Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith talk to Sherna Noah about the new series of The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer.
It is difficult to imagine that Paul Hollywood could learn anything from the novices on The Great Celebrity Bake Off. But the baker, who is back with fellow judge Prue Leith on the next series, discovered a few tricks, thanks to Star Wars actress and contestant Daisy Ridley.
“The bonus for me is Daisy taught me how to use a lightsaber,” Hollywood says of this year’s Channel 4, fund-raising programme. “We used a rolling pin,” he admits, in lieu of a the Jedi knights’ favoured laser sword in the science fiction saga.
The self-confessed Star Wars fan already had some experience of martial arts. “I used to work with a nunchaku, I trained with nunchuck. It’s a martial art weapon,” the 54-year-old says. “So, I was familiar with that movement, But I wanted to know how you do the spin. She showed me how it’s done. And it’s actually an optical illusion to make it look like it’s flipping around, but it was great. Everyone will see the truth!”
Ridley joins actor James McAvoy, TV presenter Stacey Dooley and double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes on the Channel 4 show, in aid of Stand Up To Cancer. Singer Alexandra Burke, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall and comics John Bishop and David Baddiel are also in this year’s Channel 4 show.
But the judges’ verdict on the celebrities’ baking prowess does not sound like a resounding vote of confidence. “Let’s face it, we never expect the celebs to do anything that’s astonishing,” Leith, 81, states. She adds more positively: “Sometimes we set things which we think are quite easy and they really struggle with them.
“And then other times I’ll say to Paul: ‘Paul, you really are too tough… Why did you set that?’ And guess what, they can do it! They actually manage it. But with the celebs we don’t tend to do terribly difficult technical challenges. We’re not out to humiliate them.”
Matt Lucas hosts the show on his own, with partner in fun Noel Fielding away on new dad duties, welcoming his second baby with partner Lliana Bird. “I think Matt missed Noel. I think we all missed Noel,” Hollywood says of Fielding, who has been a huge success as co-presenter since joining when Bake Off moved to Channel 4. “But Matt stepped up and did an amazing job.”
Leith said of Lucas, who replaced Sandi Toksvig after she decided to leave Bake Off: “He’s very good at comfort. Very good at encouragement and making jokes and cheering up” the celebrities. “When we were in lockdown, he did teach me his mother’s method of making chicken soup, chicken broth. Very sort of famous Jewish mama’s chicken noodle soup,” she reveals. “I never got the noodles. But we did get the broth. And he made a really good chicken broth… nice and clear.”
Lucas famously made fun of the Prime Minister, mocking his coronavirus briefings to the nation, on a sketch on Bake Off last year. And Boris Johnson is on Hollywood’s wish-list of celebrities he would like to see in the tent in future. Another unlikely person he would love to sign-up is England’s chief medical officer, professor Chris Whitty. “I’d like him. I’d like some of the big people that have become very famous” in lockdown, he says.
Leith and Hollywood are glad that Bake Off helped keep spirits up while viewers got used to having to stay at home. “It was really important to everybody. I mean, even the Government wanted us to do it because they felt that it would help,” say Leith, who replaced Dame Mary Berry on the show.
Each episode of the new show will see four celebrities battle it out over three rounds – the Signature, the Technical and the Showstopper – in a bid to be crowned Star Baker. This year’s show also features comedian Tom Allen, YouTuber KSI, Paralympian Ade Adepitan, author and psychotherapist Philippa Perry, DJ Nick Grimshaw and comedian Rob Beckett. TV star Anneka Rice, actor Reece Shearsmith, musician Dizzee Rascal, as well as singers Anne-Marie and Nadine Coyle and comedian Katherine Ryan are also on board.
Asked whether any of the celebs attempted to flirt with Hollywood, the silver fox laughs: “Err. Absolutely not… There was a little bit of flirtation there, yeah, I’m not saying by who, but it was funny, it was done in a funny, jokey way,” he says.
Flirtations or not, Hollywood has been getting in shape, losing a stone in lockdown, despite all the bread baking, in a routine which Leith describes as “very vicious”. “I am a little bit [working out], doing a bit of walking and a little bit of running and just tinkering… just watching what I’m eating really. There’s nothing else to do, is there?
“Baking my own bread is easier because you can control what goes into your food a lot more. Baking’s the same. So every morning I have the same thing: a couple of eggs from the farm down the road and I make my own toast.
“So, it’s chucky eggs and soldiers for me every morning and then in the evening I may have another slice of bread with tomato soup. And that’s it at the moment, so I’m on about 1,100 calories a day. ”
He adds: “I drink about two litres of water as well, which makes all the difference. I haven’t had alcohol for about four months.” But he does have a lockdown treat – a “slice of banana bread and a cup of tea”.
Despite the weight loss, Leith describes Hollywood as “soft” although she is talking about his personality, not his body shape. The “fact is that Paul off camera is quite squishy – like a donut, he’s sort of all soft inside,” she says, even if he appears “tough or steely-eyed”.
Running around with a lightsaber must have helped with the weight loss. But Ridley sharing her lightsaber skills does not mean she gets the seal of approval for her baking abilities. “She loves the programme and I think she was really looking forward to baking,” Hollywood says. “I mean she did an OK job, a decent job, I suppose.”
The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer returns to Channel 4 on March 9.