Lining up a fresh batch of aspiring bakers

Lining up a fresh batch of aspiring bakers
Front, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith; back, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

The Great British Bake Off is back tonight, so Gemma Dunn finds out what’s in store

Paul Hollywood is musing over some of The Great British Bake Off’s more well-known fans. “There’s a lot of celebrities, a lot of people that approach you. It’s crazy, where it’s got to...,” he begins.

“There were a couple of people on Instagram, a very famous American actress, who’d baked something,” he recalls, furtively.

“She sent a video and said, ‘I wonder what Paul Hollywood would say about this?’ And you’re going, ‘What?’

“And then you get people like Nick Mason, the drummer of Pink Floyd, who bakes all the time.

“I also remember getting a call from Ronnie Corbett years ago; he wanted to speak to me, he baked a lot of bread!” quips Hollywood, 53.

Then there’s Taylor Swift. Keira Knightley... She once tried to bin off a premiere to go and watch the final of the Bake Off! It’s just incredible.

Now back for a 10th season, its third since on Channel 4, the baking competition is set to once again delight the nation, with judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, plus presenting duo Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, returning for the ride.

This year’s participants showcase a younger demographic than most.

“They’re much younger and actually it’s been the hardest year judging, personally, for me, because it was all about detail,” admits Hollywood, who has been a staple of the show since its 2010 inception.

“You judge them in your head and mark them one to ten, and then in the next round they all do the opposite!” explains the Cheshire native.

“Then you have to sit around the table and decide who’s going to be star baker and who’s going to go.

You have absolutely no idea, it could be any one of them!

“Paul’s right,” Leith chimes.

“The number of times that the person who has won the technical or won the signature round comes last in the showstopper, it happens over and over again.

“The hard thing for them is if they’re sent home because they’ve cocked up,” she empathises. “They know it’s perfectly fair but they’re just so angry with themselves.”

“I’d rather judge them when they’ve done the best they can, rather than when they’ve made a mistake,” Hollywood says. “It makes it easier and it’s nicer for them. But, that’s the job and I think the decisions we’ve made are correct and you go home with a clear conscience.”

But it’s not just youthful contestants getting a slice of the action — those watching at home spans generations, too. “We know it’s cool to bake; you see it in schools,” coos Hollywood, who shares a teenage son with ex-wife Alexandra. “I’ve been into schools in the past to judge and the reaction is incredible,” he reminisces. “I remember when I first walked in, I heard screams!

Baking has become such a cool thing to do, and if you’re a girl, a young lad, if you can bake, you’ll get friends. Always.

Even the judges how found themselves inspired. “I’ve been amazed at how much more baking I’ve done since I’ve been on this show!” Leith confesses.

“I used to bake the odd cake,” she adds, “If someone was coming to dinner, I would make a polenta cake for pudding or whatever; or [if we were] having people for the weekend, I’d make a cake the kids could eat. But now I tend to nick the recipes from the bakers!”

She follows: “I pinched Steven Carter-Bailey’s caramel cake recipe and I took Paul Hollywood’s chocolate cake. I don’t even like chocolate cake! But this particular cake is delicious. And very rich.

“Now it’s one of the most popular things I bake because it’s the one I use for my grandchildren’s’ birthday cakes because they all like chocolate!” says the grandmother-of-four.

“We had a challenge a couple of years back which was a basket meringue cake, and I have done that in the past for a quick birthday thing or to go to a dinner party,” Hollywood adds.

What about the future — can they see an end in sight?

Hollywood laughs that he still wants to be doing the show when he’s “a grumpy old man with a stick”.

“And my ambition is not so ambitious,” Leith responds.

I just want to at least equal Mary Berry; she did seven years, so I’ve got another four years to go!

The Great British Bake Off returns to Channel 4 tonight

More on this topic

75-year-old Bear Grylls survival show contestant hopes to inspire others75-year-old Bear Grylls survival show contestant hopes to inspire others

Deirdre O'Kane's on her new Sky TV showDeirdre O'Kane's on her new Sky TV show

AJ Odudu says rejection from roles left her in a ‘dark place’AJ Odudu says rejection from roles left her in a ‘dark place’

TG4's Cork-made documentary on Éamon de Valera recalls his trip to the USTG4's Cork-made documentary on Éamon de Valera recalls his trip to the US

More in this Section

This is how to make black lipstick work in real life, according to a catwalk make-up proThis is how to make black lipstick work in real life, according to a catwalk make-up pro

These are the dishes to try if you’re going to Tokyo for the Rugby World CupThese are the dishes to try if you’re going to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup

This Much I Know: Actor Aislin McGuckinThis Much I Know: Actor Aislin McGuckin

Wedding on the Week: Supporting a cause close to their heartsWedding on the Week: Supporting a cause close to their hearts


Latest Showbiz

The actor calls himself ‘a lifelong body-hater’.‘Courageous’ Christopher Eccleston praised for revealing anorexia battle

The star has also opened up about getting older.Brad Pitt says he was failing to live an interesting life

The couple were married last year.Priyanka Chopra pays tribute to ‘light of my life’ Nick Jonas on his birthday

The US reality TV star took part in the show.Kendall Jenner shows off new look at Burberry show

More From The Irish Examiner