AS head chef at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat in the Buckinghamshire countryside, former Shaw resident Graham Howarth has cooked for royalty, political heavyweights and celebrities too many to mention.
But the 46-year-old former Buckstones Primary and Crompton House pupil has never forgotten his roots, even though he left Oldham many years ago.
And that is embodied by a love for Oldham Athletic, the team he has followed since he was a boy.
Though Graham often has to work unsocial hours – Chequers is known as the PM’s weekend retreat – he was relieved to find himself not on the rota for Latics’ Emirates FA Cup third-round tie at Fulham.
Graham, accompanied by his three sons, attended the game at Craven Cottage when League Two Latics knocked out Premier League club Fulham.
He added it was a day he will never forget and a timely reminder of the glory days under Joe Royle when Latics’ cup exploits were legendary.
Graham said: “It was a great day and for us to take so many fans to London days after Christmas was incredible as it was a journey of more than four hours for most.
“We were fortunate to have a journey time of 1hr 20min by Tube.”
As Latics celebrated their triumph, Graham recalled: “The whole stand was rocking and bouncing.
“Our fans are special whether we have 100 at Milton Keynes on a Tuesday night or 4,000 at Fulham. We always make more noise than home supporters.”
Graham began watching Latics in 1984/85 after Latics gave free tickets to Crompton House School.
He said: “I picked up a couple and I must have been aged 13/14, old enough for my mum to allow me to go on my own on the bus.
“Latics were in the old Second Division and my early memories are of it always being miserable and cold.
“Joe Royle had not long been manager and you could see he was building something as the team was improving and crowds getting better.”
Graham selected the 6-0 win against First Division West Ham in the first leg of the Littlewoods Cup semi-final in 1989/90 as his abiding memory.
“I ran on to the pitch at the end and had my younger brother Michael of my shoulders. A picture of us was on the front page of the following night’s local paper,” he said.
Graham added he watched the game from the top right-hand side of the Chaddy End and his brother stood on a six-inch piece of wood so he could see.
He was at Wembley for the final but the following year’s promotion to the First Division coincided with him signing up for the RAF as a chef. He had done a two-year baking course at Tameside College.
Graham went on: “At the time when the big boys played us, I had gone and the only time I saw the team was when I was on leave.
“I made my girlfriend Jayne, now my wife, sit in the Chaddy End at games.”
Graham added he tries not to think of Latics’ demise after they slid from the top to bottom divisions.
He continued: “I still look at the fixtures for League One (Latics were in that division from 1997/2018) to be reminded we are in League Two.
“Once it is in your heart, it is hard to let go. I tried to bring up my three boys as Latics’ fans, but only succeeded with one of them.”
Graham is a regular when Latics head south, assuming he is not working.
“I always go to places like Northampton, Milton Keynes and Oxford along with games in London,” he continued.
In his 13 years in the RAF, Graham had a number of VIP catering roles including cooking dinner parties for an air commodore at his chateau on the France/Belgium border.
Graham landed his job at Chequers, where he heads a team of three chefs, in 2002 and has been there ever since apart from a two-year stint at nearby Dorneywood, country residence of the chancellor of the exchequer – it was Alistair Darling at that time.
He added you can become “blasé” about the job as he has cooked for and met The Queen, made lunch for US President Donald Trump and flipped burgers with Barack Obama at a Downing Street barbeue.
Graham, who has served four Prime Ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – added it was exciting under Blair.
He explained: “It was New Labour and Cool Britannia and countless celebrities from the world of music, film and showbusiness would attend the dinner parties they hosted.
“The lists were always exciting and staff would grab it to see who was attending.”
When there is a function at Chequers, the menu is always released by Downing Street to the media as protocol.
Graham added normally they don’t attract much attention, though that has not been the case following a couple of Brexit summits at Chequers.
He said: “I woke up one morning, switched on the television to find my menu flashed up on screen and Piers Morgan discussing on Good Morning Britain where everything came from, especially things from Europe.
“It was only then I realised the focus on food. For the second meeting, I must admit I gave more thought as to what was on the menu!”