You guys know how excited I was when I was finally able to share the news that my lovely and talented friend Jordan was a contestant on this year’s Great British Bake-Off! The standard of contestants was incredibly high this year, and Jordan went home in week three. Now he’s here to give us the inside scoop on what it’s really like applying to the Bake-Off, and getting your fifteen minutes of fame!
Tell us about applying to the bake-off – when did you first decide to apply and what was the process like?
Well like most people reading this, it all started out with a love for the show itself. Now I was never the baker in the household, I left that task to my girlfriend. After the first season started though, I thought that I might like to try to “bake along” with the show. I tackled each week’s technical challenges with the reasoning being that I would go into each with the same amount of knowledge as the bakers on TV. As the season finished I found that I had quite a love of baking in general and I would look forward to each weekend when I could dedicate some time to the kitchen. I would put each bake (or at least the more successful ones) onto Facebook and deliver slices to nearby friends and neighbours. As my baking improved I started to get more and more people telling me that I should apply for “that baking show on the telly”.
By the time season 3 finished I started to feel cocky with confidence. I downloaded the application form from the website and, almost instantly, terrified myself. If you have ever seen a copy, you will know why. It is full of very detailed questions on you best types of cake, pastry, biscuits, pies and the like, wanting to know exactly how you came upon the idea and both successful and un-successful attempts at each. I decided that maybe, now knowing what the BBC were looking for, I should take another year to work on these skills.
Season 4 came around and showcased the likes of Frances, Ruby, Kimberly and Co. I can remember watching Frances’s bread sticks, complete with big matchbox case, and thinking “phew, bullet dodged there”! You would have thought that this would have been enough to put me off for life but, hounded by friends and family, I yet again downloaded the application form for Season 5.
It was as complex as before but this time I started at it with gusto, filling in a good ¾ of it. I then promptly forgot about it (maybe on purpose). A few months pass and my girlfriend reminds me that I still haven’t finished it. By this point I was sure the application date was over and I had escaped for another year. This was not to be. My girlfriend checked the official website to find that the application date had been extended and I still had another few days to apply!
I finished the application and sent it off, thinking that would be the last of it. The rest, well I suppose that is common knowledge now. Suffice to say that there were lots of phone calls that then lead to lots of visits to London to deliver cake I had made at home, smile on my face and trying to impress! I was very aware that, although this is a baking show, you can’t be dull as dishwater or it won’t make good telly! I played my natural boisterous character to the max, talking to as many people as possible and not shying away from any cameras. I’ve always referred to myself as the world’s most extrovert introvert. I will always be the first throw myself into the mix and try and get to know people although, quite often, I would much rather be the quiet one in the background. Like I say though, you want to be on TV, you need to play a character. Even if that character is just an extension of your real self.
I had to make myself available at a moment’s notice as sometimes I would be getting a call on a Wednesday evening to travel to London on the following Friday, taking a few bakes with me in the process. It was a frantic time! The application process was great fun though, if anything I would say it was my favourite part of the whole show. I got to meet some amazing people and have some good fun times.
The whole process from pressing send on the application form to finding out I was on the show took about 4 months. It felt FAR longer!
What was the most nerve-wracking thing about being on the show? What to wear on tv? Meeting Paul and Mary? Or the actual baking?!
The baking, by far! The team at Love Productions do a wonderful job of getting everyone ready for the show, making sure we are fully aware of how the day will run and what will be expected of us. Still nothing can prepare you for the first time you step in that tent!
All the bakers are given the challenges in advance (apart from the technical) and your recipes have to be sent back and checked over by the BBC. Every baker in that tent can cook everything they planned perfectly. At home. In the tent is an entirely different scenario! The stress of having a film crew constantly watching you, not being in your own kitchen, using different ovens and equipment all got to me. Baking for me is a cathartic experience, something I do to unwind after a long day\week, not something to be rushed.
You would know the time limits you were under beforehand and you would practice at home accordingly, making sure that each could be done in the tent with a few mins to spare. That few mins soon gets eaten up on the day though when you have to answer question after question to a producer, wait for a film crew to be available to film you putting something in the oven or one of any number of bake-stopping TV things! I ran out of time on each and every challenge. Some I managed to just about get by, like my Swiss roll, but others were absolute disasters. The 3D biscuit scene sticks in my head as a particularly bad one as I was all of 25% done when they announced 1 hour left on the clock!
By the time I took my showstopper Raspberry bread out the oven at the end of week 3, I could see it was not baked but I had run out of time. There is very few things in life as frustrating as failing to make something as good as you can at home. Especially something you know can be so very, very tasty! I knew by then that my time was over for me in the tent. I had truly been out-baked!
So, who did you really prefer – Paul or Mary? Mel or Sue?
The first time we met Mary, Paul, Sue & Mel is the same for us bakers as it is for you viewers. They walk into the tent on day one and give you the first challenge. You don’t mix with them & you don’t see them outside of the challenges in the tent.
Saying that, I did absolutely love Mel. She treated me like her little brother, trying to whisper clues to technical challenges under her breath and having calming chats when it was all getting a bit too much!
