Looking around BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker’s gorgeous new kitchen, I’m not surprised to see a basket full of eggs on one of the counters. Anyone who follows him on Twitter will know he has a bit of a thing about them – poached eggs to be precise.
After years of trying to perfect his technique – and the launch of a very tongue-in-cheek blog devoted to the subject – he has finally cracked it. “You boil about an inch of water in a shallow pan,” he says, “put in the eggs in their shells and roll them around for 90 seconds before taking them out to rest for another 90 seconds. Then you crack them back into the water, with no vinegar, no whirlpool. It works every time.”
From what he describes as a “silly blog post”, Egg Club was born. “People found the post, used the technique and started saying how it had transformed their poached-eggery.
“It got traction on social media and then people started sending me pictures of their poached eggs. So I started this stupid thing called Egg Club and now it’s sort of taken over my weekend. Every weekend I’ll be sent somewhere between 400 and 500 pictures of eggs, with people asking if they are ‘in Egg Club’. I’ll ban them for a growing list of ridiculous reasons; underdone toast, overuse of pepper and, the worst offence, someone’s toes being in shot.”
The first thing that struck me when I met Dan was just how content he seems. He’s a man at home, literally and emotionally. He moved back to Sheffield, where he’d been at university, when the BBC moved back to Salford six years ago.
“It’s a big city, but it doesn’t feel like it. I know it’s a cliché, but the people are lovely. They care about Sheffield and are very proud of it.” Dan and his wife, Sarah, wanted to bring up their children – Susi, who is 10, Jessica who’s eight, and seven-year-old Joe, outside of London and Sheffield seemed perfect for them. Though they’ve been in the city for a while, they’ve recently moved to a new house, which they’ve been busy renovating.
“We said we’d never do up another house again,” Dan says, “having done it before in Manchester, London and Liverpool. But this house came along and it was perfect. Sarah’s parents were looking to downsize and when we saw this house we knew the annexe would be perfect for them.”
Sheffield has a big place in Dan and Sarah’s lives. It was where they met more than 20 years ago when Dan was a student and Sarah was living here with her parents. It’s a welcoming family house, with space for everyone. A musical family, Dan plays guitar and the children variously play piano, violin and flute.
“Everyone says they have varied tastes,” Dan says. “But I got four CDs out the other day and they were Gina G, the Baywatch soundtrack, Whigfield and Crocodile Shoes by Jimmy Nail.”
Dan’s work – and particularly some very early starts to get to the BBC Breakfast studio in Salford – means he perhaps sees a side of the city most people miss.
“I don’t mind the hours,” he says. “It gives me much more time to spend with my family, picking the children up from school and taking them to clubs. I have three alarms – 3.11am, 3.13am and3.14am – and I’ve never once slept through. It’s a great job. I love working with Louise [Minchin]. She’s a really good laugh and great at her job. She’s been excellent at easing me in. I love the whole team and it’s a great programme to work on.
“People stop me in the street and ask about stories I’ve covered. They really care. I don’t really think about it that often, but we have between six and seven million viewers every morning and sometimes when someone says something it makes me realise just how many lives that touches.”
Dan started out in radio. As a child, he would pretend to host his own shows at home and made tapes. He was also obsessed with sport, often pretending to be Glenn Hoddle. At the age of 11, he begged his parents to change his name to Glenn, but thankfully they refused. He also never had a mullet – another thing his mother vetoed.
He wrote to Des Lynam around that time too, asking: ‘How do I get your job?’ He got a helpful reply suggesting that, after A-Levels, he should study history or English and then do a postgraduate course in the sort of journalism he wanted to pursue. Dan took the advice and has never looked back.
Years later, Sarah was working in a bakery in Sheffield and heard a trail on the local radio station, Hallam FM, for a competition they were running to find a talented new commentator. Dan won and the prize was a week’s work experience, after which they asked him to stay on.
Next came a stint at Granada TV in Manchester and, when his boss there went to the BBC, Dan followed her as a sports presenter on North West Tonight. After that he went to London to work at BBC News 24 and BBC Sport.
“Now I have a lovely mix,” he says, “three days on BBC Breakfast with Louise, which I love, and work with BBC Sport, doing Football Focus and other sports presenting.”
As presenter of BBC Breakfast – which goes up against ITV’s Good Morning Britain – much is made of his rivalry with Piers Morgan, but he says it’s all in good fun.
“I actually get on really well with Piers. I think it’s great that GMB are doing what they’re doing. It’s a different programme from ours. They offer something a bit more based around personality and celebrity driven. We have a nice healthy rivalry.
“On top of that there’s all the sporty stuff. It is an extraordinary job. I love the mild peril of live telly, the fact that anything can happen and normally does.”
Home for the Walkers is about as far away from the frenetic world of television as you can get. Dan supports Sheffield Children’s Hospital and is currently helping with a campaign to raise £40m for a new wing. Sport – particularly golf – and doing things with the children also take up a lot of his time and good food is at the heart of family life.
“Sarah is the chief cook, but I really enjoy it. My mum was always keen for me and my siblings to learn to cook, so I went off to university with a few dishes up my sleeve.”
Lasagne remains his signature dish and he swears the secret is a splash of ketchup and Henderson’s Relish.
“It’s a Sheffield thing. You can have it on anything. It smells a bit like pickled onion Monster Munch. I have it on everything: fried eggs, toast, pie and anything with meat in it.”
When Dan and Sarah moved into the house there was an old gas AGA in the kitchen. The plan was to rip it out, but after living with it for a few weeks they discovered they loved it.
“Sarah loved how warm it made the room. When we started cooking on it we realised that things tasted really good. Then I got a pizza paddle and was sold on it.”
The couple needed to build a kitchen from scratch, so visited the AGA shop in Derby to learn more about the newer models. They chose an AGA Dual Control in Pearl Ashes so they can switch the hotplates off when they’re not needed.
“Karl Benz designed the kitchen and they were brilliant. The first thing they said when they saw the space – before we even told them what we were planning – they said it was a perfect AGA kitchen. In the end they planned the whole kitchen around where the AGA was going to go.”
Winnie the family dog seems to approve too. When she comes out of her crate in the morning she goes straight to sit by the AGA. “I love the toasted sandwich making,” Dan says. “If it were taken out of my life now, I’d be so sad. The children cook brownies, scones and chocolate fudge cake and they are enjoying using it a lot. The triumph was Christmas dinner for 22. Sarah loves roasting meat in the AGA. It sounds strange, but it really does taste different.”
Dan’s life, then, seems ordered and he has an air of contentment. He is, however, not complacent. “I often sit and think ‘How did I get here?’” he says, “as I get to travel around the world. I spent Christmas in Camp Bastian one year, making a documentary. I’ve been to South America, North America and all over the world interviewing presidents and prime ministers and people who’ve done amazing things.”