As the Great British Bake Off continues to captivate the nation , MALCOLM WYATT catches up with celebrated baker and housewives’ choice Paul Hollywood to talk about TV fame, his North West roots, Mary, Mel and Sue, motorbikes, and that binned Baked Alaska.
Grown women get excited at the mere mention of his name, and it’s fair to say this island nation has risen to the charms of master baker Paul Hollywood in recent years.
The one-time sculpture student from the Wirral has certainly made his name alongside national treasure Mary Berry on BBC One ratings hit The Great British Bake Off.
He’s also proved a live success, and is set for another big tour this autumn, British Baking Live, having played to more than 30,000 fans across the UK with previous show Get Your Bake On.
Paul’s latest 20-date itinerary includes Preston, Blackburn and Southport dates, the twinkly-eyed celebrity chef promising an evening of baking, comedy and fun.
British Baking Live will see Paul demonstrate recipes and talk about some of his favourite regional baking.
He also aims to reveal some of the secrets of being a TV chef and take his audience on a culinary tour, showcasing some of the UK’s best-loved regional specialities.
The show culminates in four randomly-chosen audience members baking on stage with Paul, who also recounts how his father persuaded him to join the family baking business, and talks about his days as head baker at some of the most exclusive hotels.
The 47-year-old, acclaimed as one of the country’s finest artisan bakers, also demonstrates a few favourite recipes too, and field questions from his audience.
It’s something he sounded fired up about when I spoke to him, despite having a mountain of media interviews to get through.
It’s been four years since BBC One first aired The Great British Bake Off. That’s five series now. Has that time flown?
“It has actually. You look back and think, ‘Wow, that was 2009 when I was first approached! It’s gone very, very quickly.”
Have you taken to being recognised in public?
“Yeah, you sort of get used to it. It’s a slow creeper really. The first year a few people, the second a few more, the third year … bang!
“It still makes me nervous. If I’m with the family, or with my lad, I tend to shy away. But elsewhere, there’s no problem.”
The media seem to like to categorise their talent show judges. Do you find you’re expected to be the Simon Cowell or Craig Revel-Horwood of the catering world?
“I suppose so, but I’m probably not as cruel as them. I only critique what’s on the plate, rather than the person or the style.
“And it’s constructive criticism, not destructive if something’s gone wrong. I even give hints when I’m going round, asking ‘Why are you doing that?’ or ‘What are you doing that for?’ I give them a chance to rectify it.”
He’s in good company too, with fellow judge Mary Berry hugely popular, and the show expertly anchored by comedy duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.
Has Paul ever analysed why the series works so well? It seems to me that – as opposed to some of those other shows – it’s not easy to take a dislike to you or Mary.
“I think it comes down to nostalgia. We’re a nation of bakers, and based on that fact people like The Great British Bake Off.
“I think people have started baking because of watching the programme. The sale of the books and bakeware has rocketed these last few years.
“That proves people are really into baking. All we’ve done is put it in a tent, give it a load of bakers, and stick Mel and Sue in front.”
Have you been known to go for a swift drink with Mary, Mel and Sue after the show?
“Oh yeah, all the time. When we’re filming we always have a meal together, some wine and a chat. We always unwind together at the end of a show.
“We all get on really well. We’re good friends.”
Tell us one thing we perhaps don’t know about Mary Berry?
“Err …. all she drinks is water on set. Warm or hot water, normally.”
His TV work has also included Paul Hollywood’s Bread and Paul Hollywood’s Pies and Puds, and work alongside fellow celebrity chef James Martin. Does he tend to socialise with fellow on-screen chefs and bakers?
“I tend not to. I see a bit of Tom Kerridge, and he’s a good lad. I see Tony Tobin, who used to work on Ready Steady Cook, and James Martin occasionally when I’m doing demos. But it’s Tom I probably see more than most.”
Is there ever a chance that he might don the leathers and join the Hairy Bakers, aka Dave Myers and Si King, on the road?
“I don leathers, but I ride sports bikes and they ride quite different ones!”
Do you find time to get in the kitchen for pleasure these days, alongside all your other business and media commitments?
“It’s difficult nowadays, very tricky, but if I have a quiet time I’ll duck in the kitchen and my lad will join me, and we’ll bake something together.
“I’ll normally give him a book and say, ‘Which one do you want to do?’ Then we’ll do it together. We do enjoy that.”
Did you have to work hard to learn the skill of delegation? I can’t imagine you being anything other than ‘hands-on’.
“That’s been part of the problem. I closed my business down last year because I just wasn’t there … at all. It was purely that – I couldn’t delegate.
