Take two great judges, add two funny presenters, some eager contestants and a pinch of blood, sweat and tears and what do you have? A recipe for a hit TV show! As The Great British Bake Off returns for a fourth series, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood whip up excitement with Keeley Bolger
Sitting next to each other in co-ordinated pink shirts, TV baking duo Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood are doing little to dispel their cosy image as the nation’s favourite ‘mother and son’ pairing.
Not that they mind. “I’m surprised he doesn’t say grandmother,” quips Mary, 78, giving a wink with her heavy black eyelashes. “I have to keep my eye on him.”
“Mary is like my mum,” chips in 47-year-old Hollywood, whose steely blue eyes temporarily lift into a smile. “I feel like I’m with the family when I’m with Mary’s family.”
“And when we’re with Mel and Sue, we are a family,” chimes Berry.
That ‘family’ is returning to BBC Two for the fourth series of cooking competition The Great British Bake Off, and after a tumultuous couple of months you get the impression that Hollywood is happy to be back in the baking fold.
It’s not been an easy year for him. His marriage of 15 years broke down when he moved across the Atlantic to present the US version of Bake Off, The American Baking Competition, and there has been a rumoured romance with his US co-star Marcela Valladolid, 35.
It was hoped the show would launch his career Stateside, much like Gordon Ramsay managed to do, but it was axed after one series.
The father-of-one has recently said he is “upset and sad” about his marriage split and feels like he wants to “disappear and hide”.
But with a fresh series of The Great British Bake Off about to launch, and Berry by his side to protect him, it’s clear disappearing isn’t an option.
This year’s competition will be different from the three previous series, in that 13 of the country’s best amateur bakers will have their cake-baking, pastry, bread-making and patisserie skills tested to the limit over a 10-week period, instead of the usual 12.
Hosted by Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, the show has been a huge hit with viewers. But as the years have gone by, it’s clear that the participants have grown savvy.
“The contestants are getting wise. One of my favourite flavours is lime and I noticed a lot of lime this year,” says Hollywood, who calls Berry “Bezza”.
“They come up with a big smirk on their face going, ‘Check that out’ and I’m like, ‘What’s that?’. They say, ‘Lime’ and I’m like, ‘Nice’, and they know straight away they’re onto a winner.”
Berry has been writing cookery books since the Sixties, while Hollywood comes from a long line of family bakers. Even so, the pair admit they and the contestants have an uphill battle not to be outshone by witty host Perkins.
“Sue had that book, that really good one, How To Bake By Paul Hollywood,” says the baker, who makes a few jokey references to his book throughout our interview.
“She was going through the book when we were going through all the technical challenges, and she’d come out covered in flour and say, ‘Look at this!’
“She’s a really good baker. She did me a Sally Lunn cake which is like a massive iced bun with fruit in it and the icing didn’t drip. It was good.”
Although Hollywood and Berry claim that the standard among contestants is higher than ever, mistakes can happen in the big white tent.
“The first episode of this series was a bloodbath,” says Hollywood. “More than eight people cut themselves.”
With all those tempting cakes in grabbing distance, Berry and Hollywood’s waistlines could easily suffer but they insist they only eat a “small portion” of all the bakes. However, Hollywood admits to one politically incorrect weakness.
“I was in Waitrose and bought a sliced loaf, because I love bacon butties on a sliced loaf,” he says. “The girl on the checkout was going ‘beep, beep’ scanning things through, and she stopped scanning, looked at the bread and said, ‘What are you doing with that?’ And I was like, ‘Just put it in there!’”
:: The Great British Bake Off is on BBC Two on August 20.