For the self-described ‘bald, baking banker’, James, Pudding Week was something of a recipe for disaster, meaning we had to say goodbye to the man responsible for some of the best facial expressions of series eight so far. The green-fingered 46-year-old from Essex was taught to bake by his father, and is now passing on the family recipes to his own sons.
We sat down with him for one last natter before he headed back to his family kitchen.
Hi James! How are you feeling about your run on Bake Off?
“It was a huge honour to get into the show, and to get half way through the series. It will stay with me the rest of my life.”
Your dad taught you to bake – how does he feel about where you’ve got to?
“My dad has always been so humble – he says I’m miles better than him as a baker – but I always tell him that he gave me the passion for baking from an early age. He is so proud of me, like a peacock at the moment at his bowls club. I now teach my two sons how to bake.”
You built some real bonds with the other bakers – who were you closest with in the tent?
“With the younger bakers my nurturing father approach came out. With my two adopted baker children Julia and Liam, I tried to give them a boost and encourage them, reminding them of how good they are. I was so proud of them when they did well. I will admit I am a big softy at heart.”
What did you make of the judges?
“I really like Paul, he is such an interesting character. I think deep down he is a little bit shy. One day he gave Liam a big hug when he was a bit down, and we all thought that was very endearing. He has such a breadth of knowledge that he wants to share and he is so passionate about it. You can see sometimes he is itching to help but can’t do that until the judging is over. When the cameras are off he will come round and say this is how you should have done it. Prue’s so knowledgeable that it can be quite intimidating, but on the first week when I had a soggy bottom on my rhubarb cake she was so disarming – she said it tasted good and was nothing that a bit of custard couldn’t help. She’s good at giving positive feedback.”
Let’s talk about your ‘pies’ and ‘doughs’, starting with the positives…
“My favourite time was the early part of the morning, checking your recipes at your workstation. Sandi would come in at that time and put her arm around me and we would have a natter. I thought she was absolutely adorable, so nice and genuine and personable. Sandi and Noel really cared about the bakers and spent so much time with us, which was such a great help.”
… and what about any dough moments?
“My worst moment was the millionaire shortbread. The time crunch was literally on, it was the enemy of the day on caramel week as the temperature in the tent was so high. I poured the hot caramel onto the hot biscuit bake and of course it went soggy. That will always haunt me.”
What’s next for you?
“Bake Off was good at stretching me into areas I hadn’t gone to previously – I think I was stuck in a baking rut before. I now want to go on a baking tour around Essex to meet all the artisan bakers and learn from them. I want to continue baking, and would love to do some teaching at my son’s food technology class – if they’ll have me!”
Looking back, how would you describe the whole experience?
“Whenever I try to explain to people how special it is I say this: there have been fewer amateur bakers in the tent than there have been astronauts into space.”
Goodbye James – we’ll look out for your sons on future Bake Off!