Unlike a lot of people, Kim-Joy Hewlett was quite content during lockdown. “I am a really introverted person and I like spending time on my own, so it really wasn’t a problem for me,” says Kim-Joy who talks openly about her battles with anxiety and even suffered from a form of selective mutism as a child. “I did start to miss my close friends after a while but I feel I am very lucky I had Nabil.” Nabil is her long-term partner and the couple moved to Ilkley from Leeds during lockdown. The move has been stressful as they have taken on a project which means Kim-Joy is living with a makeshift kitchen.
“The build should be finished by January or February and I am so excited to have the kitchen of my dreams,” she says, adding that the pandemic was tough on Nabil who owns four board game shops in Yorkshire which had to close temporarily.
“It was hard on him as he had to furlough his staff and he was very worried about the business. It was stressful but he managed to move a lot of it online. Luckily they are all open again now and the business is even stronger than before the pandemic.”
It was through their mutual love of board games that the couple met. But it took a year and half playing games at a club night before anything happened.
It is through Nabil’s contacts that Kim-Joy has now designed and created her own card game, due out in time for Christmas. Kim-Joy’s Magic Bakery is inspired by her love of baking and animals and is another dream come true for the 30-year-old.
“Nabil has lots of contacts in San Diego because of his business and I had been wanting to make a card game for a while. Players have to work together to make various bakes – there are lots of animals and lots of colour.” That doesn’t come as a big surprise to anyone who knows Kim-Joy. At the moment her hair is a shade of purple but it could be pink or even orange. Her look is almost at odds with her shyness and social anxiety.
However, she does believe she has become a more confident person since cooking in front of millions on Bake Off and realising that people actually like her for who she is.
Kim-Joy was born in Belgium to an English father and Malaysian mother. She moved to the outskirts of London aged nine and started baking when she went to university.
“If you bake something, it makes people like you. It’s just about making people happy, I guess. But I was never really into decoration. It was more breads than anything else, I found it incredibly relaxing, all the kneading. I got into the decorative side of it later.”
She studied sociology at Bristol and then moved to Leeds to do a Masters degree, working with adults with learning disabilities in the community to help fund her studies. After leaving university, she started working in adult mental health services as part of gaining her full qualifications. But she soon realised that working in mental health was very stressful – and that’s when she applied to appear on Bake Off.
“People kept saying that I should apply but I knew I wasn’t ready. I wanted to do a bit more baking, especially cakes as most of my baking had been around breads and pastry. I didn’t want to apply until I knew I had the range of skills I needed.
“I’d moved around a lot and always lived in shared houses, with a shared kitchen. It wasn’t until I met Nabil that I had a kitchen to myself for the first time and that’s when I really started baking.”
Having always been creative, Kim-Joy started experimenting with the decorative side of her baking, which was to become her trademark on the show, two years before she appeared on Bake Off.
“I was into art and textiles as a child and, looking back, I probably felt I should have gone down that route. But at the time I felt under pressure to do something a bit more ‘proper’ as I was naturally quite clever.”
Her love of creative bakes has now become her signature and after her success on Bake Off she is in high demand. She has her own newspaper column and has just published her third cookery book, Celebrate with Kim-Joy, which is full of intricate icing and, of course, cute animals.
“I wanted to write a happy book,” she says. “We have all been through such a difficult time and now we can celebrate with friends again and what better way to celebrate than with cake?”
This joyful collection of recipes includes all the step-by-step photography, clear instructions and words of positivity you need to learn to bake and decorate just like Kim-Joy. And, as with all her books, there are vegan and gluten-free alternatives.
She is a great believer in the power of baking to improve people’s mental health and is an ambassador for Wren Bakery in Leeds, a social enterprise that uses baking and coffee to help empower disadvantaged women.
“Wren Bakery is everything I am passionate about – combining baking and barista training to reach out to, and empower, women who face multiple barriers daily,” she says. “The skills used in baking and barista work are so transferable to a lot of jobs, plus they give the women a sense of purpose and value along the way.”
While Bake off may have made Kim-Joy a household name, it has done much more than that – it has made her a more confident person. “When I start to doubt myself I can always remind myself that I was on TV and I have published three cookery books – I am essentially the same, just more confident,” she says.
Her new-found confidence was shown recently when she walked out of an exercise class after she felt she was picked on by an instructor. She posted a picture of herself crying on Instagram afterwards.
“It’s okay to say ‘no’ and walk away to protect your own mental health. The old me would’ve been afraid of the confrontation, and just stayed, but I know now that I have self-worth and I’m not sticking around to be treated like that. It’s good to have boundaries, and it’s good to say no to toxic people and situations,” she posted.
“I wanted people to know that it is okay to call out this type of behaviour and not put up with it. The response I have had has been phenomenal. I have had messages from people saying it gave them the confidence to do things they wouldn’t have had the confidence to do. Someone said it gave them the confidence to leave their job as they had been bullied by a manager. It’s incredible – I just left a gym class. These people have made life-changing decisions and that’s amazing.”
Celebrate with Kim-Joy is published by Quadrille, priced £20.