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January 16, 2005

Now Look - Woody Goes Organic

JO WOOD.......'I converted the whole family to organic - starting with Ronnie's cigarettes'

posted by Ian Roberts

Rolling Stone wife Jo Wood never worried about what she ate until she was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. Curing herself with an organic diet, she turned her attention to husband Ronnie.


Ronnie Wood ambles through the French windows into one of the sitting rooms of his sprawling house on the edge of London. A giant plasma screen on one wall has been showing horse racing to nobody for some time; Ronnie has been out test-driving his new Bentley Continental GT. He's left it parked on the sweeping driveway, among the many other high-end cars cluttered there. (This is a household where the hairdresser arrives in a Porsche.) In the hall, he runs into his son Jesse, who's entered by a different route. 'You've left the engine running,' Jesse tells him. 'Have I?' Ronnie says, bemused.
Craggy-faced and skeletal, Ronnie Wood looks like a man whose body was battered and flayed by drink and drugs for far too long. Recently, though, his wife Jo tells me, he had a blood test, and his doctor reported that he had the potential to be a very fit older man. 'I have to keep reminding him about the word "potential",' she says. There is, in Jo's view, only one reason why Ronnie Wood is still so well. 'I really believe that if he didn't have such a good diet, all organic, he wouldn't be in such good health. He might not even be here - because he has abused his body a lot... really, a lot.'

'A lot,' I repeat.

'A lot.'

Ronnie and Jo Wood are mad for organics - or she is, anyway, and he mostly does what he's told. 'I only have organic food in the house,' Jo says,'and Ronnie eats what I cook for him. Mind you, I don't know what he'd be like if I wasn't around to put food in front of him. If he goes out for dinner without me, I don't suppose he bothers to say, "I need an organic steak", or "where are your vegetables from?".'

Along with the Prince of Wales and Madonna, Sting and Trudie Styler, Dame Kiri te Kanawa and the Beckhams, the Woods are among the country's most prominent organic food lovers, preferring their food pesticide-free and Soil Association-approved. Jo and Ronnie have been organic for longer than most - 12 years - and, in that time, she has done her best to convert everyone around her: their four adult children (her son, Jamie; Ronnie's son, Jesse, both by previous relationships; plus Leah and Tyrone, their two together); 'my mum, my sister, my brothers, everybody I meet on tour_Mick, Jerry, my friend Lorraine [Kirk, who is married to Simon Kirk, the drummer with Free]... I've had a bit of a tough time convincing Keith, though. He's a hard one. "You're obsessed with it," he says, "you've become addicted to it." I mean, look who's talking....'

While we wait for Jo's hair to be tousled by the Porsche-driving stylist, Ronnie takes me through the many hectically-furnished rooms of the house, full of lamps and side tables and boho drapes and clashing exotica collected from around the world, until we reach a conservatory stuck on the end of a wing, which he uses as his studio. Here, Kew-sized plants jostle for space with Ronnie's and Leah's canvases. On the wall I read a framed letter from Alan Yentob, who says he'd be delighted to sit for a portrait by Ronnie, and another from Rod Stewart about a possible joint project, which ends: 'PS. Have you found one of my socks around your house? You can't miss it it's brown.'

The children wander in and out. They're all here, along with Jesse's wife Tilly, and son, Arthur, and Jamie's girlfriend - and, what with assorted staff, there is an atmosphere of chaotic comings and goings and rambunctiousness; a sense, primarily promoted by Ronnie, that living like this is a bit of a hoot, and there is no requirement to be cool about it. As they pose for a family portrait in the garden, Ronnie says to them severely: 'Remember who you are, where you came from and where you're going.' The children jostle behind him and Leah falls backwards into a rosemary bush.

Ronnie himself assumes a persona of arrested adolescent-meets-grumpy old man. (The Woods are used to performing in public, and they expect to be entertaining). When Jo eventually descends with her hair artfully dishevelled, he grumbles some more about how long it took. 'What's wrong with it?' she asks. 'Nothing,' he says. 'It's nice. But,' he adds, 'I like it natural, too.' The pair pose against a hedge. 'Surely,' he grumbles, 'if this is a food thing, we should stand in the vegetable garden? Among the...' he frowns, and over-enunciates, like it's a mysterious phenomenon '...chard.' Then he grabs her nipple.

The Woods have been together for over 25 years (although some of those clearly passed in a bit of a blur) and his role in the relationship is evidently to be a bit of a kid, and a curmudgeon, and hers to cajole and boss and indulge and humour. When Jamie, 'the boisterous one', as she calls him, won't stop fooling around long enough to have the photograph taken, she shakes her head and says, 'It's like the bloody Osbournes.'

In 1989, at dinner one night in Dublin, Jo Wood developed severe stomach pains. She thought at first that she had food poisoning, but the pain didn't subside, so she started seeing doctors in London. She was eventually diagnosed as having Crohn's disease, 'which inflames the intestines. They put me on steroids and you get all bloated and your skin gets awful. All the time I was thinking that I hadn't got this disease brought on by stress.'

