Can you bake?
A little bit. I would never say I was expert, and I do it all the time, or that it’s a hobby. When I turn my hand to it, I’m quite exacting, so I get the recipe and I just follow it to the letter, I don’t deviate, and I do exactly what I’m instructed to do. It normally turns out alright, it’s not like it always goes wrong.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strength would be the ability to not deviate from the recipe! I know some people think “Oh, it says that, but I’ll just put another blob in.” I’m big on not doing that. I think the recipes and amounts are there for a reason, so I stick to it. But I think maybe my downfall is that I’m too exacting, and I will get too hung up on trying to make it all perfect, and therefore time will run away from me. That’s the danger for me, I think I could end up getting completely swamped in the minutiae and not see the bigger picture.
Have you ever had any culinary disasters?
Oh yes. I remember when I was at school – this didn’t happen to me, but I got blamed for it. We had to make apple crumble, and the crumble part was fine, but the apples got forgotten. So, it was crumble crumble. And the teacher was like “This is great, this is very nice,” and he was digging down for the next part, and it was just all crumble. So that was an early home economics disaster that I hope not to repeat, where you actually miss an entire main ingredient.
What’s the worst thing you could be asked to make in the competition?
Oh, I think something quite delicate, like eclairs, or some very fine pastry that requires a lot of specificity to it. I think I can do something like a Victoria Sponge, probably, but something that is either right or wrong, and there’s no leeway, I think that would be hard. It’s like meringue, you can either do it or you can’t. And no amount of working on it could get it right in the time we’ve got. The whole experience is very stressful. The clock ticking is quite a scary thing.
Have you done anything in the way of practise or preparation for the competition?
Yeah, I did a bit more baking over the last week. I thought, generally, I should just try and be in the world of mixing and adding butter. I made a few sponge cakes, and I did some icing, because I thought that might come up. They get very particular about what it is that you’re doing. So, I thought a general practice would be good. I haven’t gone to town anywhere else. I didn’t make pastry, I didn’t make bread, so if I wander off the sponge road, I’m in uncharted territory.
Did you do any baking during lockdown?
Yes, I did. We did a lot of cooking, that was something that kept us going really, so it was nice to do stuff that you wouldn’t normally do and be a bit more adventurous with the cakes and the biscuits. I did try making a couple of batches of scones, so that was nice to do. We often go to Cornwall, so we like a cream tea.
Cream or jam first?
Ooh, that’s a good question. Is there a right answer? I think I’m cream first; I don’t know if that’s wrong.
My mother is jam first, so you must be wrong!
Jam first, and then the cream on top? Yeah, I can see that, but I always think the jam sits better on the cream than the other way around.
And the cream is more like butter, and you’d never put butter on top of jam.
No, that’s my train of thought, that’s why I’ve arrived at that. But I appreciate that there are two very different camps.
Are you competitive? How badly do you want to win?
I didn’t think I was competitive. But now I’m not so sure. I think rather than winning, it’s not looking foolish. This is very exposing, isn’t it, as a thing to do, because you can just see if someone is inept or not. So, I just want to be able to do it the best that I can. But now I’m into it, I think I would quite like to win. So that tells you something about me. I don’t want to fail!
Why is Stand Up To Cancer important to you?
You can’t get around the fact that cancer, at some point, will and has probably affected the lives of everybody that we know. It’s the dreads that hangs over humankind, I think. It’s great to bring awareness to it, with a lovely show like this, that’s fun while you’re doing it, but carries with it a message about awareness, it’s there for a reason. Hopefully it will encourage people to put some money towards beating it. How could you not do it? It’s a lovely thing to be part of. And very important – probably the most important thing you’ll ever do, because you’d be very lucky to get through life without knowing someone on the receiving end of a diagnosis. Kit’s such a devastating illness, it touches so many people, how could you not want to be a part of trying to raise awareness and keep the drive going towards stopping it.
We’ve spent so long watching you in rather dark shows, the Bake Off tent doesn’t seem your natural habitat, does it?
No! I think that’s right. And I don’t really do many things where I’m just me. I think I’m quite a private, quite boring person, really. I try to only let the work speak for itself. But yeah, it is mostly quite a dark furrow that I’ve mined over the years. And I’m still, amazingly, being allowed to do so. But there is comedy in the stuff that I do as well and doing Bake Off is also a very funny thing to do. And I know Matt [Lucas] quite well, and I knew he’d be fun to be in the tent with. So, there were a lot of plus points going for it, and I just had to get over myself as far as presenting a version of me to camera.
Do you think people will expect you to come up with rather macabre or twisted ideas for your bakes?
Maybe. I’ve sought of veered, quite accidentally, into a bit of a Halloween theme for one of my bakes, so I’ve already done that accidentally. But I’ve not done anything too macabre. I was thinking about having some icing sugar shards of glass, with red fondant blood, but I thought it was a bit too grisly for Bake Off, so I didn’t do that.
Do you think you might be able to use your experience on the show to create an Inside Number Nine based in the Bake Off tent?
Oh yes, I think there could definitely be room for something. A Number Nine could be anything, really, because you can stick a nine on anything. If we happen to see a number nine on that tent flap as we go in, who knows what could happen once you’re inside.