Meet Paul Hollywood from The Great British Bake Off

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry from The Great British Bake Off

Paul Hollywood, The Great British Bake Off has been getting huge ratings. What’s the secret to its success?

It’s a very British show and I think its appeal is the fun of baking cakes. It harks back to when you were a kid – everyone remembers something their mum or grandmother used to bake. I think we’ve tapped into something that’s always been there, and all we’ve done is harnessed it in a tent with bunting, so it remains very British.

There appears to be a renaissance in baking in Britain right now. Are we as good at it as the French?

There’s a different baking philosophy in this country compared to France. Paris, for example, imports more sliced bread than anywhere else. If you talk to the real village bakers in this country, you’ll find, hand on heart, they’re as good as the French.

You’ve become a heartthrob – Paul Hollywood is now compared to George Clooney. What does your wife, Alexandra, think about that?

She tends to laugh about it a lot! When she sees me in the morning, I don’t think she sees me as George Clooney! I’m flattered, obviously, but I don’t take it too seriously. I’m actually quite shy, so the persona you see on the TV isn’t quite the way I am in real life.

You have a nine-year-old son, Joshua. How does he feel about you being on TV?

Sometimes when he has his friends round I’ll hear them saying ‘Your dad’s really famous’, and he goes, ‘Yeah, I know’. It’s very funny. He would never tell me that he’s proud – he’s at that age – but I do get a lump in my throat.

Do you admit that Paul Hollywood is the real star of The Great British Bake Off?

I have been told that, and it’s nice to hear, but we all work as a team on this show.

Like my brother Simon Cowell, you’ve been described as the antidote to TV judges, as you’re seen as ‘firm but fair’. Do you agree?

Yes. It all comes down to integrity, and I’m sure Simon would say the same – if you have something to say, you must follow your heart. I’ve been in the game long enough to know what’s good and what’s bad when it comes to baking.

Simon is producing a new TV show  called ‘Food, Glorious Food!’ Is there any chance you might get involved with it?

No, but I have talked to Simon about a number of new ideas. I can’t say any more at the moment, but we would like to work together. He knows how to make good TV.

Is there any truth to the rumour you’re doing Strictly Come Dancing this year?

No, although I was approached to do it.

Your book ‘How To Bake’ made it to number one in the charts. Did that surprise you?

It was number one until Gok Wan knocked me off! I can’t compete with him. But I’m very proud – the book has proved very popular.

And your baking business supplies products to stores like Waitrose, doesn’t it?

Yes, we develop products for Waitrose under my name. I think it’s good that a supermarket supports the small artisans like me, because it’s always tricky when you’re making something in volume.

The Great British Bake Off won a BAFTA earlier this year. Were you surprised?

Of course – it was a huge privilege, and very exciting, because we’d been nominated before but never won. It just goes to show that the British public likes this whole baking thing. And it meant a lot for me personally, too, because I’d been knocking on the TV door for years, but for a long time baking was considered too niche a market for television. Now it’s a different story – I’ve proved I’m right!

Didn’t your television career happen by accident, in Cyprus?

Yes – I guested on a TV programme over there, baking Cypriot cakes. I began to get more offers after that, but obviously I was especially keen to do something in the UK. Saying that, I’d love to go back now and do a programme from Cyprus, because their baking is very rustic, and you can see the British influence over there too. When you look at baking in each country, you’re looking at the culture of that country.

Not a lot of people will know that you studied to be a sculptor when you were younger. Do you still practise sculpture?

Yes, I suppose in a way I do, because I still use the skills I learned as a sculptor in my baking. When I do that whole harvest-type thing, with the plaiting of the bread – that’s when those skills come into it. When my son was younger and played with Plasticine, he would find me in a corner modelling with it. I still model today, but with sugar paste.

Do you have a favourite pastry?

When I look at something like a humble custard tart, with that little bit of nutmeg on the top… it’s delicious. We may have succumbed to mass-producing these products, but homemade, they really are hard to beat! We bake some fantastic things in this country. Take our scones, for example – they rival anything in the world. What we’ve done on Bake Off is remind everyone how good we really are in this country.

See Paul Hollywood on The Great British Bake Off on BBC2, Tuesdays at 8pm

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