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THELAST-]

STEPSOF I

DAIID

DEMPSEY

Flrul |t dna plrct

Attercalls from seveml

residents, police bring arc

lights and traine dogs to

the scene. David s body is

located

around l2.10am

DURING RUSH HOUR INATOPBRITISH RESTAURANT WHERE DAVID DEMPSEY

oNcE woRl(ED, the staffoffer their own opinioDs aboutwhathappened thal

night. Theories abound as to whether he fell accidentally or delibelately

jumped. Were drugs involved? Most people aren'tsure. On one topic,

though, they all agree:

'You had to Anow David Dempsey..."

"I don'tknowwhybut I wasn'tsurprised to hearhe was dead," says one

chef. "He lived his life in the fast lane ard then it allwent abitcrazy," says

another.

"He saw the whole thingas rock'n'roll.I mean, c'mon - fallingoutof

a windola. in London!In his head he'd maybe even see it as a fittingend."

Dempsey would have been alltoo familiar with the concentrated tableau

ofmadness that follows the eveningt firstorders. A-rrivingvia the pretty

waitresses, pink slips withdetails are pasted to aboard and the dishes are

announced to the staff Then,

like the crewofa nuclear

"He

submarine preparingto

lived his life in undertale acomplex

the fast lane and maloeuwe, each chef mans

their station. Timecodes are

then ii all went a bit

punched into tiny little digital

nrazrr" qarrq: r'ho{

clocks, and then the

who countdown begins.

"He

knew Dempsey.

saw the whole

"Four minutes..."

"Oui!"

thing as rock'n'roll. "Three minutes and 20..."

I mean, c mon -

"Oui!"

"Forty

falling oui of a

five seconds..."

"Oui!"

window in Londonl

in his head he'd

Shod in Birkenstocks,

they command their areas

Tn2\/np p\/pn qoa lT

like officerg Eachcook is

as a frttrng end" different: one stands foursquare

and tough, another

moves lightly like a painter

at a canvas, another talks and

sings to himself, another nods and whispers encouragementto the others.

The cooked ingredients are passed to the boss - the head chef- for final

preparation. When he receives the food he turns round to add his touches as

his staffstare attheback ofhis headwith the nervous look offootballerswho

know theycould be substituted, or even sold, instantly. For a momentthey

aren't a team - they're individuals worrying deeply that it'll be their bit ofthe

dish that fouls the whoie thingup.

Steam licks the head chef's face as he sets the dish on the plate. For a

momenthis eyes narrow as he inspects the completed order Then he nods

silently aDd sends it off, with a mix ofconfrontation and reluctant pride.

Everyone pauses. They wipe their hands and surhces. Stretch. Mumur to one

another Pace their spaces. within 40 seconds, another order arrives and it all

begins again. The sequence oforders becornes increasinglycomplex as the

restallrant fills up. Soon each cook is handlingseveral dishes. The head chef

surveys it all like a chess grandmaster playing several games simultaleously.

Some would find this high-stress world unbearable. David Dempsey,

though,loved it.Inhis latter years, he ruled akitchenlike few others.

'Yeah,

he had it," one ofhis fiiends tells me, "he knew he was talented and he was

absolutelypassionate about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to

go... And, he hadballs -verybigballs."

AS HER LARGE GERMAN SHEPHERD PADS RESTLESSLY AROUNDTHE

GROUl{D-FLOOR COUNCIL FLAT, Eileen Dempseycarefully arralges the

newspaper clippings she has kept ofherson's careerbeside heron the sofa.

There are other reminders in the smalllivingroom ofthe circles in which

this high-school teacher's brilliantson once moved: two large Gordon

Ramsaycookbooksit on asmallbookshelf, and a framed picture of

Dempsey in his kitchen whites looks down from the wall.

"I got that one liamedbecause he's actuallysmilingin it, unlike fiesg"

she says, handing me aselection ofpress shots.

"That's him inhis kitchen:

tough guy, knives-in-hand pose."

115


On the wall next to Denrpsey's portrait is a framed

poemwhich Eileenwrote forhis funeral. The 6nal

verse reads:'nVho knows whatwenton duringyour

life's last ght? Butone thing's forsure we'llcontinue

to fight. Your name won'tbe tarnished for long. Trust

me son. we'll get to the filth and we'll seejustice done."

