It’s that time of year again… Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are back on our screens for The Great British Bake Off. Ahead of tonight’s opening episode, Radio Times shares a cup of tea and a slice of cake with this year’s contestants to get the lowdown on the highs and lows of filming, their cooking inspiration and, most importantly, which judge is the scariest!
STUART, 26, PE TEACHER, STAFFORDSHIRE
How did you get into baking?
My gran was a home economics teacher and she showed me a few basic things. Jamie Oliver was always an inspiration and when I was 15 I decided I wanted to be a chef but I never got further than work experience. It’s become more of an obsession now – it takes a hold of you. I ended up making my wedding cake last year!
What was your best moment on the show?
In the first episode I had a bit of a disaster. I tried to go quite weird and wonderful with the upside down cake and went out there with a tomato one. The first thing Mary said to me was “That doesn’t look very appetising,” but then she tried it and thought it tasted lovely.
What’s the appeal of baking?
I always describe it as very therapeutic. It’s such a fantasic way to relax and works well as a stress buster – if it could be a treatment that doctors could prescribe to stressed people, that would be great. I’m not a creative person but this is a way of making something beautiful.
SARAH-JANE, 28, VICAR’S WIFE, WEST SUSSEX
Who was the scariest judge?
Some people were really scared of Paul but I was more scared of Mary because I’ve been cooking her recipes for a long time and I just couldn’t bear to disappoint her. She does this kind of “oh, you’ve let me down” face and it’s the worst thing ever. She was more intimidating for me, not because she was horrible, but because I wanted to please her so much.
Was the standard of baking as high as on previous series?
Yes, it seemed really high. There were quite a lot of young boys into the “science-y bit” – the temperature of everything – which I don’t know about at all.
Do you have any plans to make a career out of baking?
I became really good friends with Cathryn during filming and we want to do something together after this. Hopefully we’ll carry on with the baking and set up some kind of a business.
DANNY, 45, DOCTOR, SHEFFIELD
How did you find the show?
It was really hard trying to fit my job around the filming. There was a lot more involved than I first appreciated, but it was good fun.
What was the trickiest part?
Everyone’s into new forms of baking and combinations nowadays but a lot of the things they asked us to do were quite old fashioned.
Were the standards high this year compared to previous series?
Sue (Perkins) particularly said that the standards were higher. She couldn’t quite believe what we were being asked to do.
Were you nervous?
Well, they kept saying to me “You’re stressed!” which made me more stressed…
JOHN, 22, LAW STUDENT, MANCHESTER
Why did you enter the competition?
I watched the first two series and at the end of the second I thought, you know what, I’m just going to go for this. I’ve been studying law, but it’s not something I really have an interest in. My parents wanted me to take the academic route but I really wanted to pursue baking. I thought if I could prove myself to them by getting on the show and demonstrating what I could do, maybe they would let me change my career path.
How did you first get into baking?
When I was little and my parents were splitting up, my mum used to spend a lot of time baking with me and it’s become inherently comforting. Over the years, I’ve always used baking as a therapy in times of stress.
What’s your favourite moment from your time on the show?
The funniest was the moment that I put salt in something instead of sugar!
Did you have an exercise regime to keep the weight off?
Since the start of the Bake Off I’ve put on a stone – if you’re going to be baking full time, you need to be hitting the gym 24/7!
NATASHA, 38, MIDWIFE, STAFFORDSHIRE
Did you enjoy filming?
I loved it! It was very positive and uplifting. There were extremely gruelling, very long days and at times it was tiring and stressful but I think your stamina increases.
What was the hardest thing you had to make?
Probably the technical challenge in the first episode which was a rum baba – something I’d never cooked before. I remembered a recipe from a really old cook book and I had a picture in my head which steered me in the wrong direction…
Were you nervous?
I was actually and I’m quite vivacious normally. I withdrew into myself because I was a little bit starstruck by Paul and Mary. I didn’t always feel myself.
What did you learn from taking part in the programme?
I think I learnt a lot about myself. Just preparing for the show really challenges you as you do a lot of research and practice different techniques. I also saw a more emotional side to myself and realised I’m not very competitive. I’m not really made of that kind of stuff!
PETER, 42, SALES MANAGER, WINDSOR
What first attracted you to baking?
Cooking has always been something I’ve been interested in but the spark that made it more serious was a book called The Hummingbird Bakery Cupcake Book. I used it to make cakes for my son’s Christmas school fair and when they sold a storm his teacher came to the stall and said “They’re amazing. Will you do my wedding cake?” It all escalated from there.
What do you take away from the show?
I learnt a lot about baking and a lot about myself. I’ve got two young children and have been so focused on family life that it’s the one thing I’ve done for myself in the last six years.
Who was scarier – Paul or Mary?
I don’t need to even answer that one – Paul! He doesn’t pull any punches. I think he sometimes forgets that this is an amateur baking competition. Occasionally I felt he went a little bit over the top.
Who is your cooking inspiration?
The Roux Brothers inspired me more than anyone. They’re guys that bake and they’re classically trained which really appeals to me. Also, Peggy Porschen (who made Kate Moss’s wedding cake) – she does some really amazing, intricate things.
VICTORIA, 49, CEO, SOMERSET
How old were you when you first started baking?
