Last autumn fans rejoiced as The Great British Bake Off returned under exceptional circumstances and this year is no different.
Once again the amateur bakers competing to be crowned the UK’s best were obliged to test and self-isolate before entering a Covid-free bubble. In this case, a six-week stay at the luxurious Down Hall Hotel.
A long time away from family, maybe. But if last time is anything to go by (9.2 million tuned in to witness Peter Sawkins triumph), the 12th series will be well worth the extra measures.
“We were in a lovely hotel, getting really good food, I had my dog with me, and we’re eating cake for a living – so you can hardly complain about the job,” says Dame Prue Leith.
“There was (also) yoga, meditating, tennis, pizza nights,” adds co-judge Hollywood.“Prue taught floristry skills; I taught a load of people how to use nunchucks…”
“And we could play boules, old ladies can play boules, which I enjoyed,” adds Leith, 81. “It’s about all I can do now as I can’t play tennis, I can’t go riding, I can’t do any of the things that I used to do, so boules it is!”
Also back are co-hosts Noel Fielding (who allegedly threw a bubble-secure indie festival) and Matt Lucas. All this in addition to the top-tier baking, of course.
“The standard this year is certainly the highest I’ve ever encountered,” says Hollywood. “I think the semi-final was harder (to judge).”
Leith agrees: “We did have very good bakers in the final. If I had to choose one episode that I would say you have to watch, it’s the semi-final. They were so good that we had no idea who was going to win.”
So, with standards so high, were there any disasters of note?
“There was a bit of a collapsing going on…,” says celebrity chef Hollywood.
“And there was the most over-flavoured bake I’ve ever had on Bake Off,” recalls. restaurateur Leith. “It was unbelievably ill judged, and it was surprising because it came from a baker who was so good with flavour. It can happen to anyone.”
It’s been a summer to remember for Leith, who was named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
“Paul bought me some really fancy champagne, and we had a party at about three o’clock in the afternoon,” Leith reveals. “Flowers and cake, a sing-along, it was great. I felt like a child with a birthday party only with alcohol!”
“I’ve worked with three dames, Dame Prue, Dame Mary and Dame Edna, and I won’t bow to any of them!” teases Hollywood. “Good on her. Prue’s done an amazing job, so we had a little bit of a party and then we added ‘Dame’ at the beginning of her name on the hut.”
The Great British Bake Off, Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe