How would you describe your role in Junior Bake Off, and what does this series promise?
Well I would describe my role as being the serious face of judging. This series promises amazing baking across the board. I have loved getting to know Harry he is such a lovely genuine man and so funny. Liam was really knowledgeable as a Judge and it was great watching him put the junior bakers at ease and it’s been wonderful to work with the young bakers.
Are the kids this year as good as The Great British Bake Off contestants?
I would say the kids are very nearly as good as the GBBO contestants, and range from nine to 15 in age. But we don’t make allowances for the younger ones, as surprisingly some of them are as good as the older ones. Overall they have less experience than the Bakers on the GBB0 and can’t correct their mistakes so easily, but they are pretty much on a par with them I would say.
What did you enjoy the most working on the series?
I loved the bakers, they are so diverse – such different backgrounds and personalities – all of them such good fun and all passionate bakers. They come from all over the country and have different hobbies and different outlooks. I just loved them.
Can you tell us your signature bake or what you get most asked to bake for family and friends?
My signature bake is a bit boring but the rather delicious River Café Lemon and Polenta cake, and I then present it with crème fraiche and raspberries. I also love making a rich fruit cake with marzipan, that always goes down very well with the family.
Who is your best/worst critic?
My husband is my best and worst critic, and I will take it on the chin, and try to improve. Overall he is full of praise and hugely encouraging. He loves watching Bake Off whereas I find it difficult to watch myself as I tend to look at all my wobbly bits.
Where is the location for Junior Bake Off ?
We film in the stunning grounds of a school in Kent, with beautiful surroundings and the weather was lovely, and of course we have the famous big white tent.
What do the presenters and Judges do backstage when they are not filming?
I was recovering from the Achilles tendon accident. So I would either ice my foot or sleep and try and get over it. The makeup girls and Liam would play loud music but I quite liked listening to that and would snooze off to it.
Any disasters with filming or giggles when filming?
Everybody is very upset when a baker drops their creation, you can’t really do anything about that you just have to retrieve the situation and make the best of it. So there weren’t any laughs then.
Can you describe the atmosphere on set for the first and last day?
Harry is used to making people laugh, and the young bakers were probably a bit nervous on their first days. After a bit, they would just laugh instinctively when he walked into the room. The first day of each heat is always a bit tense and then after that it got very relaxed. The last day was the most relaxed of a Final that I have ever been to. The finalists felt that they were all winners, there was a great party mood, the weather was good, and the Final was a lovely day.
Who has given you the best advice on baking, been your inspiration or someone who encouraged you in the first place?
I have to say Paul Hollywood, as I am not a great baker, it’s never been my great thing. He has been a great inspiration, and I have been baking my way through Paul’s books, although I would never tell him this but he is my baking hero.
What did you cook at school, and were you a good pupil?
I made rock buns and they were really awful! I also made a Christmas cake when I was really young but I didn’t put the glycerine in the icing and it broke my father’s favourite knife when he cut into it.
What is your best childhood memory of baking?
I always used to make jam tarts in South Africa, and we would grow lemons, and I would pick them and make lemon curd and put that in the tarts.
Will your nieces/nephews/kids/grandchildren love watching you on Junior Bake Off?
Yes all of them will love watching Junior Bake Off, they swell with pride that Granny is on the telly and in a popular show.
Who was your favourite teacher and why, and what was your best subject at school?
My art teacher as that was my favourite subject, I really loved it.
How will you watch the show, and will you have cake?
I am not sure if I will watch it but I think my husband will insist, so I will have to get over my vanity and probably will make him a cake.
Do you think baking should be on the national curriculum and taught in schools?
I have spent a lot of my life campaigning for this, but there is still not enough government input or teacher input to make this work. It’s a shame that cookery isn’t taught up to A Level standard.
Do you bake with your kids/nieces and nephews/grandchildren and how important is it to do so?
Yes I bake with my grandchildren and my new grandson is only 18 months old, so can’t wait for him to grow up and start baking.
Worst memory of a kid’s party – it can be from any time - as a child or adult
Well I remember my son hating children’s parties and I thought it would be fun to do a kind of horror party, using a peeled grape as an eye, and wet spaghetti as guts. But he hated it so it wasn’t very good for anyone!
Bake Off is all about encouraging the bakers to do the best they can. Did the kids grow in confidence and can they see how baking could develop that confidence to grow?
They were nervous to begin with, but they became friends quite quickly, they listened to the advice and improved. It’s about listening to what we have to say and how we want them to do better next time, it doesn’t always sink in, but sometimes it does!
The first time as a JBO Judge – how different is it to Bake Off – and did you miss having Paul around.
Liam was huge fun so I didn’t really miss Paul too much. Liam was a pleasure and had great knowledge. I think because he has been on Bake Off: The Professionals he has absorbed it all like a sponge, excuse the pun. The young bakers adored him and whenever one of them had to leave he talked them through on their own level, saying although you may feel like rubbish today tomorrow you will feel proud of everything you have achieved.
You are pretty kind in the Bake Off tent when it comes to judging, did you have to be much kinder on Junior Bake Off?
I would make sure to talk about all the good things about their bake, before mentioning that it was overcooked or undercooked. You can adjust what you are going to say so that they have time to take in the advice, but at the same time I am there to judge whether it’s good or bad.
Applications are open for GBBO 2020, what advice would you give to an amateur baker?
You can never be too amateur, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t done a lot of fancy baking, it matters more about the taste, then the texture and finally the look of it. If you are a good baker and you have been encouraged to apply you should take heed of that. You have time to learn and practice once you have got through the auditions, the techniques come pretty naturally. You might be a great cake baker and not made bread before but if you really practiced hard for a week making bread you will be surprised at how it is fairly easy to pick up and improve. I would say go ahead and apply, don’t be shy you have got nothing to lose.
So if you or someone you know is a Star Baker in the making then why not apply now! www.applyforbakeoff.co.uk
And finally, if you were a cake at a child’s Party what would you be?
I would want to be an exploding volcano [molten lava] cake with a chocolate fountain coming out of it.
Junior Bake Off, Monday 4 November, 5pm, Channel 4 (transmitting Monday – Friday for 3 weeks)
A Love Production for Channel 4