It has been something of a year for Mary Berry. There was the third run of Great British Bake Off, which topped the ratings on BBC2 and confirmed that the success of series one and two was no accident. Then came sparkling appearances on Desert Island Discs and on Graham Norton’s chat show, plus, of course, the CBE, granted for “services to baking”. Why not? And the, er, icing on the cake was the announcement of Bake Off ’s first appearance on the shortlist for a National Televison Award for best factual entertainment.
Of course, as befits a national treasure and 77-year-old granny, Mary is very gracious and lovely about all this. “I’m thrilled to bits,” is the official line on a year when Mary Berry moved, politely yet comprehensively, from being middle England’s secret weapon in the kitchen, to overall Empress of it.
Being nasty or rude is not Mary Berry’s style. As she herself says of Bake Off: “It’s not a lecture. The whole thing is friendly and jolly, you are peeking through a friend’s kitchen window. I’m never going to tick people off. I’m there to hold people’s hands, showing them that it’s fun to do and very achievable.”
She is charming as long as you don’t stray into the area of fast food. Is there any truth, I ask her, in the Radio Times scoop that her Bake Off compatriot Paul Hollywood once took her to McDonald’s? Here, dear reader, the Mary Berry we all know and love, who only very gently tells people that they have soggy bottoms or too much raising agent, changes completely.
“That is quite true,” she says crossly. “We had finished doing Bake Off one day, and he drove me to one of those McDonald’s that you sort of stop at. And not get out of your car at, you know.”
A drive-in?, I say, helpfully.
“Yes. One of those. He said ‘What would you like?’ and I said, ‘Nothing! I am looking forward to my supper!’”
So, you weren’t tempted?
“Certainly not. I did not eat anything there. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Let’s get back to baking. Why does she think we all love doing it so much?
“There is a recession, more people are at home. Well, baking is very inexpensive compared to going to the theatre or a theme park. And I think when they watch the programme, they think, I could do that.”
While media exposure is not exactly new to her – she started out writing recipes in magazines about 40 years ago – there has been a sort of Berry frenzy in the past year, I suggest. Has she sensed it?
“I think I have always been known for my recipes, but now people have been coming up to me and saying how much they love Bake Off. I was in Waitrose, and someone said they loved the fluffy cardie I wore on Graham Norton.”
Fluffy cardie? My dear, you caused a national shortage of Zara floral bomber jackets! I imagine stylists are ringing you up on a daily basis.
“Well, I have had some comments on my clothes, but there has been no Chanel through the door, more’s the pity. I dress for what is right, but fun, for my age group. I want to wear some- thing cosy, but not dowdy. But you know, people have never bothered about what 77-year-olds wear,” she says, shrewdly. They do now.
She is very generous about her Bake Off co-presenter Paul Hollywood. “I love having him by my side,” she says of the Silver Fox, “and he is a brilliant bread maker. I’m not a good bread maker, and I asked for a good one when the whole idea of Bake Off started. And yes, we keep in touch inbetween the series.
“We were on Pointless together, and Paul was brilliant, but I’m never going to go on a quiz show again. I was so worried about what was going to happen. And it’s not worth being anxious or worried. For me, Bake Off is a natural thing. And Desert Island Discs was a real highlight for me last year, but quiz shows are frightening.”
All right, how about the reality TV terrain? “I would not do I’m a Celebrity… for anything in the world,” she says severely. “It would be absolute hell and it makes me go quite goosepimply, even thinking about it. I hate watching people just… sitting around and chattering… about nothing. It’s not my programme. At all.”
So, how can this marvellous year be followed? More of the same, basically. There’s a two-part biographical show coming up soon, more Bake Off in the summer and next autumn, a six-part series, Mary Berry Cooks, in which she will show us all how best to do simple family cooking and entertaining. How on earth has she got the stamina?
“I love what I do,” she says, happily.
Perhaps what is so lovely about Mary Berry is that she doesn’t garland herself, or her amazing skills, with great fuss. Like her food, she just makes it seem simple, and appetising. Take yesterday. “Yesterday? I had 30 people round for lunch, just neighbours.” Wow. What did you give them? “Oh, we did a curry. One hot, one not so hot, it was fun.
“My job is to encourage people to cook at home. That is my passion. I am thrilled when I get an email showing someone standing beside their brandysnaps with a smile on their face because they had achieved something they thought they couldn’t do. I can’t see any reason to slow down.”