Encounters: Caroline Fleming, a Lady of London, Keeps Calm and Cooks On
“It’s not my place to get involved in other people’s stuff,” she said on a recent afternoon in London.
Barefoot and wearing leather pants from the Row and a Chloé top, Ms. Fleming was perched on a high chair in the kitchen of her townhouse in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is considered London’s most upscale neighborhood. “It’s noise,” she added. “I don’t want this noise in my life. Leave me to my pots.”
Ms. Fleming, 41, calls cooking her biggest passion after her three children.
“I wake up every morning, so excited to eat,” she said, glancing over at her stovetop, where several pots held the components of a kale and bacon soup, one of the recipes she is testing for a coming cookbook, her third over all and first in English. “I’m excited about lunch already. And I’m excited about dinner.”
Cooking isn’t just a hobby for Ms. Fleming; it’s a conduit toward happiness, a state of being she discusses with the fervor of a self-improvement guru-in-the-making. The obsessiveness may have something to do with how elusive Ms. Fleming found contentment to be during the first half of her life.
It may seem surprising that someone from a country the United Nations has thrice deemed the happiest on earth has struggled to find her joy. But Ms. Fleming was never just a regular citizen. Born Caroline Luel-Brockdorff, the first female heir to Valdemars Slot, a castle in Denmark, she grew up feeling stifled by aristocratic mores.
“Normal Danish people are absolutely affectionate,” she said. “I don’t come from that place. I come from a tiny percentage of the Danish population that is very formal and not particularly physical or open about the truth that’s in their hearts.”
Though Ms. Fleming spent some time modeling, by her mid-20s she was wed to Rory Fleming, nephew of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, and expected to spend the rest of her life as a housewife, much like her mother (who died when Ms. Fleming was a child) and her grandmother.
“You’re told how you’re going to do everything in your life,” she said. “I thought I knew my destiny. But I woke up, aged 27, 28, and my heart and soul started knocking. And I realized I had completely disconnected from my feelings because of wanting to live up to expectations.”
From then on, a new chapter began. “I started working on myself,” said Ms. Fleming, who is now divorced. “And that meant taking down all the bricks.”
The changes caused friction between Ms. Fleming and her family, all of whom remained very polite and very private. “Aristocracy doesn’t have space for anyone being different or unique or having opposite opinions,” she said.
As for food, Ms. Fleming has a deep confidence in its power to unite and heal, and she is a fiend for ingredients. While preparing a batch of granola at her home recently, she offered guests Afghan mulberries and macadamia nuts, promoting the many health benefits they are said to have.
She pulled out the crowded shelves of her pantry, pointing out Turkish walnuts, Amazonian cacao powder and Madagascan vanilla, and proudly displayed a bowl of pink Himalayan salt. “This is, in my opinion, one of life’s greatest ingredients,” she said, and explained that her witch (of the homeopathic variety) had taught her to suck on Himalayan salt crystals to clear her sinuses during colds. According to Ms. Fleming, the remedy works every time.
For one tired visitor, the ever-moving Ms. Fleming whipped up a cup of coffee — “the best in London” — and offered to send him home with fresh-made cinnamon buns when she discovered that his girlfriend was Danish.
Ms. Fleming’s persistent efforts at inclusion are an expression of her beliefs that everyone can be as happy as she is, if given the tools.
Unfortunately, she has not yet found a way to make her “Ladies of London” castmates nicer. “This season was not an entirely pleasant experience,” she said. “There was so much unkindness going on.”
But her view of humanity remains undimmed.
“I think everyone can be good,” she said. “And I think everyone should be good. I want to give people hope that they can be like that.”
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