A Very Special Birthday – Roald Dahl September 13th 1916

Recollecting my childhood in the 1960s, I might sound like a dinosaur. We had no TV and were devoted to books, crayons and paper, as well as the great outdoors. Partly this was because we lived abroad for big chunks of time, but mainly it was my parents influence – they were Guardian reading lefties who did not approve of the “goggle box”.

Thus books were a huge part of my childhood, and in particular Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, which was part of our library from about 1965. Brought back from New York by my father along with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and The Nutshell Library, we learnt all the words off by heart, and it’s been a real pleasure to share these books with my children, nephews and nieces and friend’s kids too.

Other favourite books were a collection of Persian fairy tales; full of gruesome stories that I adored, where the villains came to very sticky ends; its funny how sensitive we all are now to what is or is not suitable for children? I think I can truly say that I lived in a fantasy world fuelled by all these tales. I loved to write my own stories and to illustrate them too. I also freely admit that at the age when books no longer had illustrations, I rather lost my taste for them, looking back its highly likely that one of the reasons for this was that I was dyslexic, but that was not a word in our vocabulary then. To be read to was a huge part of our childhood and continues to be a huge treat to this day.

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Chantal with her father, sisters Clare and Ros and brother Tom. Kuwait c. 1968

Reading to one’s self just did not have the same appeal. With time of course I got caught up in novels but I still love the spoken word and am a secret addict of Radio 4 books and podcasts, beautifully delivered via audio.

In my dreams, I acted out the stories and there was one particularly vivid recurring dream: I was in Willy Wonka’s world, it felt so real… This was way before the first movie starring Gene Wilder as Wonka and it is hard to believe that Quentin Blake’s iconic and beautiful illustrations did not appear until 1995, so it must have been Joseph Schindelman’s illustrations in my first Dahl book. (Those books are worth a small fortune now, goodness knows what happened to it?) In my dream I was walking through a meadow of grass, the edible blades were made from mint and sugar, the river was chocolate, and the trees bore wrapped sweeties. I plucked and gathered them into my skirts and carefully placed them under my pillow. This was the really tragic bit, as in my dream I did not eat any but consciously saved them for the morning, and when I did awake and reach under my pillow, what sweet disappointment to find nothing there. Maybe that was the seed to my future fantasy of having my own sweet shop? How I loved the characters and the plot. Charlie as the great hero, so poor, yet surrounded by his loving parents and grandparents, his life was rich. Contrasted violently with the spoilt brats who had won the other golden tickets, and who all met sticky ends.

I was not lucky enough to meet Roald Dahl himself, who died in 1990, but when I co-founded the Chocolate Society in 1991, it was an honour and thrill that his widow Felicity agreed to be Patron. Still I was not to meet her until very recently – about three years ago my good friend and talented conductor and composer Peter Ash, who with Donald Sturrock wrote the Opera “The Golden Ticket”, introduced us. Liccy, as she is known to all her family and friends, invited our family to lunch at Gypsy House (The Dahl’s home). I can only describe it as dreamy. We arrived and were greeted by Pesto the dog, followed by Liccy and ushered into the living room filled with beautiful contemporary art and offered a glass of champagne. The scent of roast lamb wafted through as we sat and chatted so easily.  Liccy has a gift of making you feel like you are an old friend. Her daughter Neisha Crosland and her family were there and we talked of many things including the great man himself and his love of good food and red Burgundy; we shared a wonderful bottle from his cellar…

After lunch we had a tour of the garden, the gypsy caravan and a walk through the village of Great Missenden to visit the Roald Dahl museum where his famous shed has been reconstructed complete with his 6 sharpened American Dixon Ticonderoga HB pencils and the yellow legal pads that he always used, the chair with a tray table built onto it that he designed to relieve his aches and pains from old injuries sustained in his plane crash in the African desert in World War II. The daily routine was unchanging …we were immersed in his world and hugely enjoyed every small detail.

 

When it came to chocolate, Liccy told us that Roald loved ALL chocolate, from his childhood of Cadbury’s through to “posh” chocolates, and she was keen to explore the possibility of creating a unique collection which would do justice to his imagination.

I could hardly believe that I was being offered this opportunity to do something very special and that my childhood dreams were coming to life as we spoke. I was elated and at the same time awestruck at the responsibility being placed before me. The only constraint was that we were not allowed to touch Charlie & the Chocolate Factory as Nestle own the rights.

Our first collaboration came two years ago Easter with two limited edition Dahl eggs. The Enormous Crocodile egg has a milk chocolate shell and was filled with sea salt milk chocolate & popping candy green painted baby crocodiles, and the Roly Poly Bird Egg’s whose shell was half milk chocolate with strawberries and half white chocolate with raspberries, filled with brightly coloured foiled milk chocolate mini eggs.

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It took much longer to create the collection of 8 bars – based on the BFG, Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, James & the Giant Peach, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and The Twits. This was such a big project, and such fun, working closely with our head chocolatier Karen Waller and our retail and events manager (and avid Dahl fan) Sam Smallman, we tweaked the recipes and wrapper designs many times before getting final sign off from the Dahl Estate. Every bar sold will generate income for the Estate’s charity partners*. http://www.roalddahl.com/charity

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My personal favourites are The Twits Beardy Breakfast milk chocolate bar, complete with crunchy bits of cereal, yogurt, banana and smoked tea, followed by George’s Marvellous Medicine.  The white chocolate bar has liquorice, fennel seeds and sea salt which combine to create a surprisingly delicious combination of flavours in the mouth. I have been so pleased to share the testing of the work in progress with my closest friends and colleagues and to see how delighted they are at the unusual combinations and the illustrations, which resonate deeply with so many people who grew up reading Roald Dahl or have read it to their children. Another surprise has been the appeal to adults and the feedback about sharing the bars with children – brilliant fun for all the family. You may need to hurry though as the first lot of bars are selling out fast!

Shop online here or visit our shops to discover the Rococo & Roald Dahl collection.

*All author payments and royalty income net of third party commissions.  The Roald Dahl Charitable Trust is a registered UK charity (no 1119330).

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