Celebrity chef Russell Norman hanged himself after a drunken argument with his girlfriend, an inquest has heard.
The award-winning chef and restaurant owner, who regularly appeared on the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and also presented The Restaurant Man, was found dead in the garden of his Kent home on November 18 last year.
Although his girlfriend and medical staff attempted CPR, he suffered severe brain damage and died five days later in hospital, aged 57, surrounded by his family and friends.
Norman was hailed as the “new king of Soho dining” when he established himself on the London restaurant scene in 2012, after inventing the concept of Italian small plates and reviving the Negroni cocktail.
The inquest at Oakwood House in Maidstone yesterday found he had twice the amount of alcohol in his system than the legal limit for drink-driving, and a finding of suicide by hanging was recorded.
Norman had entered the garden of his home in Pluckley after arguing with his girlfriend, art historian Dr Genevieve Verdigel. She tragically found him unconscious and tried to save him.
In a statement read by coroner Katrina Hepburn, Dr. Verdigel said: ‘I ran back inside to call 999. I was trying to do CPR. He was screaming and the people next door came.
Celebrity chef Russell Norman hanged himself in his garden after a drunken argument with his girlfriend, inquest hears
The inquest at Oakwood House in Maidstone on Friday found he had entered the garden of his home in Pluckley after arguing with his girlfriend Dr Genevieve Verdigel. She posted this photo and a message from them yesterday.
In a statement read by coroner Katrina Hepburn, Dr Verdigel, an art historian, told how she later discovered Mr Norman lying unconscious in the garden.
A pulse was detected during resuscitation attempts and paramedics took Mr Norman to William Harvey Hospital in nearby Ashford.
However, doctors revealed that he had suffered brain damage and was placed in end-of-life care. He died in hospital on November 23.
According to the investigation, he had shown “suicidal tendencies” before his death.
The cause of Mr Norman’s death was brain injury caused by hanging, and Mrs Hepburn recorded a verdict of suicide.
Following the inquest, a heartbroken Dr Verdigel shared a photo of her and Mr Norman in happier times with a lengthy caption.
She wrote: ‘Isn’t it strange how the epilogue is often the part of a novel that provides the most clarity? The passages everyone wishes they could have skipped through without having to read the prose in between.
‘Well, the epilogue here is simple. Because Russell himself wrote it: ‘Always follow your advice. (And) Trust yourself because no one else will.
‘To go into a soliloquy about what Russell meant to me, what a character he was or what I learned from him, would be banal. Those words have already been said, written and published by others. I will not speak of the tortures I have suffered at the hands of brutes; those who need to know already know. And I have no intention of adding words to that noise.
Russell Norman starred in the BBC2 program The Restaurant Man
‘When all is said and done, what you realize is that the most important words are the ones that remain, and will remain, a conversation between two people and that the rest of the world will never be privy to.’
‘And, at the end of the day, that’s not the most important thing about the spoken word… it can never be emulated or replicated. It’s a moment in time. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Like a candle, eradicated in a cloud of smoke. Yet the smoking tendrils remain.”
Norman’s unexpected death sparked an outpouring of tributes, with former Saturday Kitchen host James Martin hailing him as a “giant” of the restaurant world.
He was known for spearheading the no-reservations, “small plates” movements at his restaurants, most notably the popular Italian restaurants Polpo and Brutto in London.
Her first book, Polpo: a Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts), won the Waterstones Book of the Year award in 2012 and, four years later, her second book, SPUNTINO – Comfort Food (New York Style), won the Guild of Food Writers in 2016. Award for best food and travel book.
London Restaurateur of the Year Russell Norman (right) and business partner Richard Beatty (left) at the Tatler Restaurant Awards 2011 at the Langham Hotel, Portland Place, London
Russell Norman attends The Good Food Guide Awards 2023 at The Groucho Club on October 17, 2022
He was later rewarded with his own BBC2 documentary series, The Restaurant Man, in which he advised would-be restaurateurs who had left their day jobs to follow their dreams of opening a restaurant.
Following his death, former Saturday Kitchen host James Martin, 51, paid tribute to Norman in a post on X (formerly Twitter), writing: “Just heard the news that today we lost a giant and a legend in the restaurant world, Russell.” Norman, who was and always will be an inspiration to many.”
Stefan Chomka, editor of Restaurant magazine, added: “He loved restaurants that were like him, that had a lot of charm and great character.”
‘He had a real sense of hospitality, as well as joy, intelligence, generosity and attention to detail.
“He had a magpie tendency: he would take inspiration from restaurants in Italy, New York and London and bring them all together.”