Paul Hollywood: baking up a treat on tour
It seems an almost surreal concept: a man baking in front of a couple of thousand people who are actually paying for the experience. But this isn’t any baker – this is the man known as the King of Dough and the Professor of Flour.
Paul Hollywood is also a heartthrob, a bit of eye candy for women who tune in to the strangely successful television programme The Great British Bake Off. He makes temperatures soar in the living room as well as the kitchen.
Now he is going around the country with his first tour called Get Your Bake On in which you can “join the artisan baker for an evening of fun, stories, demos and audience participation”.
The company behind the tour obviously think Paul is a big attraction and their faith in him appears justified. A couple of the 23 dates he is undertaking over a four-week period have already sold out and more are being added for November and December.
Paul feels the live shows are a natural progression from the baking demonstrations he’s been doing for the BBC for the past 12 years.
“It gives me my chance to go out there and answer the questions that people are always asking about baking and to get interactive. That’s the difference between what I’m doing on TV – I never get interactive with people.
“People will be able to chuck questions at me throughout the night. There’ll be a roving microphone. I’ll be showing several recipes throughout the night. They’ll cover my life from when I was a kid right the way through to now.
“At the end four people from the audience will come up. I’m going to show them how to do a challenge. They’re going to have to copy it almost Generation Game-style and then the audience will pick a winner. I want it to be a bit of a laugh but interactive and informative are the key things.
It’s as if you’re sitting on a stool in my kitchen. That’s the feeling I want although there’ll be a lot of stools
“If people want to spend a couple of hours with me, I can impart a little bit of the knowledge I’ve picked up over the years.”
Get Your Bake On involves Paul on a stage decked out like a kitchen. There will be a big screen above his head and several cameras focused on him, ensuring that everyone will get a good view.
“It’s as if you’re sitting on a stool in my kitchen. That’s the feeling I want although there’ll be a lot of stools!”
There are some large venues on the tour, including the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham which seats 2,500 people. But Paul, who has often entertained audiences of 3,000 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, is confident there will be an intimate atmosphere everywhere he goes.
“I’ll be getting in the audience, asking people questions, exhausting myself running up and down.”
He then became head baker at a number of hotels around Britain before ending up in Cyprus. There a TV producer approached him and asked him if he’d like to appear in a programme he was making.
When Paul returned to Britain he signed with an agent, filmed a series with James Martin and did “a few bits” with the satellite channel UK Food.
But his career really took off when he passed an audition to become a judge on The Great British Bake Off. The programme which hosts a competition to find the best amateur baker has completed four series and has twice won a BAFTA award in the features category.
So why has it been so successful? Paul feels that people are fascinated generally with baking as well as with the programme which features the doyenne of baking Mary Berry and reunites former comedy partners Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.
“I think it’s nostalgia, I think it’s accessible, I think it’s simple,” says Paul.
“If you’re going to cook, it’s going to take you a while to go out and shop and get the specific things you need. Baking is a more simple than that. It’s just getting a good set of scales, weighing everything up properly, chucking it in the mixer, and then it’s a bit of decorating.
“The programme has got better and better. The contestants are fantastic and of course Mel and Sue are the icing on the cake – they just crack me up, they’re unbelievably funny.”
When I interviewed Mel Giedroyc for Country Images, she confided that she did not believe The Great British Bake Off would last forever. But Paul thinks the programme could have a long life.
“We’ve jumped from 3.4 million to 5.5 to 7.4 to 9.4 million people over the years. It’s got to stop somewhere. And it’s got to plateau. Everything goes round in cycles.
“I’d like to think it will go on like Masterchef for 20 years. But I don’t know. Baking is a part of our DNA in this country. It’s entirely up to the British public. At the moment we’re there. How long it lasts for I’ve got no idea.”
Paul seems to have bounced back from the problems he encountered in 2013 which he admitted was the worst year of his life. He split from his wife Alex for five months after he had an affair with Marcela Valladolid, a co-judge on The American Baking Competition – the US equivalent of The Great British Bake Off.
Paul is reluctant to speak about his private life – but he has strong opinions about why the programme did not achieve the success of Bake Off.
“Its original time slot was eight until nine. Don’t forget in America literally every couple of minutes there’s an advert slot. I think it lost the flow that Bake Off in Britain has.
“Then they moved it from nine until 10 o’clock and of course you lost all your kids because they’re all in school. I think that created a big problem.
“We were still getting six million viewers but when they moved it round it was going to be very difficult for a first series. You have to stick with it. The first year in this country we only got three million but the Americans need an instant hit.”
It appears that Paul does not need success in the States. He is writing another book – he has several to his name already – which should be out in time for Christmas and he will soon start filming the next series of Bake Off.
But he does not regard what he does as a job: “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and I hope I’ll carry on doing it for ever.”
* This article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Country Images magazine