You recently reviewed your own book on Amazon and gave it five stars. Could you rate your baking skills out of 10, please?
I’d go five stars, again! I can follow a recipe, but I don’t bake very often, and I don’t have much experience. I only vaguely know how much I don’t know. I know there’s a world of baking. So, this weekend, for example, in preparation for the showstopper, I made choux pastry for the first time. Prior to that I’d never made choux pastry, I don’t think I’d made any pastry. I’ve never made bread. I’ve never made a cake. I’ve made cupcakes, I don’t think I’ve ever made a full-size cake. Maybe once. I’ve done a few little things – brownies, banana bread, flapjacks, one or two other things, but basically that’s it.
Who taught you how to bake?
I would say I’m self-taught. Although my wife is keener on baking than I am, so she’s taught me a little bit. Things that you wouldn’t know otherwise, like using parchment. When I grew up my mum did a tiny bit of baking, but the whole thing about putting in cupcake papers, or putting parchment down, and having those cake tins where the bottom can come out, all of that is quite new to me. I’ve seen my wife do it, I haven’t really done it.
Are you a Bake Off fan?
Yes, big fan.
Did that make you nervous about appearing on the show?
I don’t think so. First of all, I know that this is a fun variation on the normal bake off. I’m not under any illusion that I’m in it in the way that the normal contestants for Bake Off are, where it’s week-in, week-out, putting a huge amount of care in, practicing like mad, and wanting to get to the final. For me, this is just a break from the routine, it’s two days. And my sense, from watching both the normal version of the show and the celebrity version, is that Prue and Paul understand that we’re here not as people who fancy ourselves as bakers, but as celebrities who are up for raising some money.
So you’re not judged by the same standards.
I don’t think so. I think they cut us a bit of slack.
Who do you want to impress the most? Paul or Prue?
I couldn’t choose. I’d love to impress them both, I guess.
Who do you see as your biggest competition?
My guess is Jenny Eclair. She’s been saying she doesn’t like to bake, she never bakes, she hasn’t baked in 30 years or something. But I think she’s hiding a bit of a talent.
Have you had any baking or culinary disasters?
I think I’ve had quite a few. There’s probably one-in-ten dishes that go seriously skewwhiff. It’s rare that it’s not, in some respects, salvageable, but it’s not uncommon that it’s underwhelming or disappointing. I hate waste. Sometimes I use ingredients that are on the turn, and I think “You know what, I can get away with it!” Especially if there’s fruit and veg that’s sort of on its way out, I’ll turn it into a soup. And it ends up being disgusting.
What do you think strength in your baking might be?
I don’t know if it’s a strength, but I’ve made a LOT of banana bread over the years. I don’t like throwing out bananas. You buy six bananas, you eat three, and three are left over, and before you know it, they’ve gone black. So you peel them, put them in a little zip-lock bag, and freeze them. And when they start to mount up on the weekend, pick up a couple and do a nice banana loaf.
Why are you supporting Stand Up to Cancer?
I’m doing it for three reasons. One reason is because I’ve got a book out, and I’ve positioned it in the kitchen, and I’m holding it and using it to help me knead the dough and to prop up saucepans. I’m trying to get it into shot as much as possible. The second reason is to raise awareness and raise some funds for the fight against cancer. And the third reason, and maybe the real one, is that I’m a fan of the show and my family loves the show. I haven’t done a lot of reality TV, and maybe I’ve been a bit precious about not doing TV that wasn’t essential to my work. And I thought “I’m going to turn 50 next year, maybe I’ll start saying yes to things that, in the past, I might have viewed as frivolous if I feel like my kids might get a kick out of it. So I’m slightly doing it for them and for myself, as a family adventure.
Did you get any advice when you were preparing for this show?
I’ve had some advice from the producers, and I’ve been talking to my wife Nancy, but I’ve not had much advice.
Are you competitive? Do you want to be star baker?
Sometimes I don’t know how much something is going to matter to me until it happens. I’m not always in touch with my feelings. I think, if I could win the technical, that would mean a lot.
How do you feel about the technical challenge?
I’m kind of into it. I’m looking forward to it.
What would be the worst thing you could be asked to make?
I think bread would be really hard. I’ve never successfully made bread. Bread, bread rolls… Things like cupcakes, cakes and biscuits are relatively straightforward, but bread’s got this mysterious quality where I think it’s hard to get it right.
If you were a baked good, what would you be?
I think I’d probably be some kind of nutty chocolate brownie.
Talking of baking, you are on Tom Cruise’s cake list. What does that mean?
Well, I think he’s a guy who’s incredibly proactive about being friendly. What it means concretely is that if it’s your birthday, he sends you cupcakes. I don’t think he makes the cupcakes, I think he’s got a person who makes beautiful cupcakes. Or if it’s the birthday of someone very close to you. I think that’s what it means. But I have to admit, he didn’t send ME any cupcakes, he sent them to my granny, and that was only because my cousin, Justin, who’s an actor, wrote Tropic Thunder, which Tom Cruise was in. So I think, after that, they became friendly, and then Justin mentioned to Tom that it was our granny’s 100th birthday. And Tom sent her cakes when she turned 100. But I was wondering whether there’s a link with Scientology. Whether you get to some level where you get a certain power over cupcakes. I’ve read quite a lot about Dianetics and Scientology, and I don’t remember anything about cupcakes.
So you’re saying that if you’d become a powerful Scientologist, this would have been an absolute breeze for you?
It would, because you get a certain power over inanimate objects.