Bake Off’s Paul & Mary: ‘They’re almost professionals this year!’

The Great British Bake Off judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry tell TV Times magazine why this series’ contestants are just too good…

Do you miss The Great British Bake Off as much as us when you’re not on TV?
Paul: “I finished filming the US version of …Bake Off and within a week was back filming this so I’ve been doing it since February, but I love it with a passion. It’s such a laugh to do. It’s great catching up with Mary and presenters Mel [Giedroyc] and Sue [Perkins]. We’re like family.”
Mary: “I do miss it and its popularity constantly surprises me. I was with Jamie Oliver and he was saying how much his wife, Jools, and kids love the show. It’s a family occasion, everyone watches together and has their opinion of who should win. How lovely.”
Paul: “It’s the modern Generation Game, that’s what it is. It hits the demographics of the country from age five to 85.”

How did you choose this year’s contestants?
Paul: “Thousands applied and from 6,000, Mary and I saw about 200. They had to bring us a bake and then we gave them a challenge, which they didn’t know about.”
Mary: “You don’t get to be on …Bake Off without knowledge. We interview them, they bake for us, we discover who’s got the theory in their heads. But I must say, I found the chosen 13 daunting to judge once filming started. The standard was so high. They’d all watched previous series and knew what was expected of them so they walked in with confidence. I just thought, ‘HOW are they going to get any better?'”

They’re that good? Do we see them improve?
Paul: “The baking’s fantastic, they’re almost professionals this year, which makes it harder to critique as there’s little wriggle room for improving. It shocked me. But you judge by raising the bar to professional level and soon enough, people slip through. It’s down to the nitty gritty though.”
Mary: “Contestant-wise, we’ve got a good mix – young and older, mums and professionals; but remember, when it comes to judging we’re immensely fair. Only the very best make the final and it’s nothing to do with their personal stories, it’s only about the bakes”

Talking of which, any new trends from the bakers this year?
Mary: “Not especially. We had a lot of macaroons one year, and glitter over everything another, which I wasn’t mad on.”
Paul: “It’s themed anyway, with episodes focusing on pies, breads, cakes and pastries. What we’ve done slightly differently this year is opened it up to a more European style of baking, allowing French and Italian influences in.”

Can you tell us about this year’s dreaded technical challenges? Ever worry you’ll run out of them?
Mary: “We can’t reveal any, they’re secret. It’d spoil it. Suffice to say we give them classics to bake, with incomplete recipes and limited methods.”
Paul: “We could do …Bake Off for the next 10,000 years and never run out of technical challenges. Mary, researchers and myself come up with them. I never think they’re a step too far. I use my mum as a benchmark. If she could do the challenge then anyone can.”

Do you have any sympathy for the bakers taking part?
Mary: “I have every sympathy…”
Paul: “I don’t! They choose to be in the limelight, Mary.”
Mary: “I feel for them when they lift that tea towel in the technical challenge and register sheer terror. Some haven’t got a clue what to do.”

We hear there was a bloody beginning to …Bake Off…
Mary: “We had one really bad, cold weekend filming and what with the cold and the contestants’ nerves – they all chopped themselves! We had a very good medic who was never busier with the blue plasters.”
Paul: “He ran out!”

What’s your favourite part of the whole …Bake Off process?
Paul: “For me, it’s the first time I walk into the tent to judge. They’ve met me as Mr Nice Guy in the auditions, but once I walk into the tent I’ve got my judging head on and don’t talk to them, get involved or meet them socially for a drink afterwards. For the sake of the competition I’m not interested in them, just what’s on the plate. I love being in that zone.”
Mary: “My favourite bit is watching them walk up to us with their show stopper bake. They walk with such pride, having practised it on friends and family – they just want to show off and wow us. And usually do. Wait until you see this year’s efforts – they’re exceptional. Viewers are in for a treat.”