It's clear, in hermind, that manyquestions remarn

unanswered, notleastof them whether the unknown

manshe claims was seen runningnear lhe scene of

the incidentwas in any way connected to the events

ofthat night. "There's something not right in his

death," says Eileen, as she digs into her handbag and

produces a cheapblue plastic wallet that was taken

from Dempseyt body atthe morgue.Its contents are

unremarkable: a video club membership;a laundry

card; receipts fiom a May.fair club;three neatly

folded (but inexplicably blood-stained) €20 notes

and lotterytickets. As I inspectthe latter - 5,141218,

25,44 - Eileengoes through halfa dozen possible

explarations as to whatcould have happened to

Dempsey, some more plausible thanothers

"I mean,look at these lotterynumbers," she says.

"He put those on the

nightbefore he died, yet people think he was maybe suicidal orgoingdaft

or crackingup that weekend he died- Not a chance. He was the same as he

always was,"

Eileen Dempsey's raft ling windows overlook a windswept communal

garden in Glasgow's Maryhill district, to the north ofthe cit'r It's a tough

area. Those that make it out are fighters, survivors. "David was very much a

productofhis environment and upbringing," says one local pal, "buthe

disreg€rded it. I don'tthink he saw himselfas beingworkingclass. He didn't

put himselfin any particular category"

Glasgow gives reputations out grudgingly. Nowhere on earth will you

6nd people harderto impress. Yet before David Dempseywas a successful

chefhe'd already been

'tlocked" as someone to watch - albeit for the \,i,rong

reasons.

"David Dempseypulled agun - orwhatiooked like a gun - on me

when he was about IT or l8," claims a doorman fiom a club in the city's

centre. 'Yea$ later when I saw a TV programme about cooking, there was

the same wee smilingface with cordonRamsay.I both couldn'tbutcould

also wellbelieve it."

THIS APPARENT CONTRADICTION MIGHT BE EXPLAII{ED BY THE PUBIIC'S

CHANGING PERCEPflON OF CHEFS and the world in whichDempsey

worked.Ifcordon Ramsay's ag$essive ravings - capnrred to perfection

by a Channel 4 film crew in the infamous Boiling Pointseries killedthe

m''th that cookingwas forsissies, then New York ChefAnthony

Bourdain's best-sellingbook Kitchen Confrdentrhl epitomised the

profession's new image, a sexy, ralish, spicy underworld of"mastercriminals,

sexual athletes... highwayrnen, rogues, buccaneers, cut-throats"

living "a life ofadventure, looting piilagingand rockingand rolling

through life with a carefree disregard for allconventional morality".

Yet the 2lst-century chef is more than a maverick bankrobber - he is

also awhipsmartbusinessman. Jamie Oliver was credited with generating

tl53m in profits forSainsbury's lastyear, and by the beginningofthis year

the Naked Chefwas planning "world domination".

"I've created an

infiastructure that will grow naturally," he toid The Guadian,adding

helpfu lly, "I'm also planningto getmore political."

Behind the brio gnd the brand planning is an age-old buth: monet So

who could blame a tough kid from Glasgow for taling his charces and

claiminga piece of the action?

"I think David always had high aspirations," says someone whoworked

with Dempsey at Ra',rnond Blanc's Michelin two-star Le Manoir aux Quat'

Saisons.'You could tellthat in the way he dressed. He would think nothing

ofspendingafomrne on clothes, whether he had the money or not. He's

drivinginto work and there's a carpark fullofPorsches and Ferraris and all

the rest, and Dempseydid aspire to that. He wanted to be famous." Like

116

Mast€. of all he surveF DemFsay (centE) watclrcs over

his tean drring ftis rilt|e a5 h€ad chef at Ama.ylli! in his

homc town ol Glalsow in Ap?il 2OOl

almostallofthe people I spoke tq this man insisted that I protecthis identity.

The restauraitbusiness in the UK is a small and unforgiving community.

Andrev/ Fairlig a Michelin-starred chefwho runs an epongnous

restaurant inThe Gleneagles Hotel, was one ofthe few people who were

prepared to go on record to talk about David Dempsey's professional

beginnings. When Dempsey literally appeared on his backdoorstep about

I0 years ago, Fairlie was immediately impressed by the young chef's ambition

and his hunger to learn. "He was absolutely certain aboutwhere he wanted

to go," he says.

"There are very fewpeople that you come across like that."

Dempse.ywanted the

experience of beingaround

elite cooks, and offered to

' D.arr rJ f)omncpir

\{ork at One Devonshire

pLlilecr

Gardens, Fairlie's restaurant at

agun*or

the time, on his only day off

what looked llke

fiom his other kitchen. Ifthere

gun - on me when tg were wages forthis labour, it

WASabout

17 or 18, wouldbe abonus.