I’ve baked since I was a little girl. My parents gave me the Winnie the Pooh cookbook and the first thing I remember baking was Winnie the Pooh’s honey tea bread. Nobody was unkind enough to say it wasn’t good.
How did you find filming?
It was incredibly stressful. My job is busy and important and suddenly there was a huge amount of time that needed to be given to the competition.
And the worst part…
The cameramen. Blood hounds on the trail of Moriarty have nothing on a cameraman on the scent of a failing bake. You’re on your knees in front of the oven praying to the god of all that rises!
Did you put on weight?
I don’t own a pair of scales but my thighs would attest to the fact that the Bake Off will help you gain weight.
CATHRYN, 27, HOUSEWIFE, WEST SUSSEX
What was your worst moment?
There was a moment when Paul Hollywood said “That’s disgusting!” Or he said: “I really don’t like that” and actually it looked quite nice. A couple of times I felt quite confident about something, said it on camera, then it went horribly wrong. You know you’re going to look like a total wally!
Who was the scarier judge?
Mary’s my idol and that’s what made it scary talking to her. But Paul Hollywood, honestly, he really frightened me. He’s just so unnerving – it’s definitely the eyes and the way he moves around silently and looks at, touches or smells something and says NOTHING! He has a completely pan face and never gives anything away. You just wish you knew what he was thinking.
What’s your favourite piece of cooking equipment?
My KitchenAid. When my grandad passed away he left all the children a sum of money and I used mine to buy it. He enjoyed food and would have really have loved that. It’s my favourite thing in the whole world, after my children, obviously!
BRENDAN, 63, COMPANY DIRECTOR, BIRMINGHAM
How old were you when you first started baking?
My mum died when I was very young and my older sisters took over the cooking. I remember trying to make an apple tart aged 11. I made pastry by putting flour and water together, it must have been disgusting. I was brought up in a very strict Catholic tradition in Ireland and it was a bit like Billy Elliot – men didn’t cook or bake, that was women’s work. So it was quickly jumped on, and it wasn’t until my late 20s that I took it up again, but it’s been a passionate hobby ever since.
How did you find filming the show?
It took me two or three programmes before I settled in. I found the close scrutiny and endless interviews very strange. Reality television is an odd world but I don’t regret a moment of it. Would I want to do it again? No, I wouldn’t!
Was it fiercely competitive amongst the contestants?
Not overly so. I had been warned because in the last series there had been some difficulties with groups forming and criticising each other. There was one person who was very ambitious and told us every day that they were going to win it but we got used to that. There were no dirty campaigns or subtle digs.
How do you plan on using the skills you’ve learnt on the show
I saw Gareth Malone, the choirmaster, go into an old people’s home, gather them into a choir and take them to the Royal Albert Hall. That really inspired me and I’d like to use my baking in a similar way. My plan is to take my skills into retirement homes and persuade the managers to allow residents to make their own bread and cakes, for themselves and to sell. I want to give them a purpose so that they feel they matter.
RYAN, 38, PHOTOGRAPHER, BRISTOL
What was it like filming the show?
I always thought they’d give you a big induction, but it was more like 10 minutes of “this is the oven” and, bang, off you go. The days were very long and there was a lot of sitting around and drinking tea. It was quite stressful for me because I’m not the most experienced of bakers.
Were you impressed by the standard of baking?
It was lower than I thought, actually. I went in thinking it was going to be really hard but most of us were just pretty good amateurs – we were all making mistakes, sometimes schoolboy errors.
What were your worst moments?
When I’d say something and it came back to bite me! I’d be interviewed and say “I did quite well” or “I absolutely nailed it” and then came the judging and I got absolutely panned!
JAMES, 21, MEDICAL STUDENT, SHETLAND
Who first introduced you to baking?
My gran taught me how to bake when I was tiny. I used to go to her house after school and we’d make apple and lemon meringue pies.
Did filming make you nervous?
At first I was very nervous but then you relax a bit. I had my student exams coming up so I thought “I don’t mind if I go out this week because I’ll have much more time to study”.
Who was the scariest judge?
Oh Paul, but he’s a cuddly toy really. You always feel you want to impress Paul, almost like a school teacher. You want to suck up to him a bit. And Mary is just a sweetie – she’s lovely and she always said something constructive. Paul sometimes had moments of coming up with the most brilliant, constructive piece of criticism and you’d think “Thank you! Why can’t you be like that all the time?”
Did you put on weight during filming?
I put on two stone during the Bake Off! Partly the eating, practicing and being away from home, and all the meals out. Then the TV catering, full breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, anything you wanted…
MANISHA, 27, NURSERY OFFICER, LEICESTER
When did you first get into baking?
When I saw my mum make a vanilla tray bake – I loved watching all the mixing. But it’s only been during the last four or five years that I’ve really got into it. Nowadays I bake every weekend for friends.
Did you enjoy your time on the show?
I loved it; I really, really loved it! I couldn’t get enough of it, all the cameras everywhere. I didn’t find it tiring – I wanted it to go on longer and longer! I enjoyed it so much.
Did you gain weight?
I didn’t, you know! My trousers are still the same, everything’s still in proportion. Sometimes you can’t face eating what you bake because you’ve spent so much time making it.
What’s the appeal of baking?
For me it’s very relaxing after a tense day at work. It makes me happy. If I’m miserable, I’ll bake some bread.