The final of The Great British Bake Off is recorded in June, and yet when the episode airs in October, the British public is never any the wiser as to who the winner is and anticipate their anointment with the excitement of a freshly baked cake coming out the oven.
How do the winners keep it a secret? It seems the key is, as last year’s Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain admitted, keeping the trophy well hidden under the bed! Well, everyone apart from the first
winner, that is.
I won, nobody knew
about the show, because
it was new. So I didn’t
have to hide anything,”
says Edd Kimber, who won in
2010. “It wasn’t even
the trophy that they
have now, but a big
metal cup like a school
sports day thing.”
It’s fair to say that the win had a
colossal effect on Kimber, who was at that time a bank debt collector. “I handed in my notice two days after the show finished filming and walked around beaming. We were briefed not to tell anyone, but I think people knew I had won by the way I was behaving.”
Since Kimber’s victory, however, everything has got a lot more serious. The show moved to BBC1, and became the channel’s greatest hit. It’s also become its biggest loss, now the show is switching to Channel 4 in 2018 without Mary, Mel or Sue. The news was reported around the world; strange for a baking show, but then not every baking show has the capacity to attract audiences of 15 million, and to change the lives of those who succeed on it.
Kimber summarises the effect that winning had on him: “You don’t win any money, but it is an amazing springboard, and it gave me a huge confidence boost; I used to have very low self-esteem. Sue Perkins said it would give me a kick up the a*** and that it would let me be what I wanted to be, and it’s true.” Today he’s a full-time baker, writer and TV chef, and has published three cookbooks.
Not everyone has been as laissez faire as Kimber about keeping their win quiet. By the time that Nancy Birtwhistle took home the prize in 2014, the show was a global hit, and secrecy a serious business. “I didn’t tell anybody, other than my family who came to the final, including my daughter’s three children, Florence, Alice and Ethan.
“Florence was only two and couldn’t talk, so that was easy. Alice was six, so after a while she forgot about it. However, Ethan was 12, and about to go to secondary school. I knew it would have boosted his street cred no end if he had been able to tell his pals his granny had won Bake Off. But I told him the police would be involved if he told anyone, and he was frightened to death. My son’s children didn’t come because he didn’t think they could be trusted. He left them with his in-laws. His wife told them that I didn’t win, so they actually missed the final broadcast because they didn’t bother watching.”
“I did tell my grandparents,” admits John Whaite, the 2012 winner. “You have a contractual obligation not to tell, but I’m very glad I did. The day after I won, my grandfather died of a brain haemorrhage. He was a farmer, and as fit as a fiddle. It came out of nowhere. I also told a couple of friends on whom I had been testing recipes, so I felt an obligation to let them know. To anyone else I simply said, ‘Wait and see,’ and pulled a grimace to indicate it was bad news.”
Frances Quinn, who won in 2013, refers to it as a “state secret… If all the baking fails I would be great for MI6 because I was so good at keeping it to myself. You just have to keep a poker face going.”
The effect of winning on each of the victorious bakers has been nothing short
of monumental, as
the 2011 winner Joanne Wheatley explains. “The change in my life was remarkable. It was quite weird. You go from being totally anonymous to becoming someone people walk up to in M&S.
When I won, I had 15,000 emails in a week. My cookery classes sold out with a six-month waiting list. I had 13 publishers in a bidding war for my first book. I’d never imagined even writing a book, let alone having a bidding war. It changed my life massively and I’m grateful about it every single day.”
Whaite also gave up the day job (law) and runs a cooking school and writes cookbooks. “My mum has my trophy now. She has it in a sort of shrine, along with my graduation photograph from Manchester University and the huge winner’s trophy from Pointless Celebrities, which I was in after Bake Off.”
“I hadn’t appreciated the power of TV,” says Birtwhistle. “You’re not prepared for 15 million people watching. I became recognised from the Shetland Islands down to Cornwall. Before Bake Off I was a practice manager for the NHS and people used to glaze over when I said what I was doing. After Bake Off, everyone wanted to hear what I had to say.”
Do the Bake Off winners feel a slight pang that “their” programme is going to change with the move to C4? Opinions are divided.
“I think taking away Mary, Mel and Sue will change it a lot,” says Kimber. “Sue and Mel attract people who don’t want to watch a baking show, and Paul and Mary have a very special relationship.”
Quinn is also pretty gloomy. “Now it’s going to C4, I honestly don’t think it can really be called The Great British Bake Off, can it? So many ingredients are missing, it’s like making a loaf of bread and calling it a cake.”
On a more positive note, Wheatley says: “I think the next series will go from strength to strength. Nobody likes change, but there will be familiarity with Paul Hollywood still on it. It’s a good show and I think it will carry on being good.” Birtwhistle agrees, with a dash of what one might call Berry Briskness. “I feel positive about the changes in the show, because that’s my nature. Nothing is for ever.”
And with that, the oven pings! It seems another champion is fully baked and ready to come out the oven.
The Great British Bake Off: Class of 2015 airs at 8pm on BBC1