From a job offer at the Chewton Glen to soggy bottoms - Paul Hollywood speaks ahead of first Bournemouth show (From Bournemouth Echo)
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From a job offer at the Chewton Glen to soggy bottoms - Paul Hollywood speaks ahead of first Bournemouth show
It isn’t every day you get Paul Hollywood – master baker and he of the piercing blue eyes – heavy breathing down the phone to you.
He starts our conversation in a laboured way. Does he suffer from asthma, I wonder? Have his years of chucking flour about the place eventually taken their toll on his lungs?
At first we are both too polite to mention anything. Then he comes clean: “I’m terribly sorry, I’ve just run down the stairs,” he admits, catching his breath.
There’s a smile in his voice, but he keeps his professionalism in check.
He has 25 other interviews to do today. Everyone wants a piece of the Great British Bake Off star. And who wouldn’t? He’s a ridiculously handsome northerner with an ability to wheel out gravity-defying Yorkshire puddings and dollops of honest advice.
It’s this knowledge that he is looking forward to sharing when he comes to Bournemouth on Tuesday with his first ever live show: Get Your Bake On!
Paul will be demonstrating recipes, revealing some of the secrets of being a TV chef and taking the audience on a journey through his life in baking. Then four lucky randomly chosen audience members will be invited on stage to bake with Paul.
“I’m looking forward to getting out and interacting with people,” he tells Seven Days. “I’ll be sharing recipes that represent the stages of my life.”
The 48-year-old was catapulted into the celebrity arena when he and Mary Berry were paired together as Bake Off judges. It was an inspired decision and one which many attribute to the programme’s success (the last series ended on a high of 9.2 million viewers).
Yet his media career began in 2002 on Carlton Food Network and Taste where he co-presented two TV series with James Martin.
In total he’s been kneading dough for 30 years, enjoying roles at some of the most exclusive hotels, including head baker at Cliveden, Chester Grosvenor and The Dorchester.
It all could have been all very different, as Paul originally trained as a sculptor. It was his father, a baker, who made him don a pinny.
“Dad owned a chain of bakeries and said ‘Why don’t you join me?’ “I said ‘no thanks Dad, I’m happy where I am’.
“Then he offered me £500 to get my hair cut and to join the family business. I guess I was swayed by the money. I wanted to buy nice things. Luckily I enjoyed it and it worked out.”
Is he now tempted to sneak off and do a bit of sculpting in his spare time?
“Oh but I do – with the baking,” he explains. “With all the sugar paste, the fondant, the dough, the pastry, all the different materials you have to manipulate.”
He speaks of it like an art, but what of baking as a science?
“Oh yes, the baking part is a science, but the art form comes in when you want to display it.”
And the social side? “No, baking is quite a solo thing. The social side is when it comes to eating it!”
He also throws other baking superlatives into the mix. “Right now it’s cool, it’s funky, it’s rock and roll.
“It’s all embracing – from ages from five to 95. It involves everyone.
“Everyone seems to be into baking. They are genuinely interested.
“With Bake Off, we have given it a format, a framework.”
The ‘George Clooney of Baking’ has also added a sternness that has made contestants’ bottom lips wobble, merged with a boyish vulnerability and a natural on-screen charisma.
It’s obvious he has a cracking relationship with Mary Berry. Would there be anyone else he’d be interested in working alongside?
“No” is the emphatic answer.
Then silence. Simple as that. No.
Perhaps his fingers are still burning following his stint on the US version of Bake Off last year when he got caught with his hand in someone else’s cookie jar. Hollywood admitted to an affair with co-host Marcela Valladolid – something he later described as “the biggest mistake of my life”.
His wife Alexandra called time on their 15-year marriage, and he left the Kent marital home they shared with 12-year-old son Josh. Yet at Christmas the couple reconciled.
Paul won’t answer any questions about his private life, but positively encourages ones about baking. On Tuesday night he will try to answer as many as possible from the audience.
The list of things he is always asked is as long as a French stick.
He relates it over the phone without pause: “Why-do-my-sponges-drop-in-the-middle-do-I-take-eggs-out-of-the-fridge-why-do-my-muffin-cases-pull-away-from-the-sides-what-about-baking-blind?”
I wasn’t going to mention the bakers’ nemesis – the soggy bottom – but he adds it to the end of the list. To a baker, it’s a very real concern.
Are there ever times he wants to leave the sogginess behind and do something completely different?
“I always wanted to be a fireman. I’d like to try that for a couple of days as a challenge. I’m probably too old for that now.
“A friend of the family was the head of Merseyside fire brigade so I got to go there sometimes. I have a picture of me at the age of six with a fireman hat and fender.”
Yet he insists if he were to give any advice to his younger self, he wouldn’t have his career any other way.
“I’d keep it exactly the way it was. I gave up my youth for the industry. I was up early, I was up late. I dedicated my life to it but I enjoyed it.
“But I would have told myself to go a bit more slowly while going around the corner at that cliff in Paphos. I came off my motorbike!” he laughs.
The chef lived in Cyprus for six years, a time he considers to be among the highlights of his career.
“Baking and learning about the social side of the Med was fantastic. You don’t get that sort of chance all the time.
“Working there was such a laugh.
Back then I was a simple baker trying to earn a crust. Then the TV thing kicked off. I had no idea it would take me where it did.”
Despite his travels, he admits he hasn’t ever ventured to Echo country.
“I haven’t been down that way but I’d like to. The New Forest – that’s where the Chewton Glen is? I was offered a job there. I should have taken it,” he chuckles.
So what is coming up for this salt-and-peppered kneader and shaper?
“I’m doing more books – late this year and early next. My three books (100 Great Breads, How to Bake and Pies and Puds) have done very well.
“I love passing on knowledge and I enjoy writing. I make regular contributions to foodie magazines.”
Above all, he wants to bring back the art of baking to the masses.
“My nana was a great baker. I think everyone remembers that about their grandparents.
“I want to re-introduce that to this generation. We don’t want to lose it.”
Paul Hollywood Live – Get Your Bake On! Is at the Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre on Tuesday.