The Inspiring Story of the Boy from a Family of Criminals Who Has Won Jamie Oliver's Latest Talent Search ... and How Jamie's Dad Became the Father Figure He Never Had
Byline: JENNY JOHNSTON
AARON CRAZE didn't like pubs. He associated them with his childhood - and as he points out, who would want to be reminded of that? They made him think of the dark London boozer where his dad would drink himself into oblivion, then invariably pick a fight.
'We'd always end up there when he was supposed to be looking after me,' says Aaron. 'To me, they were places that people went in happy and came out beating each other up. I hated the fact that pubs changed people, ruined lives. Drink ruined my family. I didn't want it to ruin me.' This makes the fact that he is now the proud landlord of The Cock, in Beazley End, Essex, all the more remarkable.
Even without Aaron's family baggage, the idea of him at the helm of his own business would once have been unthinkable.
Marked down as a no-hoper at school and born into a family of career criminals, he effectively won the pub in perhaps the biggest gamble yet of TV chef Jamie Oliver's career.
One of the trainees at Fifteen, the East London restaurant set up as a social experiment to train disadvantaged youngsters, Aaron went on to compete in Jamie's latest audacious contest: the prize being his own public house to run.
Today, the young man who once seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps has been up since 7am, baking bread, making pasta and poring over the day's menu with his kitchen staff. Enthusiasm seeps from him as he rushes from kitchen to bar, shouting orders, joking with his underlings, urging them to work faster, think harder, get those ideas rolling.
'We change the menu every day depending on what produce is good that day, and it's great for the guys to be involved in the creative side,' he says at one point. 'The thing about the staff is that they love direction. They're young, enthusiastic, creative. All they need is a bit of encouragement.'
Aaron should indeed know what it is to thrive on someone else's belief in you.
His mentor in the programme was Trevor Oliver - Jamie's dad, and the one who gave Jamie his famous work ethic and sense of self-worth.
When they first met, with such a bittersweet prize on offer, Aaron admits he was apprehensive.
'At first I suppose I was a little scared of Trevor. I've always thought of Jamie as someone like me - my age, down-to-earth, like a mate more than anything. But his dad was quite stern at the beginning. He had a thing about timekeeping, and discipline, and making sure the hard work was done before there was time to have a laugh.
'After a while I got to see that he was quite an emotional man, really sensitive as well as tough. I started to understand where Jamie had come from, and how he'd used what his dad had taught him.' Perhaps it was inevitable that Aaron would draw comparisons with his own father.
His dad - he asks us not to name him - was a borderline alcoholic 'who never did a day's work in his life'. The lessons he passed on to his son, how to scam, thieve, skive and lie on the sofa, were never going to take him far.
By contrast, Trevor Oliver - quietlyspoken, determined, fundamentally decent - had much of value to hand over. 'I learned more from him in a fortnight than I learned from my own dad in 18 years,' says Aaron. 'It really made me think about what sort of father mine had been.
'Jamie had a dad who wanted to be a dad. I had someone who wanted, tried, to be a brother to me, a Jack The Lad.
In all honestly, I never had a proper father and I didn't realise how much I was missing until all this.
'I remember Trevor telling me that when Jamie was a boy, he made sure he got up with him in the morning, and got him to work in the kitchen.
'I remember thinking what a lucky guy Jamie had been. Then I realised that maybe he wasn't lucky, just normal. It was my childhood that hadn't been normal.' JUST how dysfunctional Aaron's own upbringing had been was only brought home to him during the filming of the programme. …