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"My Academy is my home, my heart and my life" - Jean-Christophe Novelli

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Novelli: Beckham must have thought I was stupid - BT

Award-winning chef Jean-Christophe Novelli has coped for three decades in the high-pressure world of elite cooking, but had difficulty coming to terms with the fact that, at the age of 53, he was losing his hearing.

It took his fiancée bundling him into a taxi and whisking him off for a hearing test for him to face up to it.

As a famous chef Novelli has cooked for royalty and celebs alike but, recently, he found himself struggling to communicate with his star-studded clientele.

The handsome, charming Frenchman strained to hear what people were actually saying to him.

"I remember David Beckham brought the whole family in for a meal and at the end of it he came to the door of the kitchen to thank me for the food and to ask if I would have a picture taken with his mum," says Novelli.

"He had to repeat twice what he wanted because I just couldn't pick it up - I thought at the time, 'He must think I'm stupid not understanding him'.

There was another occasion when Princess Anne came up to me at a function to ask me to help with a fundraising banquet.

She was speaking in perfect French but I just couldn't get it at all and in the photograph of me with her you can see the strain on my face. I'm also turning my left ear, what I now realise is my better performing ear, towards her.

"If it's friends or customers or colleagues you can ask them to repeat things, even if it's embarrassing, but with these famous people you may only have two minutes and you might not get a chance to speak to them again. It's been very stressful."

Novelli was convinced he was too young to suffer from hearing loss so was shocked when he finally received a diagnosis late last year of age-related and noise-related severe hearing loss.

A hearing aid, from Specsavers, transformed his life and he is talking about his condition to encourage those over 50 to seek help - according to Action on Hearing Loss, 8% of people in their 40s have some kind of hearing loss, rising to 19% of people in their 50s.

"Why didn't I do something about it sooner? Because I was unwilling to admit to it - it was about pride and vanity - I thought wrongly that hearing aids were still those horrible little boxes stuck on top of your ear and would make me look old," he says candidly.

"I didn't want to admit, even to myself, how much I was just struggling but it was becoming harder to ignore.

"Just to add to it I was also getting neck strain from craning my neck to try to hear people and headaches after a long day of concentrating so hard to listen."

It was his fiancée Michelle Kennedy, 36, who took matters into her own hands, bundling him into a taxi and revealing only at the last minute where he was going; for a hearing test.

He now wears an aid so discreet, it's unnoticeable.

"I'm so happy that she did that, even though I was grumpy at the time and arguing it was unnecessary!" he says with a wry smile.

Novelli has been working in restaurant kitchens since arriving in Britain aged 22, in a 30-year career which has earned him four Michelin stars.

The chef, who's a familiar face from his appearances on a host of TV shows including Hell's Kitchen, Loose Women, Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, had another pressing reason for wanting his hearing to be 100%.

"I realised it was not fair on my children if I ended up struggling to hear them as they grow up," says Novelli, who has two sons, Jean, five, and Jacques, 18 months, with Michelle.

The couple live in Hertfordshire where they run a cookery school. He also has a 25-year-old musician daughter, Christina, from his first marriage.

He clearly delights in being a hands-on father to his boys; "I can't understand fathers who say it's not a man's job to change nappies".

He and Michelle, who met by chance at Luton airport seven years ago, plan to marry next year, and he's clearly besotted.

"We are the best couple, we complement each other and have the best relationship.

"Our wedding plans are secret but it will be a medieval setting and very romantic. I hope I am a romantic partner, I try to be because she is the perfect match for me."