From Woolies to wooly gloves for boss

Malcolm Walker the Founder and CEO of Iceland Foods, pictured at the head offices, Deeside, Flintshire. (SH1001/014i).12th November 2013.Picture by Simon Hulme
Malcolm Walker the Founder and CEO of Iceland Foods, pictured at the head offices, Deeside, Flintshire. (SH1001/014i).12th November 2013.Picture by Simon Hulme
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From a small-time dance hall promoter and shop boss in Scarborough to the founder of Britain’s first frozen food outlet, Malcolm Walker has had a colourful career.

In recent weeks, he has added author and reality television star to his list of credentials after appearing in BBC2’s fly-on-the-wall documentary Iceland Foods: Life in the Freezer Cabinet.

he series followed the fortunes of the supermarket as Walker opened the door to what the BBC called his Willy Wonka-style empire.

Described by one critic as looking “how John Major would look if he appeared on The Simpsons”, Walker has had to put up with a lot of stick for both his appearance and his maverick approach to leadership.

Luckily he has a sense of humour and, unlike some of his peers, doesn’t take himself too seriously.

He says the reaction to the programme was “99 per cent positive”.

“Most people think it’s a bit of a comedy show, really, ” he told Yorkshire Vision. “Everyone seems to think I’m a lunatic, but a nice lunatic.”

Walker says he wasn’t happy with the first edit of the show because he felt it downgraded the Iceland brand.

“The first cut was almost filmed in sepia to give it a down market feel. All the stereotypes came out so we asked them to change some of it, ” he says.

The programme followed the business during the horsemeat scandal and Mr Walker bravely allowed the cameras into the meetings.

“Everyone thinks the horsemeat scandal was a PR disaster but I think it is great fun, ” he says.

“No horsemeat was found in Iceland products. There was an element of contamination but unfortunately once our name was linked to it, every press article mentioned it.”

Since the programme ended, Walker has published his autobiography.

Best Served Cold: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Malcolm Walker charts his journey from his days as a dance hall promoter alongside Peter Stringfellow to the Woolworths stock room and then founding Iceland in 1970.

Walker was born in Grange Moor, near Huddersfield, in 1946 and lived there until he was 18 when he left home to become a trainee manager at Woolworths. He subsequently toured Yorkshire working for stores in Huddersfield, Heckmondwike, Leeds and Scarborough. He founded Iceland with a single small shop in Shropshire selling loose frozen food.

It is now worth £2bn.