Q&A with Mike Wozniak

Category: Press Pack Article

In an interview for Taskmaster, you said the following: “Name any skill you would use your hands for to make a thing, I can’t do it.” That doesn’t augur well, does it?
No, it doesn’t. It has augured poorly and, I would say, accurately, so far. We’re one challenge in, so far, and I have created something which is edible, but ugly as sin. The decorating element is particularly letting me down. I have woeful ability when it comes to decorating.

Can you bake?
No. I’ve never baked. There’s never been the impetus to bake. There’s a bunch of quite skilled bakers in my family, so I’ve never been called upon to bake. I will gladly cook, although I will admit that even my savoury cooking lacks imagination and flair. It is pretty functional, but it’s survivable. But the baking thing is brand new. I did warn the producers as well. But still they said come. I have to assume there’s been some sort of clerical error somewhere. So here I am, ploughing on, being judged by some of the finest bakers in the land.

Describe your baking style in one word.

What’s your favourite baked good?
Oh. It’s probably a baked cheesecake, for which there is a family recipe.

How much do you cook in everyday life?
Regularly, I would say. A few times a week. Not every day, there’s a couple of people in my household who will happily cook, and I’m one of them. I’m not the best one in my household, though, by any means. So normally, if someone else is doing it, the people who are going to eat the meal are happier.

What’s been your biggest culinary triumph?
Probably the first meal I cooked for myself when I was a student, and I realised there was nothing stopping me from literally cooking an entire packet of bacon and just having that. I think that’s the only moment I’ve probably felt triumphant over the stove. I felt like I’d got one up on the world.

And your biggest disaster?
That might be happening as we speak.

What are the strengths and weaknesses you’ll bring with you into the tent?
Strengths? I’m a good listener. Weaknesses? Baking.

As a former doctor, will you be making your bakes healthy?
Oh no. God no! I don’t understand how that’s possible. Since being asked to come on the show, I’ve been burying my nose in baking books and getting some hints from friends and family who know how to do it, and as far as I can tell it just seems to be copious amounts of butter and sugar. At no point has anyone come up with any healthy suggestions. It’s been quite eye-opening, in fact. Jaw-dropping and shocking, working out what’s actually in these cakes. So, what they’re going to be served will be pretty deadly, on more than one front.

Are there any skills from your professional life that you can bring to bear in the competition?
Probably only the thought in the back of my head that things could be worse, I suppose.

What aspect of the show are you most nervous about?
Probably Paul’s laser eyes. But they’re so nice to people on the show. I think were Prue to actually say something withering to me, that might be it, that might be me done. But she’d be well within her rights to do so.

Are you a fan of Bake Off?
Of course! It’s compulsory viewing, isn’t it? It’s up there with Platinum Jubilee gigs and the monarch's speech at Christmas. Surely everyone sits and watches it, when it’s done you all stand, sing the national anthem and go to bed. That’s my understanding.

What’s it like, walking into the tent for the first time?
Ooh, that’s rather lovely. It genuinely is in a very pretty setting, they haven’t faked any of that. They haven’t faked anything, in fact. The ovens are real, the knives are real, even the lemons and the oranges in the background are real. There’s also lots of very confident and rather lovely bunny rabbits and squirrels nearby, who come very close to the tent when you’re baking. It’s almost Disneyesque levels of adorability going on.

What kind of advice did you get from people ahead of the show?
The main one was “Leave it in the oven until it’s got to come out.” So, no peeking. Quite a lot of people repeatedly reiterated “Just follow the bloody instructions, Mike. No ad libbing.” It was generally felt that if I was sent away from home with a pocket full of very, very clear recipes, I might just about be able to get through it but were I to veer from the path in any way, I’d be toast in moments.

Have you done any practice?
I’ve spent the last couple of weekends baking – I’ve been away from home a fair bit the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in Premier Inns, which very rarely come equipped with a fully kitted out, baking-appropriate kitchen. So, there’s been a couple of heavy-duty stints done in bulk for the last couple of weekends – a series of experiments, a series of noble failures.

What would it mean to you to get a Hollywood handshake?
Ooooh. I think I would feel physically stronger. I think I would feel safe. I think I would feel, in some way, blessed. I feel like I could probably, at that point, retire. I assume it comes with a pension of some sort attached. It would be an immense event – life-changing!

Are you competitive? How badly do you want to win?
No, I’m not. When you’re incompetent, that’s quite helpful. I don’t know whether I was born competitive, but when you are born incompetent, for most of us in that camp, competitiveness is slowly beaten lout of you. You realise you’ll live a happier, more peaceful life without any element of competition. I don’t really have the competitive gene. I can play a family board game without shouting at anyone, which is probably one of my few qualities.

Why is Stand Up to Cancer important to you?
I’m 43. It’s very rare to get to your early 40s and not have a personal story about cancer. Most people my age, first-hand or second-hand, know a loved one who has been affected by it, perhaps made it through, perhaps not. It’s just so ubiquitous. Clearly medical science has made phenomenal progress over the last few decades, but there’s a long way yet to go. There are people valiantly researching, and valiantly working on the shop floor with cancer patients, and they need funding, they need support of all kinds, so I’m very happy to be part of any movement that is part of that support.