Dr Tamal Ray interview for Be Your Own Doctor
You've got a new show coming up, and not a bag of flour or a cake tin in sight. What's the show about?
It’s basically about getting people to take ownership of their own healthcare, and looking at a few of the ridiculous myths that are out there and trying to delve into them, and figure out what the truth is. The idea is to empower people to be a bit more knowledgeable about their own health.
It's a fine line, though, because part of the problem for doctors these days is that people have a habit of diagnosing themselves on the internet. You’re not saying to people "Don’t go to your doctor," are you?
No, absolutely not. I suppose the aim of it is to get people going to their doctors with the right sort of information. I think if you google randomly any medical condition on the internet, you’re just bombarded with information, and it’s difficult to know what the good stuff is and what the rubbish is. I guess we’re trying to give viewers a little window onto that, and direct them towards the good stuff. Some of it is also about assumptions we make about common sorts of stuff. So in the pilot we’ve made, there’s a bit about dental hygiene. I’m really hot about brushing my teeth – at least I thought I was. I do it for two minutes, I’ve got an electric toothbrush, I thought I’d do brilliantly on the test – and then the results came in, and I’d come up quite short. So that can happen even when you try and do all the right stuff and you think you know what you’re talking about, you can still have something to learn. So we’re just trying to give people a little bit more of an idea about their health.
Reassure people they're not being advised on their health by a baking expert - what’s your day job?
I’m a doctor. This is my seventh year as a doctor – it's not my cake qualifications that have got me this. It’s my actual, genuine job. I’m an anaesthetist, I work up in Manchester. I do a lot of working in theatre and surgery, I do maternity as well, I've done intensive care, and a bit of A&E as well.
You've had lots of opportunities post Bake Off – what was it that attracted you to this one?
I loved Bake Off, and doing all of that stuff with food, but I think this, to me, feels a bit more focussed on my actual career. I love science, I love healthcare, I’m really interested in issues around that. So for this to be a way to use some of the public awareness I got through Bake Off and to be able to do something different is really exciting.
You'd been in front of the cameras a lot before – did that help put you at ease for this, or was it just a totally different experience?
I think the Bake Off experience is quite a baptism of fire. You’re thrown in at the dep end. But it’s also quite easy in that you’re just doing your baking – you get on with it and the cameras work around you. This was quite different, doing pieces to camera and stuff like that. Presenting is quite a different way of doing things. But I think Bake Off was a pretty good training camp.
How did you find working with Kate?
It was great. She took me under her wing. She’s like my Jedi Master, she was really helpful
Did she pass on presenting tips to you?
I think it was more general stuff about staying relaxed and ignore the cameras – even when you’re delivering prepared lines, just forget about the camera and just treat it as a conversation.
In the first episode, she got to swan off to the beach while you were sent to a laboratory. Do you get the impression she was nabbing all the good jobs for herself?
I know, I was a bit miffed! That was the first day of filming, and there was a bit of a mix up. Someone in production told me I’d be going to Brighton, and I was thrilled, because I used to live there, and I have a few friends there. And then it turned out to be Kate’s job, and they sent me to the Boot’s head office in Nottingham on a rainy day. It’s a lovely head office, but it’s not exactly sampling an ice cream on the beach. Mind you, I got to do the bit about placentas, which I thought was fascinating.
Yeah, loads of women swear by making use of the placenta after they've given birth, don't they?
Yeah. It was something I’d vaguely heard of before I started working in maternity, and then I discovered more and more about it. I didn’t know anything about having it turned into pills, though, so that was really interesting, going into the science of it and getting them chemically analysed, to see what benefits they may have had.
Did you encounter any stories during filming that really surprised you?
I'd say the teeth thing, to be honest. I’m dreading it, I haven’t told anyone my results yet. I was so sure I’d do well; it was Kate who was really nervous. I was the cocky one. So it was quite shocking.
What are your ambitions? Do they lie more with medicine, TV, or a combination of the two?
I’d love to do a combination of both. I find what I do for a living really interesting; this is just a very different dimension to it. I really love the health stuff and the science stuff. I’ve always loved popular science stuff- and I think a lot of people are really interested in that. When I was a kid I used to watch Tomorrow’s World – I loved that. I don’t think there’s an equivalent to that anymore.
Do you watch a lot of medical shows, and science stuff in general?
Yeah I do. I love Michael Mosley, definitely. And Brian Cox, for the more general science stuff – I love all of his shows. And I’m also a bit of a nature nerd, and everyone loves David Attenborough.
How much has your life changed since Bake Off? Were you prepared for it?
I think we were prepared for it as much as possible by the producers and crew. They were constantly going “Things are going to go crazy once it’s on,” and stuff. But you still can’t really understand until you’ve gone through it. I don’t think there’s anything more they could have said to us to prepare us. But it just went completely mad. Afterwards, life pretty much went back to normal. I went back to work, although I do still get patients suddenly realising who I am. But that’s quite nice, especially when they’re coming in for surgery, because they can be really nervous and it completely distracts them from what they were nervous about, so we have a little chat about that.
Do you feel different, when you go out? Are you aware of being observed?
I’m not the most socially observant, so most of it just passes me by. The few weeks after the final was different – I remember walking in London and someone stopped my for a picture and all of a sudden there was a crowd of people around me. That doesn’t happen as much now. I get stopped for the odd selfie. But if I’m on a night out, after people have had a couple of drinks they’ll come over, and that’s always nice. Everyone’s always really friendly.
You're a doctor and you've just made a TV show. Do you still get time to bake?
It’s tricky for time, but I do still bake. I’m at that age when I’m going through the season of weddings. I had three in a month recently, and made two of the wedding cakes. I do love it. The middle wedding, people were saying “Oh it must be a nice break; you’ve not made the cake for this one.” I actually couldn’t remember the last wedding I’d been to where I hadn’t made the cake. I do love baking, but I do get asked constantly at work when I’m bringing stuff in. I feel like I’ve done enough baking for other people, now they need to bake for me!
But do they want to, or are they a bit terrified of the prospect?
They are a bit nervous. But that can go both ways. I made these little pies as an experiment recently, and I took them in to work, but then I wasn’t sure if they were that good, so I didn’t tell anyone about them and just took them away at the end of the day. I feel like before I could bake a cake and people were really happy, whereas now they all feel the need to be Mary and Paul. Just eat the cake! But likewise, some of the nurses have said “Oh, we were going to bring in a cake today, but we knew you were on shift so we didn’t want you judging us.” That’s the opposite of what Bake Off is all about.
You've now achieved the ultimate accolade – you've taken part in the smash hit podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno. How was that?
That was amazing. My friends were so excited – almost more excited about that than they were about Bake Off. I was listening to the latest chapter on the way in today – it was the best one yet.
Be Your Own Doctor, Monday 24th of October at 8:30pm on C4.