She’s be­come an ex­pert on cake crumb since join­ing The Great Bri­tish Bake Off. GH colum­nist Sandi Toksvig gives us an exclusive view of life in­side the tent IL­LUS­TRA­TION CLARE MACKIE

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Front Page -

My fa­ther was Den­mark’s most fa­mous TV pre­sen­ter, and I grew up spend­ing my time be­hind the scenes in stu­dios and on lo­ca­tion. I think be­ing al­lowed to see how a crew put to­gether a show is still my favourite part of the work I do. It’s a bit like be­ing al­lowed to learn the se­cret to a huge magic trick – on screen, ev­ery­thing ought to look ef­fort­less, while off screen, dozens of peo­ple race to make it hap­pen. I’ve known this all my life, yet I’m not sure even I was pre­pared for how busy the Bake Off tent is. I knew there would be cam­eras; I had no idea there would be so many. I knew there would be pro­duc­ers: again, it was the num­bers that bowled me over. The se­cret to the suc­cess of this won­der­ful show is, of course, the brave bak­ers – and at all times they are ev­ery­one’s fo­cus. At the be­gin­ning of the se­ries there are 12 of them, each one de­ter­mined to make a good im­pres­sion. No one on the pro­duc­tion team wants to miss a mo­ment. There are cam­eras ev­ery­where, sound op­er­a­tors, ea­gle-eyed pro­duc­ers, home econ­o­mists fetch­ing in­gre­di­ents, run­ners run­ning with all man­ner of things, make-up, wardrobe… I’ve seen busy TV sets be­fore, but noth­ing

like this. My first day at work was less about work­ing out what I had to say than mak­ing sure I stayed out of ev­ery­one’s way.

I don’t think ei­ther I or my fel­low pre­sen­ter, the bril­liant Noel Field­ing, were quite ready for the num­ber of peo­ple who would need to brief us (I now know more about cake crumb than I thought pos­si­ble), keep us up to speed about each baker’s progress and make sure we have an eye on the time. It is a com­pe­ti­tion that ev­ery­one takes se­ri­ously and there is no mess­ing about where the start and fin­ish times are con­cerned.

The kitchen sta­tions are on ei­ther side of the tent with a wide empty space up the mid­dle that, as pre­sen­ters, you quickly have to learn to ne­go­ti­ate. You need to be on cam­era ex­actly when re­quested, but out of the way at the pre­cise mo­ment that an oven door falls off or a spec­tac­u­lar cake con­struc­tion col­lapses. Above our heads, a mini cam­era zooms back and forth on a wire, while at the end of the tent a small crane is grab­bing pic­tures and could take your eye out if you’re not care­ful.

It seems ridicu­lous now, but nei­ther Noel nor I had quite pre­pared our­selves for how in­volved we would get. We make one episode a week, so end up spend­ing two and half months with some of the con­tes­tants. That is long enough to feel a real sense of kin­ship. We laugh and cry in equal mea­sure – some days go well in a lazy haze of dap­pled sun­light, while oth­ers are windswept and cold as the rain lashes down on the can­vas. What­ever the weather, the bak­ing and the drama go on. No one en­ters Bake Off half­heart­edly.

Hid­den at the back of the tent is a full kitchen where all the in­gre­di­ents come from. Here the home econ­omy team makes sure that what is be­ing asked of the bak­ers can be done, and I sneak down there each mid-morn­ing to beg a small piece of cheese. We start each day about 6.30am and of­ten fin­ish late, so cheese has be­come my se­cret sus­tainer.

The tent stands in the gar­den of Welford Park, a clas­sic English coun­try es­tate of spec­tac­u­lar beauty. In our breaks, Noel and I and the two judges, Paul Hol­ly­wood and Prue Leith, are al­lowed to sit in the li­brary lined with leather-bound books. We quickly fall into a rou­tine. Paul has half an eye on some sport on the TV, Prue is writ­ing an­other book, and Noel chats to me while I knit or, on the chill­ier days, take charge of the open fire. I can­not think of a time in my life when four peo­ple have been more com­pan­ion­able or at ease with each other. But we never have long in that lovely room. A run­ner dashes in – ‘Time to launch the next bake!’ they cry and off we go, back into bak­ing bed­lam. Heaven.

Bake Off bud­dies: Sandi, Noel Field­ing, Prue Leith and Paul Hol­ly­wood. ‘There is a sense of kin­ship with the con­tes­tants. We laugh and cry in equal mea­sure’

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