Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith on life as show’s judges

Pictured: (L-R) Noel fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood. Picture credit: PA Photo/Channel 4/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon.
Pictured: (L-R) Noel fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood. Picture credit: PA Photo/Channel 4/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon.

The ever popular Great British Bake Off is back for its ninth series - the second since its big move from BBC One to Channel 4. Georgia Humphreys reports.

Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood are discussing who’s more likely to end up laughing during their Bake Off judging duties. After all, as the hit series returns to Channel 4, viewers know all too well to expect some humorous moments, thanks to quick-witted presenters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig.

“I probably laugh the least, because I understand the jokes the least,” Leith, 78, admits with a smile, before Wallasey-born Hollywood chimes in: “She’s a bit slow catching up.”

Millions of viewers will be excited to see the show back on screens for the ninth series. Both Leith, who replaced Mary Berry when the show started on Channel 4, and Hollywood – a judge since its launch – admit they felt more relaxed filming this series, the second since the move from BBC One.

“I suppose although I didn’t think I was nervous last time, I must have been a bit more tense than I thought,” notes Leith, who started her career in the sixties, with her catering company, Leith’s Good Food.

“Prue was off and running, there was no problem really last year and this year felt even easier, to be honest,” suggests 52-year-old Hollywood, a former head baker at a number of hotels around Britain and internationally. “Noel and Sandi do an amazing job as well. It just made the whole filming process this year so relaxed and laid-back, and actually it’s the most relaxed I think I’ve ever felt on set this year. It was fantastic.”

Food writer Leith adds: “It does seem, with hindsight, that all that fuss about the show moving from the BBC was so... I wouldn’t say manufactured, but it was so totally unnecessary to worry. If anybody had given it five minutes’ thought, they’d have thought, ‘Well, why would a production company mess with the formula? Why would they change it?’”

Each week sees the contestant bakers take on three challenges - the signature bake, the technical bake, and the showstopper – which are usually based around a particular theme, say pastries or pies. At the end of the episode, Leith and Hollywood have to send one person home.

Leith made headlines last year, after accidentally tweeting congratulations to winner Sophie Faldo hours before the final had aired (she was in Bhutan and got confused by the time difference).

“Yeah, that was a bit grim,” says South African-born foodie Leith - but lightheartedly so. “People were pretty upset. But in the end it didn’t matter. Actually, a lot of people were really nice about it; lots and lots of people have said, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that’. It was a really stupid thing to do.”

It helped that she had a “really sweet message” from Hollywood afterwards - and that the production company were understanding.

Over the years, Hollywood has become known for no-nonsense critiques of the bakes presented to him in the tent. But last series, he seemed to hand out more of his coveted handshakes than ever before, to contestants he believed had done particularly well. “I haven’t got softer, it’s just the bakers have got better,” he professes. “He’s very reluctant to give any handshakes,” quips Leith, with a raise of her eyebrows. “They’re forced out of him.”

Neither has to particularly put their foot down, when it comes to making a decision over who should leave the competition. “It doesn’t even get to a conversation,” says Hollywood. “We know exactly who’s going.”

Leith adds: “People often say that Paul is stricter than me, or harder than me. We mentally give a score out of 10 [for each bake], and then we give it to the producers. We might differ by half a point on one bake but we always agree because, to put it broadly, we know a good cake when we see it.”

The Great British Bake Off returns to Channel 4 on Tuesday, August 28