When Jamie Oliver first landed on our TV screens back in 1999, he soon won over millions of fans thanks to his delicious recipes and cheeky, boyish charm.
Countless television appearances and cooking programs quickly followed his original series, The Naked Chef, along with cookbooks, advertising deals, charity campaigns and even his own chain of restaurants.
But today, a string of controversies coupled with multimillion-dollar losses has meant the shine has well and truly started to come off the 43-year-old Brit.
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So how did it all go so wrong for one of the world’s best-loved celebrity chefs?
According to Aussie public relations expert Catriona Pollard, Oliver’s downfall was caused by a series of classic PR blunders including overexposure, a disconnect between his actions and his personal brand and a failure to address a number of controversies head-on.
RESTAURANTS GO BUST
Over the years, the father-of-five built a restaurant empire under the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group, starting with the launch of Jamie’s Italian in 2008, followed by the Recipease cooking school and deli chain in 2009 and barbecue chain Barbecoa in 2011.
But in September 2017, Oliver was forced to inject $22.7 million of his own cash into Jamie’s Italian to save it from collapsing.
All Recipease outlets were closed by late 2015 and last February Barbecoa Ltd went into administration.
Ms Pollard said one possible reason behind those failures was the mismatch between Oliver’s “average Joe” identity and the up-market feel of his eateries.
“You can buy one of his books for $20, or watch his TV show for free. But a lot of his restaurants sold expensive meals … which didn’t really stack up for people,” she told news.com.au.
She said there was also a divide between Oliver’s relatable image and his staggering fortune, estimated to be around $441 million.
“His personal brand is very much the ‘everyday lad’, but that doesn’t convert to a businessman who is so wealthy. There’s a disconnect between his everyday persona and his wealth,” she said.
Ms Pollard said it had also been a mistake to link his name so closely to his restaurants, as their failure was now inextricably linked to his personal reputation.
SHELL AND OTHER SCANDALS
Last year Oliver was accused of hypocrisy after signing a lucrative, $9.1 million deal with oil giant Shell to revamp its service station food offering.
But as Oliver had long been a supporter of climate change action, many considered a partnership with an oil company to be a serious betrayal.
Ms Pollard said Oliver’s decision to ignore the growing furore added another blow to his reputation.
“Jamie Oliver has a very distinct personal brand linked to very distinctive values. He’s so outspoken when it comes to things like healthy eating and the environmental impacts of climate change, which is great, but … the deal with Shell was seen as negatively straying from that very distinct brand,” she said.
“It gave people fodder and they started to change their opinions of him. That backlash was caused because people thought he wasn’t behaving the way they thought he should.
“He also didn’t do any interviews about it, which may have caused people to think he was hiding something. People wanted information about (the deal), and instead he didn’t say publicly what was going on.”
Oliver also made headlines recently after revealing he had offered to cater for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, only to have that offer snubbed by the royals.
But Ms Pollard said it was a mistake to have gone public at all.
“He absolutely should have kept quiet at a time when people were already questioning his reputation — it was not a very sensible thing to do, to say he was snubbed by one of the most watched marriages in recent history,” she said.
“It made people think (the royals) didn’t want to be associated with him, which was a misstep.”
She said other public scandals — such as a nasty spat with fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay — had also damaged Oliver’s brand.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Ms Pollard said those incidents coupled with general overexposure showed Oliver may have grown “blasé” about his personal brand — but she said it wasn’t too late to turn things around.
According to Ms Pollard, Oliver must now return to the fundamentals of why he was so popular in the first place — and be careful to avoid any more scandals in future.
“He needs to take a step back and not try to be something to everybody,” she said.
“He needs to look at all his ventures and make sure his branding is consistent across all of them, and not make any more decisions based purely on money, such as the Shell deal.
“He’s absolutely not down and out — but he needs to think twice before saying something in future … and look back at what made him great in the first place, and make sure he stays aligned to those values people were attracted to.”
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