It was a tactic that

clarTns a doorman

Dempsey was to use many

f r.,rn z a 2c.on\^/ al rh

'Years

times. Later, vr'hen he was

later when I workingl6-hour days at Le

saw a TV programme Manoir, he would fly back to

-f hn rf .nn[ Giasgow on his days offand go

' no thorp!

a ' r i r v

straight into One Devonshire

was tne same wee Gardens to work for fiee.

"I

sm ling face wrth

thought he was

completelyberserk,"

Gordon Ramsay"

says

Fairlie, shaking his head.

"I said to him on a number of

occasions,'Listen, forget it..."'

Yet, as anothertop cheftells me,'You need to go through a painbarrier

gettingto this level.There's no fast-track - there's lots ofsacrifice involved

and it's very disciplined. It's definitelyavocation." Or, as another industry

source putit, "It's the differencebetween drivinga Lada and a Ferrari."

Dempsey wasn't simply a workaholic; he was setting himself the

4

toughestpossible targets in order to securchis objective: Gordon Ramsay.

Hejoined the chef's London-based operation in 1992 after a day's trial at

Ramsay's eponlmous flagship restaurant in Royal Hospital Road. It was an -

experience he told his closestftiends had been'tompletely mind-blowing". =


Ramsay lived up to his reputation in every way. Dempseytold one ofhis slepton a couch more suitable for a child than a top chefearningt70,000

friends that he would'tome up and kick him on the shins and nip him and a year. Her eyes water with anger at his living conditions.

push him andjostle himout oftheway artd jrllthe restofit. The verbal abuse Dempseytold friends hewasn't happy, but when his mothersawhim

went on right up and until the last," says the fiiend "I mean, itwas legendary over the Easterholidays he seemed calm and looked well -so well, in fact,

- Gordon comingup to Glasgow and takingDavid out theback and

that they evenjoked about him getting fat when his mother asked him why

completely trashing him, screaming at the top ofhis voice "

he had leftAmaryllis, Dempsey answered,

"I had io go otherwise,I

Ramsayinspires mixed feelings Some have nothingbut admiration for wouldn't have had a job."

him;others literally fear him. One cheftold me thatwhile he was "sharpened TWo months before David's death, top French ChefBernard Loiseau' one

up" workingfor thetriple-Michelin-starred chei he did feel that "it's almost ofthe most famous chefs in France, took his own life after slipping in national

like being indoctrinated. It's likejoiningthe Marines or something

" This is restaurant ratings. People have wondered whether either David's stalled

what David Dempseywillingly signed up f or

career, or news about tests linked to cancer he had in the week he died, led

"I think David wajtted to prove that there was nothing he couldn't take," himto commitsuicide. Eileen is dismissive ofboth suggestions:

"He told me

says the chef. "I have never seen a guy with so many burns and scars up lus the tests were fine. Everyone but David worried about his health "

Dempsey's family have seen a police video that recreated his 6nal

hands and rightup his forearms.

movements on the night he died, but it raised as many questions as it

He once said he was tired

lffi:*,r'r-.1

answered. His movements certainly didn t represent dle nomal

because he was working until

modus operandi of acatburglar. He entered the building fiom the rear,

2am,butthenwenthome todo

went into a couple's apa.rtment on the ground flool smashed out their

a lweights] workouL"

froot window, hopped ledges; re-entered the building after smashing

Ex-colleagues who met

a dool raced upstairs towards the rear, exited a window, gripped a

Dempsey after he'd worked for

each other's

drainpipe, then fell to his death. witnesses also stated tha! far from

Rarnsay for a while were taken

company, although his "mmpaging", they'd actually felt a bit sorry for David. It was very odd

aback by how much he had

Dempsey's penchant behaviour, to say the least - even for someone who was allegedly also

changed: "His demeanour, the

way he would speal, the things

stoned outofhis head.

for flashing about

when the toxicology report was made public at the official inquest

he'd say were right out of

expensive molllle on 9 July, it revealed that David Dempsey had l.3mg ofcocaine per liue

Gordon'smouth'Anactive

phones drd allegedlY in his system, a potentially fatal quantity His family, who insist that

body is an active mind',

'Donleys David was

once drive RamsaY

'hfiaid ofheights and totally anti- drugs", immediately stated

use theirbacks, chefs

that they planned tocommission their owl toxicology report. No one I

use their brains', all ofthat "

to grab one and

spoke to ever saw David Dempsey touch drugs. Indeed, the reverse was

Eileen Dempsey readilY

drop lt into a pot of tme - he regularly cited his dislike ofthem and where they led users.

admits that her son didn't

Chinese tea"

His friends said that if oempsey had been taling drugs, then it would

simply like or admire the

have been in his nature to have indulged in public To their knowledgg

charismatic Ramsay: "No, You

must understand that David

this never occurred.

