The much-loved culinary phenom has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity with the dawn of the internet.
Having made his name with the celebrated BBC series Ready Steady Cook back in the ‘90s, Harriott has taken on new life as one of the most iconic internet memes ever spawned.
With his face cropping up in all sorts of weird and wonderful places – t-shirts, cushions, mugs, even on hooded blankets (which really need to be seen to be believed) – it’s clear that Ainsley’s tickling the public’s imagination as well as their taste buds.
What’s not so clear is exactly what it is about him that’s made him such a cultural phenomenon. The ubiquitous memes that he’s inspired are a near-inescapable sight for denizens of Facebook, and range from the hilarious to the bizarre to the downright obscene. We'd venture that most people reading this will be acquainted with the latter category.
We think part of it is explained by Ainz’ inimitable face, which shares a distinctiveness and an expressiveness with celebs like Rowan Atkinson. Both men are blessed (though “cursed” might seem a more appropriate descriptor in light of some of the less flattering memes) with a unique ability to say with their faces what most people can only say with words. For better or for worse, this has opened the door to a never-ending slew of re-imaginings:
Leonardo da Vinci would be proud.
Looking beyond the facial and into the realm of the verbal, part of Ainsley’s popularity is doubtless accounted for by his near-compulsive use of innuendos in the cooking shows that made him famous. It’s no surprise that directions to “give your meat a good ol’ rub” have inspired parodies by teenage millennials armed with Photoshop. The phrase “time to oil up” has likewise taken on a connotation somewhat beyond the dietary.
This leads us into the vaguely-defined territory of how someone actually handles becoming a “living meme”, and Ainsley’s reaction to the whole craze has been masterful. The man himself, perennially jolly and ever-imperturbable, seems to have embraced it, telling an interviewer “It’s incredible. I think it’s lovely, I think it’s perhaps because I’ve connected with people over the years and made them feel happy, and when you look at a little picture like that you just want to smile.” This stands in stark contrast to instances in which the subjects of sudden internet fame have gone wrong in their attempts to deal with it (*cough* Bush’s Beans *cough*).
And herein might be the secret to his enduring appeal. The conventional wisdom for the recipients of such attention seems to be to embrace the meme, and few could be said to embrace it more than Ainsley.
For those who want to pay tribute to the great man – whether that be on their clothes, in their kitchen or around their house – we hate to disappoint...
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