Paul Hollywood: 'I'm all revved-up for new Bake Off'
With baking fever about to rise again, tough-talking, petrolhead judge Paul Hollywood tells Keeley Bolger why going to bakeries makes him nervous
Paul Hollywood is stripping off his leathers as he settles down to discuss the forthcoming sixth series of The Great British Bake Off. 'Discussion' is a generous term, though - he's not about to give away any of the particulars of the show any time soon.
"This year the contestants have all been exceptionally good from the off," Hollywood says, as he loosens a leg from his motorbike trousers. "They didn't bond like some of the other groups did right from the beginning, but from week three or four they did.
"They were so into their work and very professional in the way they attacked everything. Even coming down to the final, it's going to be a real game-changer."
Fans of the cosy baking series, which moved to BBC One last year, will be familiar with the way the 49-year-old can reduce contestants - even the "very professional" ones - to jelly-like jitters when he and fellow judge Mary Berry assess their efforts.
In spite of the steely glares and his tough judging style, though, Hollywood isn't without a sense of humour about himself, and chuckles when his leather striptease - after peeling off his bike gear, he's left sporting sensible jeans and a shirt - is brought up in a later conversation.
"My sense of humour's good," notes the master baker, who lives in Kent with his cookery author wife Alex and their teenage son Joshua.
"I'm from the North West and that's where my sense of humour comes from," adds the Wallasey-born foodie. "You've got to have a sense of humour doing TV. If you haven't, there's something not quite right with you."
Hailing from a long line of bakers, Hollywood relies on that sense of humour when he finds himself being bombarded with questions about the colour of his eyes.
"They're blue, you know what I mean?" he says, batting away references to his heart-throb status. "Some people say if you had brown eyes, would you be a different person? What kind of ridiculous question is that?
"I mean, you are what you are. Mary's actually got the same colour eyes as me. It is something that runs through both judges."
Now in its sixth year, last year's Bake Off final attracted an impressive 12 million viewers. The show also has a string of famous fans, including Claudia Winkleman, Damon Hill and Gemma Arterton. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also revealed they like to tune in.
"Keira Knightley said when she found out the final was on the same night as her premiere, she didn't want to go to it," adds Hollywood, who found it "hilarious" to stumble across an episode while on holiday in Italy and discover himself "speaking fluent Italian".
All seems rosy on the work and home front now, but Hollywood had a rocky time when news of his affair with Marcela Valladolid - his co-star on the short-lived US version of Bake Off - broke in 2013.
While the Hollywoods reunited after a few months and the negative attention died down shortly afterwards, the level of interest in the famous baker's life remains.
"People will come up and say, 'Can you judge that?'," he reveals, joking that he tends to get "nervous" whenever he sets foot in a bakery. "I get that in petrol stations, in pubs. I try not to go to supermarkets now."
Much as he loves having "a giggle" in "innuendo city" with Berry and pun-loving hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, Hollywood has enjoyed having the chance to leave the Bake Off tent and "do something different" recently.
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie ("100%"), his hat was never in the ring for the Top Gear presenting gig ("Top Gear is Chris Evans, he'll be great at it"), but he has just wrapped on a "top secret" BBC project that will come out later this year.
"I'm not shy on camera as much as I used to be," explains the keen racing driver. "I'm in a very comfortable place and I don't mind it now. I'm really quite happy doing it."
He's "comfortable" too about his big birthday next year. "I know ... 40!" he teases (he'll be turning 50 next March). "I'm looking forward to it. I'm in a great place."
And he wants to do something special for fellow judge Berry's next milestone birthday, in nine-and-a-half years' time.
"Mary sat on one of my bikes last year, but she hasn't been on a ride on it," he says. "She did say she'd go on the back of one of them, so maybe that's one for the future. Maybe for her 90th, I'll stick her on the back."
Hollywood was back on the road recently - albeit without Berry - to discover more about his roots for an emotional episode of BBC 1's Who Do You Think You Are? dedicated to the baker.
Although he hasn't thought about how he'd like to be remembered by his descendants, he does have one wish for future Hollywoods.
"I've put a couple of books out, so if I get them baking, I've done my job," he concludes, with a laugh.
- The Great British Bake Off, BBC1, Wednesday, 8pm