I don’t know why I’m crying over cake……..
So yesterday was the transmission of the first episode of The Great British Bake Off 2014. My friend sent me the online application form last October (it’s very strange to read back after it has all happened) with a note saying ‘you know your stuff, give it a go’. I remember that day. I had just restarted working after a period of around 8 months off. I was feeling good. I was working with a great medico legal company that were incredibly supportive and embraced me for me, tears and disorganisation included. When my friend Daisy sent me the link, I thought a little about it then worried and then procrastinated. Carl asked me what I was thinking about. We talked and he said ‘just do it, it really doesn’t matter what happens which will most probably be nothing as thousands of people apply’. So I did. The whirlwind began.
Then there were auditions and interviews, screen tests and live technical challenges. Referees were sought and my friends, husband and work were interviewed. Then visiting the show psychotherapist (I was there a while!). Each stage passed, Carl and I hi-fived and had a bottle of Prosecco. ‘Celebrate every victory’ Carl uttered every time. ‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t go through to the next bit Claire, just think how far you have come’. It started as being one applicant in 17000. Then I was 1 in 2000; then 1 in 300; then 1 in 45; then 1 in 14. As pragmatic as I tried to force myself to be about the whole process, waiting for that final call was agonising. Eventually, a really fantastic casting producer called me and said ‘the BBC want you as one of the 12’. Surreal is not the word. I had tried to not focus on it actually happening to avoid the horrible disappointment of falling short at any point. I am the kind of girl that doesn’t get excited about her holiday until her bag is checked in and I have made my way to the departure lounge in search of my first holiday pint. Carl, once again, said ‘Celebrate every victory’. And we did!
At this point, the hard work really began. All of the 12 bakers (and we didn’t meet each other until the night before the first tent day) had to develop all of their recipes for the whole series with the exception of the final week. Four recipes a week were expected by the production team’s home economists and they had to be original, exciting and stand out from the crowd. The dilemma of staying safe and going with a classic versus pushing the boat out and potentially offending the delicate and traditional Grandma tastebuds of Mary Berry was a weekly struggle. The financial cost was fairly crippling too. Never before would I have been able to justify spending £22.50 on multiple jars of Amarena Cherries ‘because I NNNEEEEEEEEEEEDDDDDDD them’. Buying expensive pans and tins to ensure an even bake and exemplary presentation was also high on the list. Never before had I worried too much about a slightly overdone edge or a cake that is not level by one degree. Baking just got stressful.
Then came the questions from my family and friends (the very few that knew). ‘What are you going to wear? OMG I’d be so stressed about that’, ‘Are you having your hair done?’ and ‘Do they do your make up for you? what if you look shiny?’. It surprised me that this was quite an important element to everyone. I probably did need to think about it. I realised at that point that I was a size 22 and really not that bothered about my clothes, my make up or my hair. So why was everyone else? Because they wanted the best for me: ‘if you look good, you feel good!’. So the shopping began. A few nice tops, a new fringe cut, get into the habit of wearing a bit of slap. I was a bit concerned about looking big on camera, but at the end of the day, what on earth could I do about it now? It’s not like I only have half a stone to lose. I spend my life pin-balling from fad diet to fad diet. It makes me stressed. I mostly fail and fall off the wagon. I’m just a bit too greedy. So I just pushed it to the back of my mind and concentrated on what I was good at and what this was all about: baking.
And finally the day came. I got on the train and ended up in Berkshire. I checked into a hotel with 11 strangers on the eve of the day I would be going to bake in a big marquee on one of Britain’s biggest TV shows. I had a few panic attacks, skulking off to the train toilet or the hotel toilet or my hotel room and ringing Carl in floods of tears. ‘Why am I here? I can’t do this. I want to be with you. This is ridiculous’. But. I was there and I had travelled there on my own somehow. I wouldn’t have left the house on my own 18 months ago. And now I was in a random hotel with random people getting ready to spend my weekend on camera. ‘Claire, celebrate every victory. It doesn’t matter what’s happened. You’ve already won!’. Carl, as ever, was my rock. So I really did tell myself to ‘buck up’. I didn’t want to come across as a nutbag, or a wet weekend. I wanted to come across as me. I also wanted Carl to be really proud of me.
And that tent. It really is as you see it on the telly. A few more people but absolutely the way it looks. And just as magical and twee. And a goldmine of wonderful expensive kitchen implements that I wanted to sneak into my backpack before I left. (I didn’t as that is theft and nobody likes a tent tea leaf). And it’s so bright. There are many many lights so that it is clear and fresh and reminiscent of a village fete on a summer’s day. Just like TV!
And the rest (if you have seen it), is history. My Swiss roll was squidgy and disliked by Paul and Mary. My cherry cake was ok but my 36 individual cakes exploded. I had a good old cry after the Swiss roll disaster which was filmed for all to see. Was I really bothered about that swiss roll though? I don’t know. I was worked up, panicky. I’m sure Raymond Blanc was rolling his eyes at my female tears. I think I knew at that point that though I could bake (I really can bake, please believe me!!!), maybe competitive baking and being judged just wasn’t for me. I am now sat here chuckling at the notion of ‘competitive baking’. It doesn’t sound very cut-throat does it? There is also the fact that the talent in the tent is awesome. I think I was the worst of a very very good bunch on that day. As Nancy said, ‘there are some really clever people in there’. And there are.
So. Maybe that is a little (just a little) insight into why I was crying over cake.