I’ve never been a domestic goddess!
Bake Off: An Extra Slice host Jo Brand on her perfect cake, the importance of talking about mental health and what makes her belly laugh
Jo Brand confesses that she’s not a brilliant baker
Comedian, writer and actress Jo Brand, 60, started out as a nursing assistant in a residential unit for adults with learning difficulties before spending a decade as a psychiatric nurse. Moving into stand-up comedy, she found TV fame on Saturday Live and Through The Cakehole. Now host of The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice, Jo lives in London with husband Bernie and daughters Maisie, 17, and Eliza, 15.
LET’S TALK CAKE
I prefer savoury to cake; that’s
sacrilege, isn’t it? I don’t like fancy cakes, I don’t like marzipan, I don’t like icing. I do, however, like a Victoria sponge. That’s a perfect cake. Given a choice, if there was a bowl of crisps and a cake, I’d probably have the crisps. Mind you, there’s me saying I don’t like cakes, but Selasi, one of the contestants from last year’s Bake Off, made me one for my 60th birthday and that was a perfect cake. An incredible chocolate cake, so melty in the mouth, with strawberries on top. Beautiful.
I’m a terrible baker. If I had to make a cake, I’d make one out of a packet. I’ve pretended I’ve made Betty Crocker’s Devil’s Food cake myself on occasions. If I was asked to make a cake for the Bake Off judges, I’d use a mix and see if they realised. I know the baking basics but I’ve
never been a domestic goddess. I always eat far too much when I go for afternoon tea. It’s all so lovely, I feel I have to stock up as if I’m not going to eat for a week. I love those sandwiches; there’s something about cutting the crusts off the way they do in posh tea places. I only go once or twice a year, when people bid to have tea with me as a prize in a charity auction. If I did it any more than that, I’d be at least 35 stone!
I love hosting An Extra Slice; the live audience are so excited to be there. They’re genuine Bake Off fans and, when you see what bakes they’re prepared to bring on a train journey from somewhere like Aberdeen, it’s incredible – things like Windsor Castle in melted sugar. The best I’ve tasted was choux pastry with blue cheese. The worst was a courgette cake. It was like roast dinner vegetables gone cold in a cake.
LET’S TALK MENTAL HEALTH
I admire nurses tremendously. You don’t go into nursing if you’re after
good money. You have no idea what awaits you. You simply cannot imagine the emotional impact, the hard work, the long days. The one thing I missed when I started doing comedy was working with a team. Stand-up is very solitary.
One in four people will have a mentalhealth issue in a year, but still there’s
a stigma. Fortunately, it is beginning to change. Younger people are talking more openly. Beauty vlogger Zoella has anxiety and talks very honestly about
‘The best thing I’ve tasted on An Extra Slice? Choux pastry with blue cheese. The worst? A courgette cake’
it. You’d never have got that 20 years ago. My father had depression from the age of 13. He didn’t seek help until he was in his fifties. He was embarrassed about them finding out at work. The more people who talk about it the better. Nursing made me more empathetic… particularly with mental-health issues. Not that long ago, everything was suppressed – particularly for men in jobs like the police or army where you’re supposed to do that stiff upper lip thing. It’s incredibly damaging. There are probably millions of guys that came back from service traumatised and, rather than seeking help, took it out on their wife and kids. The more we acknowledge people in stressful environments potentially will suffer some emotional issue the better.
LET’S TALK AMAZING WOMEN
I’ve always admired women who aren’t afraid to look silly to be funny. Somebody like Victoria Wood who did that sketch where she swam the channel. She looked hideous, but it was so funny. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, the same. Women like that inspire me; those prepared to go the extra mile for a laugh. Morwenna Banks and Sarah Millican make me belly laugh nowadays. Morwenna does the sketch show
Absolutely and we co-write the comedy Damned. Sarah’s an ordinary person from an ordinary background and, particularly as a woman, that’s really hard. For a long time, TV was ruled by Oxbridge people. The fact she can command huge arena-type audiences shows how popular and populist she is.
As a mum of teen daughters, I’m hopeful things are changing in terms
of equality. The way they interact with boys – well, they don’t put up with the rubbish we did. They and their friends have strong views about their place in the world. Not to the point where men would go: ‘Oh, strident feminists preaching…’ They don’t do any of that. Equality is just expected and accepted.
My mum was always a standout
feminist within her milieu. She wouldn’t let me have a Barbie because she thought that was an unrealistic portrayal of a woman. She wouldn’t let me read Jackie because it was all about make-up and appealing to men.
LET’S TALK MENOPAUSE
I really like walking – that de-stresses me… as long as I don’t have to talk to
anyone. I like to have a walk and a think and people come up and say: ‘Can you phone my mum?’ I know I should be gracious, but I’m quite anti-social. I blame that on the menopause – for me, it was a long session of PMT. There’s a silence about what the menopause is like because it’s connected to ladies’ internal workings. If you mention periods once, men will pick it up and go: ‘That’s all you ever talk about!’ You can’t win.
I do feel lucky that I’m 60 and busier
than ever. I’m flattered and surprised. I didn’t expect it. To still be offered work that I really want to do is great. The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice is on Thursdays at 10pm on Channel 4
Jo on An Extra Slice with Prue Leith, Richard Osman and Roisin Conaty
‘If I was asked to make a cake for the Bake Off judges I’d use a mix and see if they realised,’ says Jo RIGHT With Bake Off’s Peter