Positivity is recipe for The Great British Bake Off’s big success, says Prue Leith

Prue Leith (Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire)
Prue Leith (Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire)

BAKE Off is back! That not only means some great cooking but the return to our screens of one of the busiest ladies on TV – Prue Leith.

She’s a cook, teacher, writer, presenter – you name it and she is loving it.

“It’s wonderful to be back on Bake Off, I so loved the last series,” said Prue, who’s 78.

“The challenge the contestants have to meet is incredible, I am glad not to be in their shoes. We watch them at work and learn so much from them.

“It is a myth that if you are branded an expert you must know it all. That’s really not true. If you are a so-called ‘expert’ that means you have had the opportunity to learn a bit more than many other people but you never stop learning and watching the contestants closely means that you pick up little tricks that you might never have thought of on your own. They are all marvellous, winners or not.”

Prue’s enthusiasm is totally real, she is just that sort of a lady. She is energetic and positive about everything.

“I always have been,” she said. “I believe that if you are going to do something you should put your whole self into it. I hate it when I am restricted.

“I think that is why I was never a brilliant schoolgirl when I was growing up in South Africa. I tried different courses but none of them were really me.

“I convinced my parents to let me attend the Sorbonne so that I could really study French. What actually happened was that I fell in love with the idea of cooking and that was where it all really started for me.

“I found that learning about food and different methods for all the varying elements of cooking created in me a passion for it and that carries on to this day.

“I still like to bake and do all different kinds of cooking. I like to teach it too because it makes you feel that you are making a contribution to perhaps someone else’s career or at the very least helping them to be able to provide good food for their families.

“I am still passionate about cooking and I love it when something goes really right in Bake Off for one of the contestants.

“They all work so hard under difficult circumstances and it is a delight to see the happy face of someone who has nailed it and brought to reality their ideas. It is a very positive show.

“I think that is one of the reasons why it is so popular with viewers. These are ordinary people achieving extraordinary things in the kitchen.”

Paul and Prue in the Bake Off kitchen

Prue is not only prolific in the kitchen and on television, she is also a very busy writer both of cookery books and best-selling novels.

“I love writing fiction because there is always an element of fact in the stories but you can let your imagination run wild and go anywhere you want with whomever you want and hopefully your readers will enjoy the adventure and the fun,” she said.

“There has been talk of at least one of my books being turned in to a production for the screen but who knows, these things take a long time and often never actually happen.

“That would be even more exciting of course but I never get carried away with what might be. So many things can change, it is better to just enjoy what you are doing now to the full. If you spend too much time thinking about tomorrow, you can completely miss today.”

It must have been pretty clear from her birth that Prue was never going to have an ordinary life. Her father had an executive role in an African company producing explosives and her mother, Margaret but better known as “Peggy” was one of South Africa’s most famous actresses.

Prue’s formative years were spent from the age of five until she was well into her teens at an English boarding school called St Mary’s. It was in Johannesburg and she had good contact with her family but it was still away from them.

“I think that taught me independence which is quite an asset if you are a cook – you learn how to think for yourself.

“Yes, you can follow recipes but to make the dish your own you have to ad lib it a bit and I think that while there are many drawbacks in going to a boarding school it does help you get used to having to use some initiative.”

Prue is a living testimony to the benefits of thinking for yourself and she is certainly happy with her life.

She lives in Oxfordshire and is now married to John Playfair having previously been married to Rayne Kruger, an author, from 1974 until his death in 2004.

“I never really thought I would find happiness again but now I could not be happier,” said Prue. “I have a lovely husband, great children and grandchildren and we have a lot of fun together. I have a great job – well several jobs I suppose. So life is good.”

Prue has received many, many awards for her work and her charity work. She is both an OBE and a CBE and has a legion of fans who avidly follow her career and turn up at her personal appearances.

“People are very kind,” she said. “I get lots of nice letters from people and I do appreciate that.

“When I was younger I was totally in love with horses and I thought that my whole life would be devoted to them. I liked to be with them all the time, riding them, preparing their food, even mucking out the stables. Just to be with them was all I wanted.

“Then I discovered that boys weren’t so bad after all and, as I said before, along came cooking and I went off in a completely different direction.

“Life just got better and better. I was devastated when Rayne died. I felt as if my whole life had just evaporated but after a while things started to pick up again and while Rayne will never be forgotten, I am indeed very happy again.

“I have had many thrills in life but there are outstanding moments.

“One of them was hearing from my agent that my first novel was to be published.

“I had been wanting to write one for years but never had the time or space in my mind because I was asked to write so many cookery books plus all the other things that were going on. When I heard that my story was really going to be published I was just totally excited.

“The other outstanding thrill was when I heard I was joining Great British Bake Off.

“There was a rumour going around but I had heard nothing about it and then suddenly it all happened. I was thrilled and honoured to be considered OK to follow in the wonderful footsteps of Mary Berry.

“I thought that was fantastic and I still do – it’s great to be back on Bake Off and we are having a wonderful time.”