EVER wondered how many colourful necklaces Prue Leith has in her collection? The answer is 290. How does she run a kitchen? Well, she won’t be taking training tips from Gordon Ramsay anytime soon. How did she beat her nerves during one episode of hosting a Tyne Tees cookery series? With Valium. And how long was that famous Bake Off ‘spoiler’ tweet up on Twitter for? Only 89 seconds.

These were just some of the personal details Prue shared about her life with a intimate audience at Queen’s Hall stage, at a talk chaired by New Writing North’s Claire Malcolm.

There to discuss her latest book, The Lost Son, the final in the trilogy which follows the life of the Anglo/Italian Angelotti family in the restaurant business, it clear how much influence Prue’s own varied, and at times wild, life had had on her fiction.

Adoption is a main theme throughout the trilogy, and a cause of personal interest for Prue, whose own daughter Li-Da Kruger was adopted from Cambodia in childhood.

“Many people think that the moment in which you first hold an adopted child will be less emotional than the moment a parent holds their birth-child, but it really is just as magical,” Prue said.

Prue’s husband John, also an adoptee, was a source of inspiration for The Lost Son – especially for the character of Tom, who goes on a journey to find his birth-parents.

“John also chose to search for his biological mother as an adult, and so I lifted his story lock, stock and barrel. I used all the documents and records he had kept from his years of searching, to understand the process, which was exceptionally long and difficult during any time, but especially in the days prior to the internet.”

On being dubbed a “romance novelist”, Prue said she is “exceptionally proud” to write within the genre, but pointed out the double standards between male and female authors writing about love.

“When a woman writes about love or relationships, it falls into the romance category, which usually means it ends on bottom of the shelves or in the basement of bookshops, because there is a stigma around the word romance.

“But when male novelists such as Ian McEwan or Sebastian Faulks write a love story, its never put on the romance shelf, and it’ll instead be marketed as a social novel.”

Of course, when addressing the woman who has made colossal waves in the food industry since the 1960s, food had to be central to much of the conversation.

From her successful catering business, Leith’s Good Food, and later her Michelin starred restaurant in Notting Hill, Prue reflected to the audience on the changes she’d seen over the years, most of which she felt had been for the better.

“One great change is that it is no longer cool to be horrible to kitchen apprentices,” she said. “I’ve never believed in the Gordon Ramsay school of management and all this macho business in the kitchen. No one can learn if they are frightened, it just sends us into panic mode, which leaves us incapable of taking anything in.”

Long before The Great British Bake Off , Prue’s first regular TV gig was on a Tyne Tees daytime cookery show, when she stepped in as last minute replacement for Jack de Manio.

But with nothing but half a day’s training on TV presenting, Prue described herself as “overwhelmed and frightened” throughout the experience, and as a result hated her time on the show.

That was until a kind co-worker gave her something medicinal to settle her nerves.

“I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it turned out to be a Valium,” Prue chuckled. “Well I had a ball! In that moment, all my fear went out the window, and I thought television was the most wonderful thing on earth.”

On joining the Bake Off team, Prue said the warm atmosphere and on-screen friendships really were the real deal.

“We all genuinely get along with each other, and want the best for the bakers,” she said. “We have 17,000 applicants last year for the show, so its shown no sign of interest slowing down.”