Ipswich: Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood rises to Regent challenge
- Credit: Archant
He makes Great British Bake Off contestants, and his increasing army of female fans, go weak at the knees, albeit for different reasons. Wayne Savage talks to master baker Paul Hollywood.
Persuaded to ditch being a trained sculptor and join the family business, the two jobs aren’t as different as you’d think laughs Hollywood, whose dad owned a chain of bakers.
“Rather than clay, armature, wire, metal and plaster I’m using sugar paste, buttercream, cream, dough, sponge, so it’s the same thing, but just a different medium - and you can eat it which is even better.”
The Great British Bake Off star went on to serve as head baker at some of the world’s most exclusive hotels, becoming one of the country’s finest artisan bakers. Get Your Bake On, his first ever live UK show, will see him share some stories, secrets, recipes and more.
“It’s my life, but in flour. It’s that movement and things I really enjoy baking - from the first thing I baked with my mum and dad right up to Bake Off... there are little skills which I’ll show all the way through each dish.”
The usually steely-eyed judge admits to feeling a little bit nervous, but excited at the same time.
“I’ve been doing demos for the BBC Good Food series for 10 years now so it’s just a little bigger. If something flares up, goes bang or I forget an ingredient... it happens, it’s live, I’ll go with the flow.
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“I know what I’m looking for when I’m making stuff so if it goes wrong I can normally pick it up from a very early stage, stop it getting any worse. I should be on it... as I move down the country I’ll have been practising so I’ll get better,” he laughs.
The show ends with four audience members invited on stage for a Bake Off style challenge. Rather them than me, I don’t want people laughing at my soggy bottom.
“I’ve worked with three star chefs nervous about baking for me,” laughs Hollywood. “Even on [Sports Relief] Bake Off there were celebrities who were actually shaking... that was odd, watching people literally shake when you get near them.
“The guy on Bake Off, that’s my role as judge. I did the BBC series Pies and Puds recently... that’s more me, that’s my character, so that’s what you’re going to get on the tour. I’m a laugh and cheeky, I like to rib people, that’s what I do.”
He thinks contestants are scared of the character, rather than him, and enjoy the buzz of being afraid.
“People think ‘oh, no-one’s going to crack him, I’ll crack him’ - people like that challenge. If I was a pussycat it would be boring.”
Hollywood’s not afraid of being honest and if contestants don’t like it, he says, tough. Coining a popular reality show phrase, Bake Off is a journey; the aim being for them to actually improve along the way.
“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion but unfortunately I’m the judge. If we turn round and say ‘that was too salty’ or ‘there’s not much flavour in there’ and they say ‘well, I disagree’ I say ‘well, I’m sorry; you’re wrong. That’s what I think and I’m the judge, you’re just the guy that made it so you either take it onboard and listen...’ “There’s more than one judge and Mary [Berry, who, he says, toughened up last year when it came to critiquing contestants] and I agree 99.9% of the time.”
Hollywood’s standards, he adds, have always been much higher than those he works with; part of his drive to continue getting better. It’s probably why he gets so frustrated with Bake Off hopefuls.
“I give as much praise as I do criticism, but it’s constructive criticism.... I’ll break it down on how they can improve. I’ll always take a couple of people under my wing and say ‘what have you done that for, you’ve let yourself down, you let me down...’ it’s all these little things that will come out during the show, little stories...”
Contestants are really rising to the Bake-off challenge each year. Choosing the weak from the strong proved very difficult to begin with last year. It was unfortunate, he sighs, that certain weeks, people just fell by the way after not performing as well as he and Mary knew they could.
“As the programme gets bigger you’re not only teaching people but you get the real bakers out there going ‘I’m going to do better than that, I can do that’. They know what to expect; when they come in they’re well-rehearsed [on] what they’re going to say and do.”
His and Berry’s choice of winner - Frances Quinn - caused some controversy. Hollywood says at the end of the day we’ve got to trust them.
“You’re looking at it from what it looks like and the character of the people... we’re not interested in who’s standing there, only what’s on the plate. You can’t actually taste it, smell it, feel the texture, that’s the killer...”
Bake Off, it’s fair to say, has introduced Hollywood to a new legion of fans; many of them female. Described as the George Clooney of baking, I’ve never had so many people ask me if there are tickets going for a show. His new-found silver fox status must be the icing on the cake?
“It’s very flattering, but you take it with a pinch of salt and laugh it off because it’s not real. You ought to see me in the morning - I look awful,” he laughs.