Gordon Ramsay Is ‘Incredibly Sensitive’ and a ‘Softie’ as a Dad to 5 Kids

The ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ host created a culinary empire on sharp criticism and saucy language but at home, Ramsay says his five kids “put me in my place”

Gordon Ramsay has a sensitive side you don’t often see on TV.

While on set of his PEOPLE cover story (hitting newsstands Friday) on the rooftop terrace of his London apartment, Ramsay makes a fatherly faux pas. With Oscar, his youngest child, on his shoulders, he takes away a sandwich the 4-year-old is eating and tosses it to the birds in an effort to get him to smile for the camera.

“He flipped his s—,” Ramsay says of the ensuing meltdown. You might call the 56-year-old an “idiot sandwich”—one of his most iconic disses turned meme—for the mistake, but he recovers quickly, kicking into dad mode: making funny faces, offering a replacement sandwich or one of the Lifesavers stashed in his pocket for moments like this.

The display is a far cry from the famously foul-mouthed chef who rose to stardom hurling harsh feedback on Fox shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares (the latter returning on Sept. 25 after nearly 10 years).

“Oscar’s only 4, but he’s grown up rapidly because of his older siblings,” says Ramsay (with Tana, Holly and Oscar in London.). 

“The kids have brought the most emotion out of me,” concedes Ramsay, who also shares daughter Megan, 25, twins Jack and Holly, 23, and daughter Matilda (“Tilly”), 21, with his wife, Tana. “It’s funny, isn’t it? Because everyone thinks, ‘God, you must be an absolute ass to be at home with.’ [But] Tana’s super fierce, an ex-Montessori school teacher. So I’m the softie.”

Of course, it’s his tougher, onscreen personality that made him a global star, one with an empire that includes four top-rated prime-time shows, 77 restaurants worldwide, seven Michelin stars, a frozen-food line and 33 books. His latest title, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, celebrates 25 years of his London flagship eatery by the same name. In 2021 he teamed up with Fox to create a production company with offices in London, Los Angeles and Glasgow, cementing his partnership with the network for years to come.

“I think everyone’s got a good and bad side in them,” he says. “I’m just very good at highlighting the bad that turned into something incredible.”

Tana, 49, a cookbook author who married Ramsay in 1996, says he’s always been a “larger than life” character: “I remember when I first met him [at 18]—and I was actually dating one of his friends—I said, ‘Oh my God, he’s so arrogant,’ because it’s always his voice you heard. He was always the one riling everyone up. In that respect, he has not changed at all. It’s just gotten more obvious. But at the same time, he is, believe it or not, incredibly sensitive—he’s a crier.”

Adds daughter Holly: “The day he walks me down the aisle, we are going to need so many tissues. My veil will have to be [made of] tissues so he can walk behind me and mop up his tears.”

Ramsay gets especially worked up sharing his pride for his “amazing” children. “Jack’s a Royal Marine commando, off defending the country in some of the most extreme conditions,” he says. “Megan’s an incredible police officer. Holly’s gone into fashion. Tilly’s studying at university for her degree. Tana and I came from a family with no degrees.”

Before he can get misty, he lightens the mood with a joke and one of his signature f-bombs: “I’m more concerned there’s no one following in my footsteps. Unbeknownst to Tana, I’ll go upstairs and stick [kitchen tools] in Oscar’s hand so he wakes up like that, with a spoon and a whisk, thinking, ‘What the f— are these for?’ ”

The family’s home base is in the London borough of Wandsworth, but Ramsay, Tana and Oscar often travel to L.A., where they have a house, during filming. “The three of us are always together, and that upsets the other four,” Ramsay says. “We say, ‘Hey, you’ve had your time with Mom and Dad! It’s Oscar’s time.’ ” When they’re apart, says Tana, “Gordon likes to phone about 25 times a day.”

Family meals are, unsurprisingly, filled with lively conversation and well-prepared food, usually cooked by Tana. (“The kids always say my food’s too posh,” explains Ramsay, feigning insult.)

As the children—who share their father’s passion for biking, hiking and swimming—have gotten older, Ramsay has realized the importance of taking the time to listen.

“The kids are very humble,” says Ramsay (above in 2022 with, from left, Jack, Holly, Tana, Oscar, Megan and Tilly). “Their feet are firmly on the floor.”. 

“My job as a dad is to come up with a solution to their problems. That’s the most important role of a dad,” he says. “But boy, that’s f—ing hard with five kids, five problems, 25 a week, a hundred a month—that’s a lot of solution fixing.”

The kids aren’t afraid to push his buttons either. “If they want to tell me I’m wrong or they want to critique the food, I laugh,” he says. “Tilly was talking about one of the dishes last week, and I said, ‘Look, there’s caramelized garlic.’ And she got her fork in there and said, ‘Dad, it’s burnt. Caramelization is not black. Look it up in the dictionary.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ So, yeah . . . I like it when they test me.”

(Cursing is not part of his response, he promises. “It’s never been something that came home,” confirms Tana.)

Gordon Ramsay with son Oscar, 4, in London. 

Ramsay didn’t learn his paternal skills by example. He was born in Johnstone, Scotland, and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon in the West Midlands of England by his mom, Helen, a nurse, and his dad, Gordon Ramsay Sr., who worked various jobs and was abusive to Helen, Ramsay and his three siblings. Ramsay Sr. died in 1998.

“Growing up, I never had a father figure. Everything I was witnessing at the time was from an alcoholic father, so I knew I had to take the opposites,” he says. “From that, there was the pressure to get out of the environment [I was] in.”

He watched his mom work long hours and holidays, which helped him develop a “respect for what’s on the table.” Ramsay was on track to becoming a professional soccer player when a “horrific” knee injury ended his dream.

“I had to bounce back from adversity. I had to live in a one-room dwelling with my big sister and then go and educate myself,” he recalls. “Watching your parents struggle massively, you learn to dance in the rain, you learn to get through the storm. That’s what started to shape my DNA—standing strong in the eye of the storm.”

He attended culinary school at North Oxfordshire Technical College and worked his way up in the kitchens of chefs like Guy Savoy and Marco Pierre White before opening Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 1998, which was funded by the sale of Ramsay and Tana’s first home.

“We moved into a small two-bedroom flat,” says Tana, “Then I got pregnant with twins, and we’re in an apartment with literally no space to swing a cat. But it was fine because that doesn’t make you happy.”

Gordon Ramsay in London on Sept. 11. 

Ramsay’s restaurant empire expanded quickly, and soon he was bringing the intensity he learned in kitchens to TV screens. In 2004 a British version of Kitchen Nightmares premiered, and a year later Fox created Hell’s Kitchen for the U.S. The competition show kicks off its 22nd season on Sept. 28 and is already renewed for a 23rd and 24th.

“He’s got this innate talent for fiercely compassionate tough love, and I can’t believe we’ve been in business with such an icon for going on two decades—we’ll take two more,” says Fox Entertainment CEO Rob Wade.

Ramsay’s Las Vegas restaurant based on Hell’s Kitchen, which opened in 2018, is now one of the highest-grossing restaurants in America and the No. 1 most-photographed, according to Yelp. There are now five other locations in the U.S. and one in Dubai

“Fox let me be me,” he says. “I never take that stuff for granted. This is my dream.”

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