner of Masterchef kept secret from the programme’s judges her 10-year battle with cancer because she wanted to win the television cookery competition on her own merits.
Jane Devonshire said yesterday she did not want the sympathy of the judges – John Torode and Gregg Wallace – to influence their decisions through the course of the series.
Mrs Devonshire, 50, a mother-of-four, from Hampshire, triumphed in the final, screened on BBC One on Friday night, beating her two younger male rivals with three faultless dishes.
At the start of the hour-long finale, the programme offered a glimpse into the finalists’ private lives and disclosed to a tearful television audience of almost six million viewers that Mrs Devonshire had come close to death before being told three years ago she was in remission.
Wallace and Torode were kept in the dark throughout the filming. The producers were only informed when the finalists were flown to Mexico City for filming and Mrs Devonshire felt obliged to disclose her medical history for insurance purposes.
“I wanted to be judged only on the cooking,” Mrs Devonshire told The Telegraph on Saturday, “Gregg and John didn’t know. I didn’t want any sympathy for the cancer. It wasn’t relevant.
“Surviving it has been a huge part of my life but at the same time I didn’t want it to be anything that anybody on the show would know about. There are so many people going through this but you are more than that. It is not who you are.”
Mrs Devonshire was diagnosed with breast cancer a decade ago and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy. But then four years ago, she was diagnosed with secondary cancer which had spread to the liver.
“That was a really dreadful time; a really dark time for the family,” she said. The prognosis was not good but after successful surgery at her local hospital in Basingstoke, Hampshire, Mrs Devonshire has been in remission for three years.
It was the springboard for her application to enter Masterchef, which seeks each year to find the country’s best amateur cook.
“My youngest child Ben had been on at me for ages to enter so last summer we sat down in front of the computer and entered the contest online.
“I didn’t think anything of it until I got a phone call from the programme’s makers saying: 'Can we talk to you about your cooking?’ ”
Mrs Devonshire, in winning the competition, was the first to do so while offering menus that were almost entirely gluten-free.
The exception was one slice of toast served up in the final to accompany a dish of winkles and cockles. Her son Ben, 13, is a coeliac and Mrs Devonshire’s home cooking is gluten-free to accommodate his illness.
She would try out her recipes on her family, including husband Mark, before preparing them for the television judges. She is grateful that her children – her oldest is 23 – had adventurous tastes.
The winner is considering what to do next. “I am going to go home and enjoy the victory and just see what happens,” she said. “I am just looking forward to the next bit of my life. I will keep on doing what I love and maybe at the age of 50 I can start again and make cooking my career.”