*This year there are 13 bakers in the tent, is that the first time and how will that work?
Yes, we have a baker’s dozen this year, it’s not the first time, we had 13 bakers in series 4. It does mean that one week two bakers will leave the tent, which is really tough. It also means there is a lot of cake to taste and judge that first week.
*It’s the 10th series this year – does that feel like it’s been a long time or does the 1st series seem like yesterday?
It’s gone quite quickly actually and when I look back it doesn’t seem like it was 10 years ago I was in the tent at Kingham where we started. That first year we moved the tent around the country each week, back then I never imagined we’d still be here 10 years later. I’ve done every single Bake Off and across US Bake Off and Junior Bake Off – it’s now 500 challenges that I have judged. That’s a lot.
*The show is still very popular but the format remains the same – what’s the secret or magic ingredient?
Always the bakers. They are the constant, it’s always the bakers that remain the heart of the show.
*Bread week this year – any tricky twists?
The standard from the bakers this year was really good, I was very impressed. There are some great flavours and their dough manipulation was pretty good. So the standard is high this time, they came up with some pretty decent stuff.
*And how’s working with Prue?
We are so relaxed with each other, I feel that I have known Prue all my life, and she is so lovely. When I first met her at the auditions she came in and she had this smile which lit up the room, and she is so clever, she dresses fantastically with her bright colours, she is so vibrant and she is such a good laugh. She is so easy to be around.
*And Sandi and Noel?
They are both genuinely lovely and very very funny. Sandi is great and worries about everyone and is very empathic. Noel is just Noel, which is great.
*How is Noel’s baking coming along, a serious rival to you yet?
Well I have to say he has been a bit lazy on the baking side, he keeps putting it off. The last bakes he did looked good, he sent me some pictures. He is a good pupil though and he wants to learn.
*Where is the strangest place that a fan has recognised you?
Walking through the Alps in the winter and a Brazilian lady came up and screamed my name, that was a bit surreal, odd and lovely at the same time.
*If you were a pizza what would you be?
I would be a plain and ordinary Margherita, think not too cheesey, I would probably be a bit spicy. And I think I would be a bit tanned as I like a bit of crisp.
*Favourite spice/flavour – most disliked spice/flavour?
One of my favourite flavours is ginger, I love it. I met a barman on holiday who gave me a drink with fresh ginger, gin, elderflower, ginger ale with lots of ice and pepper on the top. It’s such a refreshing drink. I don’t really like lavender, and cardamom and clove remind me of being in a dentist. I don’t like any artificial tastes in baking, it has to be pure.
*Do you still cook for your mum ?
My mum likes a good crusty loaf, and she loves brown bread so I would probably make that for her. But my mum would pretty much eat anything!
*Favourite food or bread to cook on the Barbie. And Wine or Beer?
Flat bread has taken over my life recently, and I make it in the oven and then reheat it over the barbie coals, then use it as a holder for meat or stracciatella cheese, [it’s a creamy type of mozzarella cheese] with a bit of crispy parma ham, and it’s gorgeous - the best thing ever. I also love making pizzas in my pizza oven. I tend to drink wine with a smart meal, and a beer to chill with.
*Ever had a bread named after you?
No, but I have had a margherita named after me. It was in a bar in Sante Fe in America, [that Robert Redford used to go to], and they called it the Paul Hollywood …. funnily enough. It was a pretty smart margherita.
*Most common mistakes the bakers make each series?
Timing, it’s all about timing, that’s the killer, they do get better at it as the series goes through.
*How are the bakers coping this year in the Tent?
Yes all of them are coping really well, their resilience and enthusiasm is amazing. When they are baking they are getting cameras in their face a lot of the time, so I have a lot of respect for them. It’s very different for them from baking in their kitchens at home, and realistically they are amateur bakers.
*Any long discussions this year over judging?
Prue and I have had some good professional discussions this series, it’s never an argument, what it boils down to is personal opinion and we can disagree on flavours. We mostly agree ultimately.
*Worst baking disaster?
When I was 17 working at my dad’s bakery I made 1000 doughnuts and put salt instead of sugar, so maybe I was ahead of my time with the sweet and sour thing, but they didn’t taste great at all.
*How many years have you been baking now? Were the early years harsh in terms of long hours and not much socialising?
36 years I have been around the industry. As a Baker you can’t have a snooze alarm. It was tough in the winter months but there is a magical time from June to September on an early dawn summer morning. I would drive in my old MG to the bakery and the roads were quiet and the views were amazing, it was great.
*Who would be your dream guest on Celebrity Bake Off?
Michael Palin because of his love of travelling and Robert Plant because he is a god.
*Music you bake by?
Zeppelin, Cold Play or Pink Floyd.
*Ideal dinner party guest list and what would you cook?
Michael Palin and Robert Plant again and Nick Mason and Ayrton Senna. And I would make an easy dish like pizzas, and get in some really good cheeses, some great wines, I would make some fresh baguettes and flat breads. Sometimes the simpler it is with great produce the better it is.
*If you could time travel back in baking time what period would it be and why?
I would love to go back to Henry VIII time and see those big pies at their banquets, and I am very curious to see what they were eating, be fascinated to know the flavours and what it tasted like.
*Paul – have you ever been to Hollywood?
Yes I did a drive across America on an Easy Rider Chopper to LA – it wasn’t an easy ride – it was a hard tail with minimal suspension so a bit back breaking, it was a hard ride at times.
*What’s next in your baking or anything else world?
Next for me is Christmas Bake Off, a series of US Bake Off, then another series of Celebrity Bake Off.