Can you bake?
No, I’ve got no clue how to bake whatsoever. This is all new territory for me.
What do you think your strengths and weaknesses will be?
My strengths are that I will have a go at anything, and I’m a good blagger. So however bad it looks, I’ll try and sell it, or distract people, and convince them that it’s better than it actually is. Weaknesses? The whole time thing. I’m probably quite slow, because all the processes that I’m working on will be new. I didn’t know about whipping and caramelising and all that stuff. Looking at the recipe is probably the same as me trying to read it in Mandarin or Sanskrit.
Do you have a favourite dish, either to bake or to eat?
Who doesn’t like baked food? Anything baked is good. I’d bake everything if I could. As long as it’s baked, I’ll eat it. Unfortunately, I haven’t got the skill of baking, but I certainly have the appetite for the results.
Do you cook much at home? Have you ever had any culinary disasters?
I cook to live. I see cooking as a form of sustenance, so I cook when I need it, to survive. I do cook for my missus at home, and every now and again she says I’ve done a good job. Other times she’ll look at me as if to say, “What on earth is this?” In terms of culinary disasters, I did once try to bake some bread – it was a period where those bread-making machines were really in, and I got myself a bread-making machine, mainly because I like the smell of bread. I just thought having a house that smelled of freshly baked bread is better than any air freshener. So the first one I made was alright, it was not bad. A little bit floury in the middle, but it was edible, and it looked like a loaf. The next one I made looked like it had fallen from space. It looked like a lump from an asteroid or meteorite. It was so hard, and it was such a crazy shape. And I lost all my confidence after that – that was it. That was the end of my baking career.
Yeah, it’s been resurrected.
What’s the worst thing you could be asked to make in the competition?
I think, for me, it’s anything that needs to be decorated or iced, anything with creative fiddly stuff. I’ll find that difficult. Heating stuff up and warming it and stirring it, and adding one mixture to another mixture, I can do all of that. But add the creativity to it and it becomes a nightmare for me. I used to work in kids’ TV, and I did a show called Exchange, and we had makes on it. And one time I had to make an egg into the shape of a Humpty Dumpty type man, it should have taken two minutes, and it was live on TV. It took me ten minutes, and it looked nothing like it was supposed to look. I had the director in my ear, and instead of directing me and telling me what to do, all I could hear was everyone in the gallery just crying with laughter. Ten minutes of total corpsing about how anyone could bollocks up something so simple.
Have you done anything in the way of practise or preparation for the competition?
When it dawned on me that I had no baking skills, I basically phoned my mother-in-law, who is the queen of baking, and said “Help!” So we baked for about two days running. I tried to escape because she kept such a strict regime. She was great, but I spent quite a lot of time watching. Part of it made me feel a little bit better, but another part of it made me shit myself, because she just seemed to do it so effortlessly.
A lot of people talk about the pressure of being in the Bake Off tent. You have got more pressure than everyone else combined, because your relationship with your mother-in-law depends upon you doing well in this.
She did say to me “Do not let me down.” I think she will probably be watching and tutting. The next time I see her it might be a frosty welcome.
Are you competitive? How badly do you want to win?
Listen, it would be nice to win, but I know my level. I’m competitive, but I’m competitive at things I’m good at. If I know I’m decent at something, if they suddenly said, “You’ve got to take on John Bishop and Nadine Coyle in a basketball match,” I’d be all over that. But baking? This is properly out of my comfort zone, so I’m just going to have fun. I’m just going to enjoy it. And if I sniff a chance at victory, I’m going to be ruthless.
Why is Stand Up to Cancer important to you?
In my lifetime I’ve probably lost close to ten really, really good friends and family to cancer. It’s awful. A lady called Kay, who actually got me into wheelchair basketball when I was about 12 years old. A friend of mine had liver cancer, my father-in-law passed away four years ago to cancer as well. It’s just an awful, cruel disease, the way it ebbs the life out of people, and it’s heart-breaking. So any little part I can play to help make people’s lives easier or find a cure, it’s important. I don’t want people to go through what I have been through, and those who are going through it now, I want to make their lives easier.
You got married in 2018. Do you split the duties in the kitchen?
I’ve been doing a lot more of the cooking over lockdown, so my cooking experience is definitely growing. What we did was we got one of those boxes sent to us with all the ingredients and the recipe, and it makes you feel like you’re some kind of Cordon Bleu chef when really, you’re just following instructions. So during lockdown we have used those. And I sort of started to use some cooking techniques. One of the things I realised was that all you need to do is fry up some garlic and a few onions and you can chuck that on anything, and it makes it tasty.
So if you can follow instructions, you can bake, can’t you?
Yeah, but the big difference here is you’ve got Matt Lucas coming up to you every five seconds going “Five minutes to go!” And as soon as he says it, you start panicking, and everything you’ve learned goes out the window. At home you can take your time and relax, and you don’t have the judges.
As an athlete, you must have been very careful about your diet. Do you allow yourself a lot more in the way of treats now?
Oh yeah, definitely. I was super-strict in terms of what I ate when I competed. What I ate, what I drank, I really watched my calories. Everything was to a regime. And then as soon as I’d finished with all of that, I decided I was going to try all those things that I’d missed, drink a bit more, eat a bit more. Before I saw food as fuel, now I try to see it more as pleasure.
You’ve travelled a lot for your work over the years. What are the best and worst things you’ve eaten?
Ha! The worst thing? I’ve eaten bulls’ testicles in a village in Nicaragua, with the whole village watching us because it was a delicacy and an honour to eat them. Bull’s testicles in stew with rice. That was disgusting. And in Morocco I ate cow’s udder, which was absolutely rank. And then, in Kenya, they tried to get me to eat meal worms, which are those big giant fat worms that explode in your mouth. I refused.
As long as you don’t make anything as bad as that in the tent, you should be okay.