Why Sara is throwing caution to the wind as show returns
The Great Pottery Throw Down is back for another round of kiln-side tears and tension. Host Sara Cox tells Susan Griffin why it's the personalities that matter most, and exactly what Johnny Vegas is doing popping up in a programme about potters
The Great British Bake Off won't be back exactly as we know it when it begins its stint at Channel 4, but viewers can take heart in the fact its sister show, The Great Pottery Throw Down, is returning to the BBC, with Sarah Cox once again on hosting duties.
The series is made by Love Productions, the company behind Bake Off, but Cox admits she didn't know what kind of reaction to expect when it first aired in 2015.
"I knew it had a good pedigree behind it, but it's quite overwhelming just how much people have taken to it," says the radio and TV presenter, who describes the experience of being back at Middleport Pottery, where the series is filmed, as "a genuine real joy".
"[It's] so exciting. It's nice to be up in Stoke-on-Trent; I absolutely love it there. You see the gas kilns in the distance as you get off the train, it's lovely," remarks Bolton-born Cox.
"And all the crew, who work on so much telly, say it's genuinely one of the most lovely shows to work on because it's got a really good heart to it."
Series two will see another 10 plucky amateur potters, ready to take to the wheel and compete to become the champion of clay.
"We've got such a wonderful mix of people," says 42-year-old Cox. "We've got a mortgage advisor, cage fighter, male model, housewife, somebody who works at the Quaker House; a really lovely mix of people, but all bought together through their love of clay."
She's in no doubt they'll be friends for life after "what we've put them through", saying "it's a real bonding experience".
The success, of course, lies in the casting, and Cox admits it takes "a long time" to find the right mix of people.
"You want all the different personalities in there, and the different backgrounds as well. Obviously, we want people to think of pottery as being something anybody can take up, no matter what your age or your background."
Overseeing their progress are two judges, master potter Keith Brymer Jones and ceramic artist Kate Malone, who task the potters with three creative challenges each episode, designed to test skills and showcase craftmanship.
"We have guest judges this time as well," adds Cox, including ceramic designer Emma Bridgewater, Paul Cummins, who created the breathtaking display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London in 2014 and, perhaps surprisingly, comedian Johnny Vegas.
"He was Kate's pupil when she was tutoring at a polytechnic," explains Cox.
"He came and judged the throw down and he threw for us, and then the guys had to repeat what he did and he was absolutely fantastic.
"It was a real treat for the potters as well, because he actually began in comedy with throwing stuff on stage at the wheel, adding beer instead of water. This time we used water!"
On paper, the show might not sound emotionally wrought, but just as The Great British Bake Off is edited to induce heart-stopping moments, so too is this - and it usually involves the "bloomin' kiln".
"We're slaves to it!" says former model Cox, who's also a mum-of-three, to Lola, 12, Isaac, eight, and six-year-old Renee. "People have their plans but when the nerves are thrown in there and they're up against the clock, it all goes out the window sometimes.
"We have disasters, but equally we did have moments where someone had a completely disastrous start and then they really rose from the flames and pulled it out the bag, so there's some really uplifting bits as well."
Cox, who started out on TV in The Girlie Show and The Big Breakfast in the Nineties, is always on hand to lighten the mood if necessary.
"I sometimes try to make them laugh because we're not saving lives here, we're making something out of clay. It can get incredibly intense but I try and loosen it up a little bit, and remind them to breathe."
As for the innuendos the show's become synonymous with, Cox says: "Funnily enough, the language you use in clay is saucy enough, they're not actually innuendos. I think it would be quite annoying if I was doing a knowing look to camera and a bit of a wink because we're talking about this stuff all the time."
While promoting series one, Cox said the programme had inspired her to try pottery herself.
So has she embraced it?
"No, have I 'eck! Though I'd still love to," she admits. "I did take Lola to Kate's house, where she's got part of her studio, so that was a real treat. Lola absolutely loved it, so if anything, it might be Lola who comes through as the family potter."
Likewise, Cox hasn't taken her art exam, as previously pledged.
"No, but I'd love to get round to it!" she retorts with a laugh. "I've just been so busy. I went straight onto the BBC Two show Too Much TV, and then there's been loads of radio, so it's been super busy. but eventually it would be nice to get 'round to it."
With so much to manage, Cox is the first to credit her "very nice husband" for his support (she's been married to advertising executive Ben Cyzer since 2013).
"In a marriage, that's what you do, isn't it? One's got to step up when the other one's working, so if he's got a work trip away, I hold the fort, and vice versa," she explains.
"And I've got supportive in-laws as well, which is nice. But the kids do miss me. There's a lot of FaceTime happening."
They might miss their mum, but she insists the kids aren't impressed by her day job.
"I'm just Mum, really. I'm the one who shouts at them and makes them brush their teeth," says Cox. "I wish I did get star treatment at home, but it's quite the opposite!"
The Great Pottery Throw Down returns to BBC Two on Thursday, February 2, 8pm