Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'I judge muffins ... how is that tough?'


Paul Hollywood swaps the Bake Off tent for Europe's highways in Continental Road Trip. Susan Griffin sees a whole new side of him.

He might be known for his bread and buns, but away from the oven, Paul Hollywood's a petrolhead and loves nothing more than racing cars. "Baking is my career, it's what I am. The whole presenter thing is an accident. I'm a baker by trade, but my hobby was always cars," says The Great British Bake Off judge.

He's been passionate about motors "for as long as I can remember".

"My dad used to have several cars growing up - nothing particularly special, but I just loved cars," declares Hollywood, who shared his enthusiasm for motors on BBC programmes Racing Legends and Licence To Thrill: Paul Hollywood Meets Aston Martin in 2015.

The same year he represented the racing team Beechdean Aston Martin in the British GT Championship.

"When I was about 13, I fell in love with the TR7. Don't ask me why, I just did. It was this chocolate one with chequered seats in a garage down the road from where we grew up in the Wirral," he recalls in his familiar Liverpool twang.

"I used to go and watch this car every night and go and look at it because I just loved it."

No wonder he describes his latest show, Paul Hollywood's Big Continental Road Trip, as "a dream job for me".

In the three-part series, Hollywood travels to Germany, France and Italy, endeavouring to understand more about each country through its love of cars.

"It didn't feel like work," he says. "The travel was just amazing and we went to some really beautiful places. I thought, 'This is magic, it really is magic'."

One of the most memorable experiences was driving around Italy in a Lamborghini alongside Strictly Come Dancing's Bruno Tonioli.

"We nearly got arrested for speeding around Rome. He was petrified, bless him," recalls Hollywood, who was particularly taken with Ivrea in north-west Italy.

"It's where we had the orange fight. It was mental, it really was crazy. Most of my clothes I had to chuck because they stink of orange. I smelt like a crepe Suzette.

"The people are just so passionate about what they do, which is the point we were trying to make. Even though they're just throwing oranges, it means something."

In Germany, he stopped off to serve up some spicy food from the back of a VW van to some nudists.

"This is a country which is very formal. We think of them as very straight, no sense of humour, and yet this country started the whole nudist movement.

"We were in the Kombi van, just going there and spending a couple of hours with these people. They were very funny, absolutely hilarious. I didn't know where to look."

Hollywood believes the show stands apart from others in the genre because "we're trying to find out about the places as well as the people".

"The cars were almost the transport to take me to the people, to learn about why Italians like supercars and hypercars," he explains.

"The Germans - why do we think of them as quite stiff upper-lipped and all about the engineering, and things must last and demonstrate reliability? And why are the French very much socialist still? They don't like bling, they don't like sporty cars. They'd rather have a great case of wine than a fantastic car sitting on the drive.

"You can find out a lot about the place and the people by the cars they drive - and how they drive."

The series arrives after Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond's The Grand Tour debut on Amazon and a second series of the revamped Top Gear, with Matt Le Blanc promoted to hosting duties following the departure of Chris Evans.

Hollywood insists he's not disappointed he wasn't part of the new Top Gear line-up.

"This programme was already in the making, so it was difficult for me to get involved anyway. So, no, that was never a choice.

"I would rather do something different anyway, so I was happy carrying on with the Continental Road Trip."

Besides, he's keeping busy with The Great British Bake Off, having decided to move with the programme to Channel 4, despite former BBC colleagues Mary Berry, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc standing down.

He claims he was unaware of the furore that ensued.

"I've been told by the Press that it happened, so it must be true," says Hollywood, who's still in touch with his former judging partner Berry.

"Why wouldn't I be? There's no reason for it (their friendship) to stop."

He's earned a reputation for being tough in the Bake Off tent, but that's something he attributes to the programme-makers.

"It's called editing," he laughs. "I'm very easy-going, quite chilled. But at the end of the day if something's wrong, then I have to point it out, because that's my job. But tough, really? I judge muffins. How the hell is that tough?"

  • Paul Hollywood's Big Continental Road Trip, BBC Two, tomorrow, 9pm

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