New Bake Off contestant Flo has said that landing a place on the show has brought her out of a very “bad hole” after her beloved husband died two years ago.
The oldest participant in the history of the series, which starts on Channel 4 on Tuesday, the former sausage factory worker had been married to Richard for 48 years when he passed away from leukaemia.
Struggling to get through each day, it was only when one of her sons, Stephen, suggested she started baking for his restaurant that she was able to cope with her grief, she says today.
“Even then, I would still cry for hours and hours,” says Flo, who at the age of 71 is the show’s eldest ever contestant.
“I was so devastated when Richard died and I was in a bad place. I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t be bothered with life and I just found it so tough. He was such a good man and he was always putting me first.
“Stephen, my son, could see how upset I was and he said ‘come on, bake for me’. That helped me with the grieving process and that’s how my journey to get on The Great British Bake Off started really as my daughter, Nicola, then decided she would apply for me after she spotted an advert! She knew how much I enjoyed baking.
“Bake Off has given me a new lease of life,” she confides. “The fact that I am part of the 12 bakers in the tent makes me feel proud. It’s taken me out of the black hole I was in and it’s brought me back to the place I was in before Richard died. Suddenly for the first time I am finding myself talking about making plans like having a new kitchen fitted and doing things to my house. Don’t get me wrong, I still sometimes have my bad days but this show really has helped put a smile on my face again.”
Asked what Richard would have said if he knew she had secured a place on Bake Off, she says: “He was that laid back, he would have just said ‘oh you will be alright’,” she replies, chuckling. “I am so glad I’ve been picked to be on Bake Off. I really am…”
Liverpudlian Flo adds that her ability to have a joke with judge Paul Hollywood saved her from first day nerves on the show, especially when her citrus orange tiered cake went slightly wrong on the first day of filming.
“Paul and Prue did ask me if I would have time to do everything but I was sure I would”, she says. “And so what happens? I forgot to add one vital ingredient.
“Immediately, Paul and I struck up a bond as he is a Northern lad, too, and we both have the same sense of humour.”
Another Bake Off 2017 contestant who has experienced profound difficulties in life is Chris, 50, from Bristol who works as a software developer.
In his mid-twenties, Chris was given just three months to live after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
“I was in my mid 20s at the time and I was given three months to live,” he says today. “I’ve only got one lung as a result but I am still here. When you are poorly and in hospital for such a long time, your life revolves around the television a lot. I hope those unfortunate enough to find themselves in hospital watching this year’s GBBO will think ‘hey that can be me next year, I can do that’ when they watch me. I really do hope I can inspire people. That would be amazing.”
Other contestants heading into the tent for Channel 4’s first ever series of The Great British Bake Off include research scientist Yan, amateur blacksmith Kate and student, Liam.
With Flo the oldest of the bakers in the show’s history, Liam is its youngest. He has baked for four years and is known as the ‘Cake Boy’ amongst his his friends at Goldsmiths University.
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.