Before you get to the article, a quick note. I am writing this part in red on the 2 year anniversary of my season hitting the press. What a crazy and wild journey it was, and continues to be! Once you have read the below piece on my time in the Bake Off, please stop by the following articles telling you about my time at pastry college where I finally learnt to bake! That can be found HERE
I am also lucky enough to have a monthly slot on BBC Radio Nottingham, currently alongside Alan Clifford, where I talk about how to avoid perils of popular bakes and a monthly article for the Nottingham Evening Post. Details about all of these things, and some bakes of my own creation, can be found on my main home page HERE
Thanks for reading, now onto the reason you came here…….
So my time in the bake off is over. I can honestly say I was, and continue to be, blown away by the whole experience. I have kept quite quiet in the subject on my blog for the past few weeks as I wanted my time in the show to be done before I passed comment.
When I put in my application, all the way back in December 2013, I didn’t expect to hear anything back at all from the show’s producers (Love Productions). I entered the show almost as a way to quieten my friends and family around me who had told me I should apply for years beforehand. If I applied and didn’t hear anything back, well at least I tried! Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call, not 24 hours after I had pressed send on the original email!
The audition process was lengthy and intense. Repeated phone calls became long trips down to London, carrying bakes in hand. Meeting people at these auditions blew my mind as to the professionalism in this series. The other potential contestants had baked such wonderful, beautiful things that I had written myself off from the start. To the lady who baked the entire flock of Swans out of Choux Pastry and filled each with smoked salmon moose, I salute you!
After having our bakes judged, some of us were thrust in front of the camera without a moments delay for a short interview before being released, rather dazed, back into the city. Although I had promised not to, I couldn’t keep my gob shut when asked by some ladies on the train home as to why I was carrying croissants across the country!
After another short wait, back to London I was called. This time to meet another bunch of hard working bakers and to attempt our first ‘technical challenge’. Norman and Diana both stood out as outstanding, funny and sweet people who I was sure I would soon see on TV, as was a lovely Scottish lady whose name escapes me. Wherever you are Scottish lady, I hope you are still baking! Again I travelled home, fortunate for the experience but under no illusions that I would get any further.
Some time passed and I heard nothing. Feeling my time in this process was done, I carried on with my normal day to day life, unaware of what was to come! Out of the blue I received a call asking me to start to organise some things to film in my home town of Nottingham! Me at work, at home, baking things or playing games with friends. Love productions wanted to film it all! Being told not to tell anyone what was going on, then having to explain a film crew following you round at work, is a difficult ask. They were “filming my 1976 Chopper bike” was my reply when asked! During this day filming I was told “You are on the show” by the wonderful producer Anna. Suffice to say, I partied a little that weekend.
Then the recipes started arriving. Challenge after challenge would hit my inbox with deadlines that seemed all too short. 36 miniature cakes, who has ever baked that many?! A 3D biscuit scene? I beg your pardon?! Each challenge had to be worked on, documented and sent back to Love for approval. On the first recipe of the show, the Swiss roll, I was told that ‘under no circumstances’ was I allowed to use shop brought marzipan so, if I wanted to use it, I had to make my own. Fair enough, I replied, knowing the standard was going to be high that year. It paid to be a neighbour of mine over these weeks as cake after cake, biscuit after biscuit and pie after pie was hurried from my kitchen to waiting hands!
Cut forward a few, frantic, weeks and filming drew ever closer. Receiving letters in the post marked ‘CONFIDENTAIL’ only furthered my excitement. I am the type of person who likes to know exactly what I am going to have to do but Love like to keep people a little in the dark. I believe this is to stop people (the press) finding out any info and to keep the excitement levels up amongst us bakers. Rules on what to wear (no logos or recognizable characters) meant I had to go and buy a new wardrobe, rules on my hair dictated the use of hair clips. All while still practicing my bakes and getting anxious!
When the first filming day finally reached me, back in April, I think I speak for all the bakers when I say we were a little nervous. Being herded into a large room with 11 other people who are as in the dark as I was and being introduced to each other will stay with me forever. It continues to amaze me that 12 people from such varied backgrounds got on so well from the get go. Out for dinner we went, constantly being reminded by the production staff to keep our talking down when out and about in public!
As for filming the show, I will let the show speak for itself. I will say that it is filmed exactly as you see on TV, even if the wait times in-between challenges and the like are FAR longer than you would think! Nerves were high in that tent at all times, amongst all contestants. Trying to replicate what you know you can make at home in the pressure pot of filming was too much for me to bear by bread week, and so home I went!
From the end of the first week, I knew I was somewhat out of my depth. After seeing Nancy’s Jaffa Orange Cakes, the best cakes I have ever eaten I hasten to add, I knew that my time in the tent would be fairly short! I had seen this as an educational experience from the outset and I sure have learnt a lot from the other contestants during my time on the show. I wasn’t sad when I left the show, in fact I was quite looking forward to a lie in! I was just so very happy to have met such wonderful people and to have shared in this experience with them.
The long wait between my exit from the tent and the show beginning has been one of the longest in my life. With so many questions about how it would come across, how it would be edited, how my (sometimes awful) bakes would look on TV buzzing around my head, I was almost beside myself at times! I am a patient man but this tested me, that’s for certain.
Now the show is done and over, for me at least, I am able to begin to look back on it. Watching yourself on TV is always going to be a difficult experience, in fact I remember Sue Perkins saying she never does. Giving many weekends, some of which were the most stressing of my life, over to an unknown editor and watching yourself be condensed down into soundbites will never be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. At least it wasn’t for me! Still, the Love Productions folk did a wonderful job, showing both highs and lows for each of us in turn and being especially nice to each of us on our final episodes. I owe them great thanks, even if they did deny my request to be edited into a ‘Supervillan’ of baking!
The attention I have received since being on the show has been huge, fun and sometime scary. The local press in Nottingham has been wonderful, the Nottingham Post and BBC Radio Nottingham getting behind and supporting me far more than I ever expected. They have published post after post about me and my journey through the show. I hope the cake and biscuits I delivered was good enough payment guys? The people I have met round Nottingham who have approached me to say good luck, or commiserations, have all been lovely and has made me smile, even through the harder times!
Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case nowadays, the show has attracted some level of spite and vitriol from some corners. To the people in the press or those on Twitter who have had bad things to say about me, or any other contestant, I want to say that I feel sorry for you. If the best thing you can do, to a group of people who have given their time and love to make a program you enjoy, is to talk smack then what sad lives you must lead. I only hope you can find some peace and love in your life, like I have been allowed in mine, so you can see the pointlessness and hurt in your comments.
Still, those have been in the minority. To all my new Twitter followers who have given me support and encouragement, you all rock! I hope you will continue to follow me as I try and bake my signature brand of overly complex, sometime chaotic bakes! To those people I know in my personal life, those who have hugged me and picked me up when times are bad and who have pushed me to do my best with a smile on my face, I love you all. My perfect girlfriend especially. Without you I would of been a jabbering wreck in the corner of a room by now.
To my other bakers, be you already gone from the tent or still with weeks to go, I wish you all the luck in the world. Never in my life have I met such a bunch of amazingly talented folk. You all deserve to touch those stars you reach for. Never lose touch.