CELEBRITY chef Keith Floyd died in Bridport on Monday after sharing a birthday meal with the woman he loved.

Celia Martin, 65, of South Street, who has been friends with Keith for 40 years, said he had a wonderful last day after hearing good news about the bowel cancer diagnosed in June.

She said: “We went to have lunch at Hix’s Fish House in Lyme Regis for my birthday treat. He was feeling marvellous, saying ‘I haven’t felt this well for ages’.”

Aftewards Keith had a siesta but woke up with a headache, said Mrs Martin.

He fell asleep in front of TV but his breathing became erratic and she phoned 999. Medics spent an hour trying to revive him before taking him to Dorset County Hospital.

“I am still in a state of shock. I don’t feel he’s gone and I can’t get to grips with it at all. There is still his cigarette ash in the ashtrays, and his clothing in the washing. I expect him to wake up and get out of bed any minute.”

Mrs Martin told how the couple never married because her children didn’t trust him.

She met Keith 40 years ago at the same time she met her then husband-to-be the writer David Martin.

If things had been different, she could easily have been Keith’s first wife, she said.

“We met in The Greyhound in Bristol where he also met his first wife, the mother of Patrick. We both worked behind the bar.

“He was very amusing and a very good person on the other side of the bar and very good at repartee.

“I went to drama school at Bristol Old Vic and that is where I met my husband. They were great friends. Although David was nine or ten years older, they shared the same love of food and drink and they hit it off straight away.

“They both played such important part in my life.

“I always thought I’d started Keith’s career because I gave him my transit van to convert into a mobile kitchen for some filming, but he said he’d made a complete loss at that financially. That happened to him quite often, although he put his heart and soul into everything he did.”

Mrs Martin’s husband was a writer of crime fiction and scripts for Dr Who.

She said: “Keith always thought David had introduced him to a lot of reading and then he started to write himself. He often felt that David had quite an important part in that and he was always very grateful.”

Ironically it was Keith’s story that launched Mr Martin’s own TV writing career.

“David and David’s writing partner Bob Baker wrote a whole life story of Keith in the army and the BBC said they could not afford to make it but would they like to write for Dr Who – I don’t know if that is a compliment to Keith much,” she said.

Despite four previous wives and a bitter wrangle with his last wife over his house in France Keith was still keen to try again with her, she said.

“He didn’t get on terribly well in his love life. It differed with me because I was his age. He always got these people who were much too young. We came from the same trunk in the attic, as I always used to say. We have only been together for two years, which seems harsh.”

Mrs Martin’s children Thea and Leo’s disapproval of the relationship meant they never tied the knot.

“My daughter does not approve at all. She is awful about it – it is really awkward being told off, being told not to talk to him on the phone and ‘you re not having him here’, but luckily she is in America at the moment.

“The children used to like him a lot, absolutely loved him and Keith did a lot for Thea – he got her job up in Glasgow when she was a student and needed some extra money.

“He also took her down to the Maltsters Arms – another one of those places that went bankrupt – she worked there when she was at Colfox.

“It’s why we didn’t married. We would have got married but my children didn’t approve at all.

“His did. Keith couldn’t work that out but I think it was blatantly obvious personally. They didn’t trust Keith but his children trusted me.

“Even after four wives he wasn’t put off – he was very keen on marriage.

“I couldn’t even get through to the hospital because they put a press embargo. I couldn’t get any information.

“I get on well with his children Patrick and Poppy – I have known them since they were born. It just seemed like a natural progression to get together and I made the first move, apparently.

“He was very gentle, kind and enormously considerate. There was a very gentle soft side to him that was actually very thoughtful. He was a very good companion for me.”