Paul Hollywood: A lot of celebrities approach me about cakes
The Great British Bake Off returns to our TV screens next week – and it turns out fans of the show are not the only ones to be inspired by its new generation of chefs. Judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith tells Gemma Dunn they're partial to 'borrowing' a recipe too
PAUL Hollywood is musing over some of The Great British Bake Off's more well-known fans.
"There's a lot of celebrities, a lot of people that approach you. It's crazy, where it's got to...," the blue-eyed Bake Off judge says. "There were a couple of people on Instagram, a very famous American actress, who'd baked something," he adds.
"She sent a video and said, 'I wonder what Paul Hollywood would say about this?' And you're going, 'What?'
"And then you get people like Nick Mason, the drummer of Pink Floyd, who bakes all the time. I also remember getting a call from Ronnie Corbett years ago; he wanted to speak to me – he baked a lot of bread.
"Then there's Taylor Swift. Keira Knightley... She once tried to bin off a premiere to go and watch the final of the Bake Off! It's just incredible," says 53-year-old Hollywood.
But Pride & Prejudice star Knightley is not the only one willing to sacrifice her plans – or every Tuesday evening for 10 consecutive weeks, for that matter...
Last series it was reported an average live audience of 7.5 million people tuned in to see research scientist Rahul Mandal crowned the winner of the hit Channel 4 competition; a figure that doesn't match up to its BBC One days (the broadcaster totalled 14 million in 2016), but one not to be scoffed at.
Now back for a 10th season, its third since moving to Channel 4, the baking competition is set to once again delight the public, with judges Hollywood and Prue Leith, plus presenting duo Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, returning for the ride.
As for the latest batch of amateur bakers, it's a typically diverse crowd pitching up in the famous white tent, Leith teases.
"It's a very inclusive show," she says. "But what's so interesting is when the [production company] is choosing them – the main thing they want to know is that they're getting the 12 best bakers in the country.
"They're not set up to find somebody who's the 'right ethnic mix' or the 'right height' or the 'right age' or anything," insists the restaurateur-chef, who is 79.
"It's just representative," Hollywood agrees. "We've always been proud of that from the very first series."
But this year's hopefuls showcase a younger demographic than most.
"They're much younger and actually it's been the hardest year judging, personally, for me, because it was all about detail," admits Hollywood, who has been a staple of the show since its 2010 inception.
"You judge them in your head and mark them one to 10, and then in the next round they all do the opposite!" he adds.
"Then you have to sit around the table and decide who's going to be star baker and who's going to go. You have absolutely no idea. It could be any one of them."
"Paul's right," Leith chips in. "The number of times that the person who has won the technical or won the signature round comes last in the showstopper – it happens over and over again.
"The hard thing for them is if they're sent home because they've cocked up. They know it's perfectly fair but they're just so angry with themselves."
"I'd rather judge them when they've done the best they can, rather than when they've made a mistake," Hollywood says. "It makes it easier and it's nicer for them."
"But," he adds, "That's the job and I think the decisions we've made are correct and you go home with a clear conscience."
"It's not a difficult job because you don't have to write or learn any lines," South African-born Leith adds. "There's no script, you just say what you think."
But it's not just youthful contestants getting a slice of the action – those watching at home span the generations, too.
"We know it's cool to bake; you see it in schools," says Hollywood, who has a teenage son with ex-wife Alexandra.
"I've been into schools in the past to judge and the reaction is incredible. I remember when I first walked in, I heard screams!
"Baking has become such a cool thing to do and if you're a girl, a young lad, if you can bake, you'll get friends. Always."
Even the judges have found themselves inspired by the show and the contestants to get floured up and stick the oven on at home.
"I've been amazed at how much more baking I've done since I've been on this show," grandmother-of-four Leith confesses.
"I used to bake the odd cake. If someone was coming to dinner, I would make a polenta cake for pudding or whatever, or [if we were] having people for the weekend, I'd make a cake the kids could eat. But now I tend to nick the recipes from the bakers."
She adds: "I pinched Steven Carter-Bailey's caramel cake recipe and I took Paul Hollywood's chocolate cake. I don't even like chocolate cake. But this particular cake is delicious. And very rich.
"Now it's one of the most popular things I bake because it's the one I use for my grandchildren's' birthday cakes because they all like chocolate."
Hollywood adds: "We had a challenge a couple of years back which was a basket meringue cake, and I have done that in the past for a quick birthday thing or to go to a dinner party."
And what about the future of the show – can they see an end in sight for them, as judges, or for Bake Off itself?
Hollywood laughs and claims he still wants to be doing the show when he's "a grumpy old man with a stick".
"And my ambition is not so ambitious," Leith responds. "I just want to at least equal Mary Berry; she did seven years, so I've got another four years to go."
:: The Great British Bake Off returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday August 27.