A year has passed since Martha Collison’s “just brilliant” stint in the Bake Off tent. As well as apprehensively awaiting her A Level results like thousands of other 18-year-olds, she’s now a Waitrose Weekend columnist with plenty of exciting projects up her sleeve. Juggling exams with technical challenges, Martha tells us, was “really tough” – but it wasn’t the only thing the teen had to contend with as the show’s youngest contestant.
“In the first couple of weeks, some people wanted me to do really well and some people were kind of like, ‘She’s too young. She doesn’t know anything. She hasn’t even been alive long enough to know this stuff!’”
There was a lot of unexpected attention, both in the street – “I couldn’t believe that there were journalists on my doorstep waiting to talk to me. What is there to know about me? I’m just 17! I don’t really do much!” – and online.
“That was quite hard especially because I’m very much from the social media generation. Some [comments on Twitter and Instagram] were nice, some were not nice. It’s difficult to deal with because we’ve grown up caring more about that side of life. For the the older contestants maybe people saying things on the internet is a bit more unknown, whereas we’ve grown up seeing that happen to other people. It was kind of scary.”
Criticism on the show is one thing – “you know you’re there to bake so obviously if you’ve made a rubbish thing you’re expecting them to say so” – but it’s tougher when it’s not about soggy bottoms and the like: “When people have digs about the way you speak, appear, come across or the way you look, it becomes a little bit harder to deal with.
Not that the criticism on-camera was easy either. “To be 17 and openly criticised for something you’ve made was quite unusual,” says Martha. “At school you’re quite protected. They don’t say ‘wrong’; they just say that it could be better. It was quite harsh but it has made me better and they were always right! There was nothing they ever said that wasn’t true. You can’t hide anything from them!”
This year another baker is set to take up Martha’s place as youngest contestant. While Martha was 17 and juggled the baking competition with her AS Level exams, newbie Flora is 19 and about to head off to St Andrews to embark on an Art History degree.
“I kind of feel drawn to wanting her to do well,” Martha admits. “Because we are both the youngest in our series we’re probably going to have a very similar experience.
“The way your life changes feels so big because we haven’t done that much yet. We’ve only really lived through school and family and you haven’t gone out into the wider world. It also just launches your career if you want to do something in food.”
Her advice for Flora is to “firstly, just enjoy it because your life will change completely. You’ll be recognised for something you are really good at.” Secondly: “Keep your family and your friends really close because they all know who you really are, they know the bakes that you really bake, they know everything about you. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people online don’t know the real you.”
Tonight a “really excited” Martha will be tuning in from her sofa – and she’ll be rooting for Flora.
As well as Alvin, she tells us: “He lives in the same town as me so I’d really like him to do well so we can encourage more Berkshire bakers!”
The Great British Bake Off starts tonight at 8:00pm on BBC1
Paul Hollywood is at the Radio Times Festival from 24th to 27th September. You can buy tickets here.