Can you bake?
No. I can cook, but I can’t bake. Turns out there’s a huge difference, mainly the importance of precision measuring! I also don’t do baking, because I have an issue with the food mixture, in that I love it so much I can never get it into the oven, I literally eat the lot. So, if I’m lucky I’m left with a small biscuit. I’m not even joking; I don’t think I’ve ever made a successful cake. I’ve tried to, but I’ve just eaten the raw mixture. Frankly, that was probably a lot nicer than what’s likely to come out of the oven at the end.
What do you think your strengths and weaknesses in baking might be?
Well, I quite like all the presentation side of it, all the smoke and mirrors to actually disguise what you’ve baked. I like the artistry of that. The bit I don’t like is that it all has to be so precise. It doesn’t really suit my rather slapdash way of doing things in a tearing hurry.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters?
Well, apart from the aforesaid cakes, which never actually end up on the table because they’re in my stomach, I had a bit of a disaster on Come Dine With Me. At one point all the contents of the paella ended fell on the floor, so I had to shovel up slippery fish and slop it all back in the pan, but no-one seemed to notice. That sort of thing happens a lot – there’s a lot of things slipping off work surfaces. And me and a mixer seem to be a fairly chaotic combination. You have to get the speed right, otherwise the icing sugar goes everywhere but in the bowl.
You mentioned Come Dine with Me. How did you do on the show?
I loved it. It was years ago. It was a real laugh. I like cookery things where it doesn’t really matter what the outcome is. My overriding memory is Roland Rivron running down the street in one of my jumpsuits at 1am and the neighbours calling the police.
What’s the worst thing you could be asked to make in the competition?
Something very delicate. I’m absolutely useless at painstaking sleight of hand stuff like spun sugar. That would probably make me collapse. But I’m quite looking forward to the technical, to be honest, because I quite like plodding through something very methodically.
Have you done anything in the way of practise or preparation for the competition?
No, I’ve literally had no time, because I was working on something else and I also had only a week’s notice. In any case, our oven at home is completely broken, and we’re waiting for a new one. In the meantime, if you want to cook something, you have to make a plan four hours in advance, just for it to crank up to the correct heat. So, in the end, I just thought “Sod it., I’ll just have to go with it.” It is what it is.
Did you spend much time in the kitchen during lockdown?
Yes, I did. I loved it. But I was cooking, not baking. I absolutely adore cooking. It’s very much more instinctive, and all about trying out flavours, a bit of this, a bit more of that, whereas baking is so exact, it’s a science. Honestly, it’s like being in double chemistry at school. But it was a revelation on Bake Off having an oven that worked - and seeing the alchemy of how the dough mixture transformed into something else through the oven door. I found it absolutely transfixing. I was down at the oven door level the whole time, looking.
Are you competitive? How badly do you want to win?
I don’t think there’s a chance of that. But no-one is taking it very seriously anyway. It’s for Stand Up to Cancer. Put it like this – I haven’t got a baking career and a cake book planned off the back of this.
There’s not going to be a load of ‘Anneka’s Patisseries’ springing up all over the place?
No, it’s just not going to happen. So therefore, it’s lovely, there’s no responsibility or pressure.
Why is SU2C important to you?
I love getting involved with Channel 4 and their Stand Up To Cancer programmes – I did Celebrity Hunted a few years ago. It’s just great to be part of such an amazing campaign. It’s a great combination, to be involved in a really fun bit of television but at the same imparting an important message and encouraging people to get involved and donate.
Looking back to the days of Challenge Anneka, which project meant the most to you?
Many of them are celebrating 30th anniversaries this year, and the most heartening thing for me is the legacy of the programme, the fact that they’re going strong and that I’m still in touch with them. Dozens of volunteers are still involved. For example, two firemen, Rudy and Sean, fund themselves year after year to travel to Romania to work with the orphans from our orphanage, who are now adults. It really has been my life’s work. The legacy is massive to this day, even though it’s not on our television screens. It’s difficult to single one particular project out, as in their own way they’ve all been life-changing to someone. But I love the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre challenge where we built a huge indoor arena. It’s run by an amazing nun called Sister Mary Joy who I am in regular touch with. The Challenge had it all – a nun, children, ponies, even some prisoners. I drove my buggy into Wormwood Scrubs Prison and asked for help. A couple of prisoners were allowed out and got into the back of the buggy. As we drove, I shouted, “what are you in for?”. “Murder” they shouted back.
You’ve been on Bake Off: An Extra Slice – so is it fair to say you’re a proper Bake Off fan?
A proper Bake Off fan. I watch it whenever it’s on, drooling and dribbling. I’ve never managed to get through a whole show without having to rush down the road during the break and buy something sweet and rush back. I’ve tried, I just can’t do it. It triggers everything that I love. I love cake. It’s my absolute Achilles heel. The Junior Bake Off series this year was epic. I love the way the kids all help each other, have chocolate all round their faces and cry. I’m an emotional wreck watching it.
As well as Bake Off and Come Dine with Me, you did Hell’s Kitchen.
Yes. That was just brutal and revolting. There, the chefs just call everyone the C-word, honestly, it’s horrible. It was very much the uglier side of kitchen life. It’s a complete 360-degree turnaround to go into the Bake Off tent, which is just full of people wanting you to enjoy yourself and create something gorgeous. It’s heaven.
So, you’d rather be critiqued by Paul Hollywood than Marco Pierre White?
Yeah. Marco Pierre White was just there to shovel out abuse. Not so much him, the sous-chefs. It’s just horrible, it’s brutal. It was very manipulated. They wanted you to feel brutalised, I think, so that you broke. But it was horrible. A really unpleasant experience, which was a shame, because frankly television shouldn’t really be unpleasant.
You’re also an accomplished painter. Do you think your artistic background will come in handy?
Yes! I think it could be my secret weapon. Paul Hollywood has just asked to have the portrait of him that I did this morning which formed part of my first challenge. So, I’m very chuffed about that. I painted myself out of a hole.