She gave a newspaper interview that appeared under the headline, 'Stone's wife has incurable disease', prompting 'hundreds and hundreds' of people to write to her, most of them suffering from Crohn's disease. 'I read them all, and they were very sad - awful.' Among them, though, was a letter from a herbalist in Hastings, who claimed he could put her Crohn's disease into remission for life if she took his herbs and went on his diet. 'I'd been on the steroids two years by then and I thought, I'm going to see this guy. These steroids are taking my soul away.'

Jo drove to his house, 'a place called Shangri La, which was a mad house with bottles and pots everywhere, and he sat me down and said: "What do you eat?" It was the first time I'd thought about it. I ate Kentucky Fried Chicken, anything, whatever I picked up in the supermarket.' The herbalist advised her to come off the steroids and to stick to 'a very basic organic diet of fish and steamed vegetables'.

In the early 1990s, it was still relatively difficult to source organic vegetables, so Jo started growing her own in Ireland. (In addition to the sprawling Victorian lodge backing onto Richmond Park, where we're talking, she and Ronnie own a Georgian house in County Kildare.) It worked. Today, she has an organic vegetable garden in both countries. 'I grow all root vegetables, onions... I had great corn this year: we did about four rows. And lots of salads, and edible flowers to put in them.'

If not for getting the steroids out of her system and taking to the organic food, she says, 'I don't suppose I'd be here today. The best thing that happened to me was getting ill like that. It changed my life for ever, and I learnt all about organic food, which I became very passionate about.'

Persuading the rest of the family to go organic was easy, because she is an excellent cook, who 'could make a Sunday dinner when I was 12'. Cookbooks line the shelves in the kitchen, there's an organic chicken defrosting in the sink (her friend Lorraine's coming round later) and Tilly, who's fixing some scrambled eggs for Arthur, says: 'Jo is a fantastic cook. Last night she made us butternut squash and lentil soup and it was just amazing. She cooks for whoever is here.'

'Ronnie can still have his beans on toast,'
Jo says tolerantly, 'but the butter's organic, the bread's organic, the beans are organic. It just tastes much better.' So is it a taste thing, or health thing? 'It's 50-50. I love the taste, and I love to know it's doing me good.'

Until recently, all the children lived at home, although Jesse and his family have recently moved to Somerset, and Jamie has vacated his cottage in the grounds; Tyrone, who is 21, has moved into it. 'The house is getting emptier and emptier,' Jo says sadly. 'The only one who's not so good on organics is Jamie.' But he seems to take his mother's advice pretty seriously in general: before he leaves for a business dinner (he manages the family's finances, and Leah's career, and Ronnie's art) he stops by to ask her if she thinks it will be OK to wear his Gucci trousers.

As is often the case with food faddishness, a question arises about the extent to which people who insist upon an entirely organic diet are using food to create a sense of control. There may be an element of this here, because Jo says at one point, 'At the moment I've got Ronnie, me and Leah on a metabolic diet.' This apparently involves not eating fruit. Jo says she is in favour of 'giving your body a good cleanout once a year'. It is, however, the first diet Ronnie has ever been on.

'After we got Ronnie's sheet from the Joshi Clinic in Wimpole Street, I suggested we went to an organic cafe in Marylebone High Street. I said to him: "OK, you've got your diet, what are you going to have? Remember, you can't have wheat, gluten, fried foods..." He said, "I don't know, it's difficult... I think I'll have a BLT."'

Ronnie smokes organic American Spirit brand cigarettes when Jo's watching (she gave up herself earlier this year), 'but he'll smoke anything'. He's supposed to be off the booze, 'but he does occasionally have a little slip, which affects him like he's drunk a bottle. So he tries hard, but, you know, he's an alcoholic, so it's very difficult. When he was at the height of his drinking, I was recycling so many bottles I got a certificate: the most glass they'd ever collected from one house.'

Jo has organic meat delivered, and, in winter, boxes of vegetables. But maintaining the regime on tour proved quite difficult. 'The tour before last, I was really frustrated, especially in places where you couldn't get much, like Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Fargo.' She asked Jamie, who has a backstage furniture company, to introduce her to someone who could help her design a travelling cooker.

'I sat down with this guy and we drew it up. I needed drawers, and two electric burners that were safe when you switched them off. We designed the whole thing so that it closes, locks, you put the top on, and it's on wheels: it's fabulous. I took that everywhere with us and I'd set it up in the hotel room and I'd come back with my carrier bags of shopping and cook. You can make quite a good meal on two rings.'

A stalwart supporter of the Soil Association, Jo has hosted an organic event at her house and been to several at Highgrove ('you have a very nice lunch there'). Having cleaned up her food, she switched over to organic cleaning products. Now she is formulating her own body and skincare range, which she expects to launch as Organic Beauty Products next year.

Leah wants to have her photograph taken. Jo has to get her chicken in the oven. Ronnie's playing with Arthur in the sitting room, where the horse racing has been replaced on the plasma screen by Aladdin . Ronnie looks so skinny and pale and somehow beyond the reach of food that it seems a bit of a waste, somehow, that he's married to a terrific cook who makes delicious organic meals. 'He's never eaten a lot,' Jo acknowledges fondly. 'He's not like me. I love food. But I also like to know that it's been grown without chemicals and pesticides and fertilisers. I feel we should have a choice and my choice is not to eat... Listen, I put enough chemicals in my body as a younger woman. I don't want any more.'

Geraldene Bedell - The Observer, UK

© 2019 SMILER Magazine

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