Sue is the funniest person I have ever met, blisteringly cutting in her remarks to Paul! I remember her saying that a joke has lost all its punch if you repeat it so she strived to never repeat herself. This scared me a little if I’m perfectly honest as I knew she was SO much more intelligent then I and would verbally tare me into small mint-balls should I attempt to have a battle of the wits! I hope that mine, Mel and Sue’s paths will cross in the future!
As for Mary and Paul, aloof is the word that springs to mind. I can’t comment too much on them as I really didn’t get the chance to get to know them really. Paul seems like a thoroughly nice fella and an incredibly knowledgeable baker. Mary, like a very posh gran. If I ever saw them again then I would say hello but I think our conversation would probably end there!
Did you pick up any life-changing baking tips or tricks from the other contestants?
I remember three things from my time in the tent. The first is Nancy’s method of filling the inside of a cake, placing delicate dots of filling in the middle to create a beautiful effect from the outside instead of my normal technique of simply splodging it on with a pallet knife!
The second is Chetna’s Chutney from week 2. Simple ingredients cooked quickly. This is something I need to take on board as most of the time my recipes are long and involved and don’t end up tasting anywhere near as good as Chetna’s food! I would share the recipe with you. But then I would have to kill you. This one we bakers are keeping to ourselves!
The third is Luis and Kate’s bread shaping from week three. I pride myself on my bread shaping ideas but these two both had me beaten hands down! Twisted and folded back on itself, I still don’t think I have got the technique down yet. Luis use of Golf Leaf on his showstopper bread will always stick with me too. As much as I give him grief over it, I absolutely adored the pizazz element!
Filming the series must have been difficult to balance with your everyday life – how did you do it?
With great difficulty! I am fortunate that I don’t have children as I think it would have been the death of me. I tip my cap to those contestants that do have kids, I honestly have no idea how they found the time to do anything!
I regularly found myself baking until 1am before collapsing in bed, ready to get up for work again at 7am! I baked 140 savoury biscuits before week 2 so I could be sure I had the chili levels correct. Crazy times indeed! I have a very loving girlfriend who supported me the whole way through the competition, without her I don’t think I would have gotten as far as I did!
Don’t think of applying for this show unless you are happy to give a full year of your life up. I mean that in the most serious way possible. You will not have time for any other hobbies. You WILL use up every holiday hour you have for the show. The bake-off becomes your life as soon as you start the audition process. I’m glad I did it but I am ready for a holiday, that’s for sure!
How has your life changed since GBBO started being aired?
Being on the show has been a mixed bag for me. I always knew that the one part I would never enjoy would be actually being on the TV and my fears have certainly been confirmed! I have for many years considered myself to be a Marmite man, you either love me or hate me and the public’s reaction has certainly shown that I think. I have had lots of lovely messages from people and some wonderful support, especially from my home town of Nottingham. I have also had an awful lot of hate and nastiness thrown my way. Mainly for silly things like the way I talk or my, rather colourful, dress sense and hair!
I am used to this, having been bullied throughout my school years, and I vowed at the very start that I would not let it affect me. Still, it’s hard not to take it to heart when you receive your 100’th awful email of the day!
I have had the press turn up on my door, hounding me for an interview. I have had the national papers take my words and twist them to their own agenda. This, all over a bit of cake. The mind boggles.
Still, now my time in the tent is over, I find life slowly returning to a normal pace again. I am enjoying my small amount of fame round Nottingham, appearing on the local radio or the local papers weekly with recipes and baking advice. I am being lucky enough to work with some wonderful charities and local organizations, baking cake and promoting causes I hold dear to my heart. My schedule is booked for many weeks to come, all with people that want to be able to meet and greet me. For this I am stunned but very thankful.
How do you feel about baking now that the Bake-Off is over? Has it made you even more passionate than before?
The thing the Bake-Off has taught me, above all else, is how much I love to bake. This was always a starting stone for me, using the bake-off to promote myself into the baking world. I have been baking far more at home and for various events around the county and have been feeling myself get better every day.
Baking to me isn’t about being on TV or about fame and infamy. It’s about making beautiful things for those I love. I hope to continue along this path and one day have my own little bakery where I will be able to spread some baking cheer to others.
What’s your biggest tip for anyone thinking about applying for the Bake Off in the future?
Think seriously before you do. Are you able to commit yourself fully for the length of time needed? Will you be able to stand up to the pressure of having your work, which you will have put such love into, torn apart by professionals without breaking at the seams? Will you be able to handle the attention you could receive, should you get onto the show?
Above all else, do you have a good range of abilities? Simply being able to make a really good sugar-craft decorated cake will not cut it. The bake-off is not simply a cake decorating competition (not taking away from what an incredible talent that is though) but an all-round baking\cooking\decorating competition. The standard gets higher every year so you HAVE to proficient in as many skills as possible.
Did I enjoy the experience? Immensely! Would I do it again? Never in a million years!
Do you see baking becoming a bigger part of your life long term?
Baking isn’t a hobby or an interest for me anymore. Not like it used to be. Baking is now who I am. It is an integral part of my life and I aim it to stay that way for many years to come. After going through such a crazy process such as the bake-off, I will never be the same again.
I hope to start a college course soon, learning the professional skills of the craft. After that, who can say! I’ve always been a big believer in grasping at every opportunity that life hands you so I’m sure you haven’t heard the last of me yet (just no more TV shows, OK?)!