Paul Hollywood: ‘It’s the most relaxed i’ve ever felt on set’

The ever popular Great British Bake Off is back for its ninth series – the second since its big move from BBC One to Channel 4. Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith tell Georgia Humphreys about life as the show’s judges, and why the filming process felt different this time round.

Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood are discussing who’s more likely to end up laughing during their Bake Off judging duties.

After all, as the hit series returns to Channel 4, viewers know all too well to expect some humorous moments, thanks to quick-witted presenters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig.

“I probably laugh the least, because I understand the jokes the least,” Leith, 78, admits with a smile, before Wallasey-born Hollywood chimes in: “She’s a bit slow catching up.”

“I recently went on Would I Lie To You?” continues Leith. “I didn’t get a word in the entire programme because they were just so fast.

“Occasionally, I thought of something really witty to say, but by the time I’d got my mouth together, we’d go onto something else!”

Panel shows might not be the South African-born foodie’s strong point, but one thing’s for sure – millions of viewers will be excited to see her back on screens for the ninth series of Bake Off.

Here’s the lowdown on what to expect from the tent this autumn…

CONFIDENT RETURN

Both Leith, who replaced Mary Berry when the show started on Channel 4, and Hollywood – a judge since its launch – admit they felt more relaxed filming this series, the second since the move from BBC One.

“I suppose although I didn’t think I was nervous last time, I must have been a bit more tense than I thought,” notes Leith, who started her career back in the Sixties, with her catering company, Leith’s Good Food.

“Prue was off and running, there was no problem really last year and this year felt even easier, to be honest,” suggests 52-year-old Hollywood, a former head baker at a number of hotels around Britain and internationally.

“Noel and Sandi do an amazing job as well. It just made the whole filming process this year so relaxed and laid-back, and actually it’s the most relaxed I think I’ve ever felt on set this year. It was fantastic.”

Food writer Leith, who was also a judge on BBC One’s The Great British Menu, adds: “It does seem, with hindsight, that all that fuss about the show moving from the BBC was so… I wouldn’t say manufactured, but it was so totally unnecessary to worry.

“If anybody had given it five minutes’ thought, they’d have thought, ‘Well, why would a production company mess with the formula? Why would they change it?'”

SUPPORT SYSTEM

Each week sees the contestant bakers take on three different challenges – the signature bake, the technical bake, and the showstopper bake – which are usually based around a particular theme, say pastries or pies. And, at the end of the episode, Leith and Hollywood have to send one person home.

One thing that certainly won’t be happening this year however, is another Twitter mishap.
Leith made headlines last year, after accidentally tweeting her congratulations to winner Sophie Faldo hours before the final had aired (she was in Bhutan at the time and got confused by the time difference).

“Yeah, that was a bit grim,” says Leith – but lightheartedly so, a quiet chuckle slipping out.
“People were pretty upset. But in the end it didn’t matter. Actually, a lot of people were really nice about it; lots and lots of people have said, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that’. It was a really stupid thing to do.”

It helped that she had a “really sweet message” from Hollywood afterwards – and that the production company were understanding.

“You haven’t got a malicious bone in your body,” Hollywood says gently, looking to his co-star.

“A mistake is a mistake – it could happen to anybody. People enjoyed the show anyway, because it’s all about the baking. And the right person won on the day as well.”

FAMOUS FACES

Asked about being approached by fans, Leith, who married retired fashion designer John Playfair in 2016, says she likes “the attention” – which gets a laugh from Hollywood.

“Now, people just say, ‘I love Bake Off’, or a straightforward compliment – that just makes me feel wonderful,” mum-of-two Leith continues. “But I used to get far more of, ‘I’ve always loved Mary Berry and I just didn’t want to like you’. And you wait for it and wait for it… and then, they say that you’re all right, and that it’s [the show] survived the change.”
Hollywood meanwhile, loves that the show inspires kids to get into baking and, in turn, what that teaches them about food.

“They understand what they’re eating, how much they’re eating,” remarks the TV personality, who has one teenage son. “If kids understand that from an early age, it’s a good thing,”

Proudly, he follows: “Last week, there were three kids who came up with a picture, which they’d painted. It was the four of us in the tent, it was great.

“You get a lot of that from the kids. They get really excited about it.”

JUDGING STYLES

Over the years, Hollywood has become known for no-nonsense critiques of the bakes presented to him in the tent.

But last series, he seemed to hand out more of his coveted handshakes than ever before, to contestants he believed had done particularly well. So, is he getting a bit soft?

“I haven’t got softer, it’s just the bakers have got better,” he professes.

“He’s very reluctant to give any handshakes,” quips Leith, with a raise of her eyebrows.

“They’re forced out of him.”

Neither has to particularly put their foot down, when it comes to making a decision over who should leave the competition.

“It doesn’t even get to a conversation,” says Hollywood. “We know exactly who’s going.”
In agreement, Leith adds: “The interesting thing about Paul and my judging… People often say that Paul is stricter than me, or harder than me. We mentally give a score out of 10 [for each bake], and then we give it to the producers.

“We might differ by half a point on one bake but we always agree because, to put it broadly, we know a good cake when we see it.”

The Great British Bake Off returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday, August 28

Tags: TV