[prev] …speak English to their children to help them learn the language. Hornsby recommended me, so off I went. I was with this Italian family for about three or four months. They were rather well-to-do, the Uzielli di Mari family, but it sparked a lasting friendship, and a lifelong connection to Italy.
WAS IT DIFFICULT, BEING A VEGETARIAN IN 1940S ITALY?
I just ate the spaghetti and stuff like that. But right at the end of my stay, in December 1948, Maria, the mother, said ‘Peter is going tomorrow – let’s make him a pizza!’ So they made a pizza specially for me, and that was where it all started. I thought it was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten – and of course it changed my life.
‘For a while I was knocking about Europe like a beatnik – Paris, Rome, various places – just doing what I felt like doing’
FROM THERE YOU WERE DESTINED FOR ST CATHERINE’S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE – BUT NATIONAL SERVICE HAD TO COME FIRST…
Yes, when I got back from Italy I went straight into the army and was sent out to Egypt. It was only 17 months, so it wasn’t too bad. I was a Second Lieutenant in charge of my troop, with not a great deal to do, but one of the first things that happened was that I was called into my commanding officer’s tent, who said to me: ‘Peter, this envelope has to go to Alexandria by motorbike, and it has to go urgently. Can you take it?’ At the time, we were hundreds of miles from Alexandria, in the middle of the desert. I said: ‘Well, I don’t have a driving licence…’ And he said, ‘Yes, yes, but can you drive?’ Well, yes I could. So I rode all the way to Alexandria on a motorbike. I never have had a licence.
THEN IT WAS BACK TO CAMBRIDGE?
Yes, to St Catherine’s, reading history on a scholarship. I got an honours degree, but it wasn’t a very good one… When I left Cambridge I got a job with a company called Tiger Toys – a company in the West Country that made wooden toys. I was their travelling salesman, going around selling to the shops.
‘As a joke I wrote a sign saying the horseshoe had belonged to Caesar’s horse. Before we knew it the shoe had sold for 5,000 lire to some Americans’
WHAT OTHER JOBS DID YOU HAVE BACK THEN, BEFORE EMBARKING ON YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Oh, all sorts of things! One day I was in London on Tiger Toys business when I got into conversation with a ship’s captain. He had a need for a deck hand on a ship sailing between London and Paris, so, I took the job there and then. For a while I was knocking about Europe like a beatnik – Paris, Rome, various places – just doing what I felt like doing, and ended up in Italy selling postcards off a barrow in a square. That’s where I sold the famous horseshoe… The horseshoe was actually just a paperweight for the cards, but as a joke I wrote a sign saying it had belonged to Caesar’s horse. Before we knew it the shoe had sold for 5,000 lire to some Americans and by the next day we were selling more horseshoes than cards.
BY 1965 YOU WERE ON THE VERGE OF OPENING YOUR FIRST PIZZAEXPRESS IN LONDON. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
I used to come back and see my parents, and I’d had a lot of pizzas in Rome but couldn’t find one in England. So I decided to open my own place. That got going quite quickly. That was because… [cont]