“They were good lads but wouldn’t do what I do, and you can’t run a business like that. It’s just a shame. I’ll probably do it again in the future, but not yet.”
Can we all become bakers in your eyes, with a little application and professional advice?
“Of course you can. It all comes down to whether you want to. Do you enjoy doing it? Then use that little bit of artistic flair and passion. When you’re in love with something, it’s beautiful. But always bake something you want to eat, rather than just because everyone else wants you to do it.
“Do something you want. You’ll get more enjoyment out of it.”
I remember the late great TV chef Keith Floyd talking about a guilty passion for beans on toast while he’s away from home. Do you have a simple secret craving?
“Err … probably … I’ve a penchant for doughnuts. I love doughnuts. If I see a doughnut or sausage roll, I’m on it like a rat! Or a pork pie, actually. I’ll have a pork pie for breakfast!”
Is that the Northerner in you?
“Yeah, it is!”
You seem to be taking to the on the road experience well.
“I enjoy it. It’s great meeting people, and a real privilege getting out there, meeting the general public.
“They’ve been very kind to me on the tour. We’ve had a right laugh together, and very supportive. I love that part of the job. It’s great.”
There are some big audience numbers. Do you get nervous before you get on stage? Only that wasn’t what you set out to do when you baked your first loaf, was it?
“Not at all. It’s something I got used to, and quite quickly. It was incredible the response I got.
“I knew they were enjoying it, so likewise it put me at ease and I could just carry on with what I do.”
Has it ever gone wrong on stage or on TV? Has your loaf ever failed to rise to the occasion, so to speak?
“No, it hasn’t!”
There are 30 dates altogether this time. That’s quite a slog. I’m guessing you’ll be ready for a Christmas break.
“I definitely will be. I’ll try and get away ski-ing again, as quickly as possible. I’m straight into other filming after, so don’t have much of a break until January. But oh well … I’ll take the work while it’s here.”
Will it be nice for Kent-based Paul to return to the North West and catch up with old friends?
“Yes, I’m going to Liverpool as well. That’ll be nice. I did Manchester on the previous tour, the closest I got to home, and that was great as well.
“I’m looking forward to travelling around. I’ve a lot of friends in the North West, as far as Lancaster. It will be nice to see everyone again.”
One of Paul’s several-times-great-grandfathers was a head baker at Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel, and that love of cookery has clearly continued, with his parents big influences on his career.
“My Dad was a baker, my uncles are bakers, my brother’s a baker. I’ve grown up in a family of bakers.
“My mum taught me the pastry side of things, cakes, while Dad was more pies and bread. So I became a hybrid of both.”
Could he ever have made his living as a sculptor?
“I don’t know, I still sort of sculpt now, with sugar paste and dough, create mediums to create a shape, so I’m still sort of doing it. It’s just slightly different, because you cook it and eat it!”
Do your ever get back to Wallasey, and have lots of family that way?
“Yeah, all living on the Wirral. And not long ago I met up with my brother and we went on a bike ride over to North Wales to the Horseshoe Pass, where all the bikers meet on the top.
“There were six of us, and we had a lovely ride out. Great fun.”
Finally, it was time to bring up the subject of bearded Belfast construction engineer Iain Watters, 70-year-old fellow contestant Diana Beard, and the dumped pudding that led to a headline-grabbing walk-out by the former.
So what really happened with Iain, Diana and the soggy bottom-of-the-bin Baked Alaska?
“Well, at the end of the day, it was Iain’s fault, and he never, ever blamed Diana for what happened but Diana apologised to him.
“He shouldn’t have put it in that freezer, anyway, but that’s by-the-by. It comes down to the fact that he’d lost it before that happened.
“He was never going to freeze that ice cream in time anyway, and shouldn’t have thrown it away. He lost his rag.
“He’s a great baker, Iain, but in the heat of the moment, he threw it away, and we need to judge something. You can’t bring nothing and expect to get by. That’s not on!
“It wasn’t Diana’s fault, it was his fault, and 40 seconds doesn’t quantify melting ice cream. Whichever way you cut it, it was Iain’s fault.
“A lot of kids watch that programme, and you can’t let someone bring nothing and get by. That’s not a good example.
“You keep calm, carry on, bring up what you’ve got, and we’ll look at it. Everyone else is in the same position.”
Paul Hollywood’s British Baking Live tour includes dates at Liverpool Echo Auditorium (November 16), Blackburn King Georges Hall (November 21), Southport Theatre (November 26) and Preston Guildhall (November 27).
Tickets, including limited VIP tickets ,are available from the venue box offices, select ticket agents, a 24-hour ticket hotline on 0844 871 8803, or via: