KEITH Barlow has come a long way from the little boy who could not read and write at 11 to become a successful chef with the right recipe for life.

He was born in Westhoughton into a large family and had four brothers and one sister. His father was a miner but a significant part of Keith’s childhood was spent growing up in a pub, the Top Lock Inn on the Leeds/Liverpool canal.

In fact, the family moved about a lot while Keith was young, badly affecting his education. “I was a bit of a rascal,” admitted Keith, now 59.

“I was in fights all the time at school.

"I didn’t start them – but I was always in trouble!”

His earliest memories are all of playing near the railway and getting into scrapes. During one, a friend accidentally shot him with an air rifle, landing the youngster in hospital.

A “fairly scrawny” child, Keith took up wrestling and martial arts which helped him to defend himself more effectively and kickstarted a lifelong interest in fitness.

When the family returned to live in Westhoughton, Keith attended St Joseph’s High School. While he failed to shine academically – probably due to undiagnosed dyslexia - he did show an aptitude for domestic science and teacher Mrs Fletcher took an interest in him. His culinary talents included creating beautiful cakes in school.

By this time, Keith had already got a Saturday job working for butcher Lawrence King on Wigan Market.

The physical work suited him and he enjoyed the life. So, when he left – and in spite of Mrs Fletcher getting him an introduction at a prestigious local restaurant – he loyally chose to work full-time as a butcher.

At 25, he opened his own shop, the Bird and Beef, in Market Street, Westhoughton, serving hot food alongside the meat and creating a successful business. Keith was a respected member of his profession and was president of the regional branch of the Master Butchers’ Federation.

One of his shop customers, however, was his now wife, Hilary. The couple met in 1995, married in 1997 and now have an 18 year-old son, Jacob.

With the practical help of Hilary, a trained accountant with entrepreneurial flair, the shop expanded to an outside catering business and they invested in a local high street sandwich shop.

However, in 2013, they closed this to concentrate on the general catering side of their Food Love company and brought the business “home” to the property they have lived in for the past 16 years in Manchester Road, Westhoughton.

The couple have modified this to an open plan downstairs, creating a huge island dining area where they now run a Secret Dining Room with monthly dinner parties by invitation only.

Keith provides desserts for local restaurants on a regular basis and also shares his skills and expertise in cookery classes.

Everything, however, has not been plain sailing.

Two years ago, out of the blue and in spite of being a very fit man, he suffered a heart attack and had to have open heart surgery.

This was so complex that a video of his second five-hour operation is now used to train surgeons.

Keith, though, came back from this and now has a clean bill of health – he did a Born Survivor SAS 10k run and 10k assault course just months later.

Today, Keith – a gym regular – is well and loving his lifestyle.

He says that “it always feels good” when people enjoy his food, and online reviews reveal that very many people do.

As for Keith himself, he says he a “lucky man” in his personal and his professional life.

And that is something that faraway young boy could never have foreseen in his future.