But Dempsey was always good at comparBnental ising his life. Paul

idolised Gordon."

Despite the boot-camp hisnionics, people who knew the two chefs said Carroll, acheffromGordon Ramsay's resrauranL told police thathe had

they werc exffemely easy in each other's company, although Dempsey's

penchant for flashing about expensive mobile phones did allegedly once

ddve Ramsay to grab one ard drop it into a pot ofchinese tea in a Glasgow

restaurant. Yet some people I spoke to thought Dempsey's own percephon

oftheir relationship might have been skewed. He took both Ramsay's praise

and cdticism to hearl "He would get upse!" one source told mg "and I am

takingtlis from somebody who said to me that David had turned up at tlteir

door at two otlock in the morning crying and all the rest of il"

Gordon Ramsay broke his silence on the subject ofDavid Dempsey3

death only once before the inquest. In an intervi ew :-j]'The Obset'ler,he

equated Dempsey's death with his brother's long-term heroin addiction'

Ramsay said he felt pain and sorrow over both issues, ard said drat he was

planning to implement drugs tests for employees. Dempsey's family were

appalled. "1'm sorry" says Eileen, "but I think there's a big difference

between David and his brother David doesn't have a habit..." or didn'L

BY THE EEGINNII{G OF 2OO'. DAVID SEEI'ED IO BE RDNG HIGH W|rH

GoRDON RAftsAY. He was even cited in the press as the

"inspiration 'behind

the fiIst restaumnt Ramsay opened outside London. Amaryllis was located

in Glasgpv/s smart west End - at one Devonshire Gardens, in fact, the site

that Fairlie had vacated on moving into Gleneagles. David was coming home'

Despite critical plaudits, Amaryllis didn t attract diners in droves. At the

end ofApril this year, Ramsay admitted the market had been tough and

amounced a "slight revamp" in the hope ofattracting the mid-market

audience. There was talk ofDempsey heading a .Iew restaurant in Edinburgh

butintheinte m he left behind his parmer, his three children, his sister

Yasmin ald his mother, and moved into a tiny flat near Royal Hospital Road,

where he was to work under Ramsay's head chef, MaJk Askew When Eileen

came down to London to pick up his possessions, she discovered that her son

118

been out with Dempsey on the night he died, and that Dempsey had said that

he had rakencocainearlier in the evening.

Later that night, caroll left an anxious message on David Dempsey's

answerphone, although what prompted the call rcmains a mystery to the

fanily. ca.rroll spoke to the police, though not until over a week after the

incident His account apparendy satisfied the police. But the Dempsey

familysrill feelthar pans ofthe puzzle are missing

GMng evidence at the inques! Cordon Ramsay said $at duringt]rcir last

meeting,24 hours befote the chef's death, Dempsey seemed agitated "lt

wasn't the normal David," he said. "It was a guy that was, for me, looking as

though he was under pressure." Perhaps it had something to do with the

nature ofthe conveNation they had over dinner at the Harvey Nichols

restaurant that night. Ramsay told t}|e hearing that they had discussed the

resignatrons ofseveral femele staffmembers, and that DemPsey had accepted

responsibility for the altercations that had led to them handing in their

notice. He also said that Dempsey had asked to borrow t3,000, claiming that

he was under financial pressure following his purchase ofhis London flat

Whatever happened that nighg Dempsey appeared upbeat after the

meeting telling fiiends that his future with Itamsay was secure and that he'd

be '.Gordonb man IOO per cent ulrtil he was 65". His family aren't so sure.

They tell me he was planring to cut his ties witi Ramsay and was intent on

opening his own restaurant iD Glas8ow. Given his track record, he was

probably working both sides ofthe street simultaneously

Out ofcuriosity, I check out the location his family tell me Dempsey had

in mind for his new restaurant. Sure enough, on a bustling Glasgow streeg a

"Saler4-easd'sign hangs above a vacant doorway. It\ a pdme location. lfthose

lottery numbers had come up, could David Dempsey have been in there right

now, cooking up astorm? lt s an impossible question to answer. Becauseonly

one person truly knew David Dempsey, and he isn t around any morc' @

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