How success in Great British Bake Off was perfect recipe for new career
Bake Off isn't just great TV, it's a dream career launchpad for many of its entrants. Ahead of the seventh series, Susan Griffin catches up with some of the past bakers whose stars have kept on rising, and Belfast man Iain Watters, who found himself at the centre of Alaska-gate
Iain Watters: One of the Great British Bake Off’s former contestants from Belfast, Iain Watters, has swapped his cooking for construction.
Iain became famous for ‘bingate’ in season five of the popular BBC show when he threw his baked Alaska in the rubbish after another contestant took it out of the freezer.
Now London-based, Iain returned to his original career as a builder after his Bake Off fame subsided.
He was spotted wearing a high vis vest and hard hat at a university campus in east London two years ago, and now cites his occupation as ‘builder and baker’ on his Twitter feed which features lots of his homemade foodie creations.
Speaking after Bake Off, he said: “I have been busy with different building contracts. I have had a few tweets from people who have spotted me.”
After being booted off the BBC one show for his ‘Alaska-gate’ tantrum, he swapped Victoria sponges for layering bricks again.
Iain even shaved off his trademark bushy bread.
Even though he has gone from baking back to building, he reveals he still puts his training to good use and whisks up buns and sweet treats every chance he gets.
“I still bake about two or three times a week when I can,” he says.
He also made a Baked Alaska for Macmillan Cancer Research after he came off the show.
Iain remains a dedicated fan of the show and regular meets up with former contestants at their cook book launches — and will be watching again this year.
Edd Kimber had the honour of being the first ever Bake Off winner, taking the crown in the inaugural 2010 series. Afterwards, he decided to quit his job and pursue a career as a food writer and food stylist, and has published three books, most recently Patisserie Made Simple.
“The thing I remember most about the show is the contestants and the travelling,” he says.
“We were thrown together with a bunch of strangers and spent the next eight weeks with them. It was an intense process and we formed some really strong bonds, and the longer you stayed on the show the stronger that got,” recalls Kimber, who’s since also appeared as resident baker on The Alan Titchmarsh Show. “Our series was the only one to travel around the country and we were lucky to film in some wonderful places. My favourite happened to be the semi-final in Mousehole in Cornwall, a stunning little fishing town on the coast.
“The tent was pitched on the side of the harbour and it was just idyllic.”
Jo Wheatley beat Holly Bell and Mary-Anne Boermans to be crowned winner of series two, and admits the experience “had the most life-changing effect”.
“I absolutely loved my time in the tent and as the weeks passed, my confidence grew and grew, although I never dared believe I’d win,” she says.
“I was genuinely shocked when they called my name, although my boys soon brought me back down to earth when they said, ‘That was good mum, what’s for dinner?’”adds the mum-of-three.
Since taking part in Bake Off, Wheatley’s gone on to do more TV work, become a food writer with two cookery books — A Passion For Baking and Home Baking — and set up a cookery school from her home in Essex.
“Most excitingly, I’m close to completing the acquisition of an idyllic, thatched country pub, restaurant and cafe in Cambridgeshire,” she reveals. “My dream is to create a friendly, cosy environment with home-made food, and a roaring fire in winter, and beautiful outdoor space in summer.”
Now a familiar face on ITV’s Lorraine (he’s currently a resident chef on the show), John Whaite won Bake Off back in 2012, impressing with his fondant fancies and a heaven and hell chiffon cake.
“Almost chopping my finger off still haunts my dreams,” he says, recalling his stint on the show. But the victory served him well: he’s since penned three cookery books — John Whaite Bakes, John Whaite Bakes At Home and Perfect Plates In Five Ingredients, and says he’s “currently writing my fourth”. Whaite also co-presents the Chopping Block cookery series with Rosemary Shrager.
“I’ve appeared on cookery shows across the country, including The Cake & Bake Show, and in January, I opened John Whaite’s Kitchen. It’s a cookery school on the family farm where I grew up,” he explains. “It took two years and was a labour of love which involved all my family, but we’re extremely proud of it and I love teaching.”
Frances Quinn beat Ruby Tandoh and Kimberley Wilson in 2013, and has since been combining baking with her background in design, simply swapping fabric for food.
“From creating The Shard out of gingerbread, sculpting Barbara Hepworth-inspired shortbread to producing bakes for everyone from Quentin Blake to Steve Coogan, no bake or week is the same,” she says. “I have a habit of seeing everything as food and get inspired both in and out of the kitchen, whether it’s an exhibition at the Tate or a musician’s new album.”
Aside from talking food 24/7 with the other contestants, she says her “favourite part of the show was getting to banter with Mel and Sue”.
Luis Troyano credits his love of Bakewell tarts for inspiring a passion for baking, and ultimately landing a spot in the final three of the 2014 Bake Off, alongside Richard Burr and eventual winner Nancy Birtwhistle. Baking always starts with a pencil and notepad. “I draw, then I bake,” says Troyano, who saw his first cookery book, Bake It Great, published last year.
“I’ve also toured the country doing demonstrations and teaching classes, and in June I fulfilled a dream and opened my first bakery, The Hive Bakery in Poynton, my home town,” he adds.
One of his lasting Bake Off memories is: “Paul Hollywood shaking my hand after he’d tasted my ‘opposites attract’ bread rolls. I was completely blown away. It was the ultimate compliment from an authority on the subject.”
Richard Burr, the builder with a pencil always tucked behind his ear, also reached the final in 2014, earning a record five Star Baker awards and producing memorable bakes, including a gingerbread pirate ship and heart-shaped rhubarb and custard doughnuts.
“Since Bake Off, I’ve appeared regularly at food festivals and events across the country, and filmed baking videos for different clients. I also released my first recipe book, BIY: Bake It Yourself, last year and write a weekly blog with recipes at www.richardburr.london,” says the father-of-three. “My most memorable moment on Bake Off was definitely watching back the first episode with my friends and family, and then hearing a swell of applause from them when Paul Hollywood told me that I was in the wrong job.”
Nadiya Hussain is reigning champion, after beating Ian Cumming and Tamal Ray last year — and famously making Mary Berry cry during the emotional final.
“I’ve been busy and having a lot of fun since winning, with some fantastic opportunities. My children say I’m living my dreams,” says the mother-of-three.
Her first cook book, Nadiya’s Kitchen, was released in June, and her children’s book, Nadiya’s Bake Me A Story, is out soon. She’s also made a few appearances on Loose Women. “I’m also a columnist with The Times and Essentials magazine, and have filmed a TV series tracing my roots in Bangladesh, which is out this year,” she says.
Winning the show has granted many unexpected experiences, not least “the privilege of making the Queen’s 90th birthday cake”, she says. “Baking my wedding cake as the final show piece also stands out, because it was inspired by my family. It included my wedding jewellery and was lemon drizzle, my husband’s favourite.”
- The Great British Bake Off returns to BBC One on Wednesday, August 24
- Nadiya Hussain, John Whaite and Luis Troyano will be appearing at the Cake and Bake Show at London’s Excel Centre from October 7-9, and at Event City in Manchester from November 10-13. Visit www.thecakeandbakeshow.co.uk