Scottish Daily Mail

Bake Off bul­lies? My baby bat­tle put them in the shade

A brave and per­sonal con­fes­sion by Laura Adling­ton, the Fred­die Mer­cury-melt­ing baker who won view­ers’ hearts

- By Jenny John­ston

THERE was a mo­ment in the Great Bri­tish Bake Off fi­nal this week which summed up the en­tire year for many of us. Laura Adling­ton — last woman stand­ing — was hav­ing a night­mare with her col­laps­ing cus­tard slices. Laura looked as though she might col­lapse, too. Some­how she had reached the fi­nal de­spite many calami­ties — not least her fon­dant ic­ing Fred­die Mer­cury — but now she was fac­ing de­feat. So what did she do?

She stuck her head in the freezer, of course, will­ing it all to be over. And weren’t we all with her, in spirit?

‘I wanted to climb in,’ she ad­mits, laugh­ing. ‘Be­tween the cus­tard slices and the head-inthe-freezer, it was a vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of 2020 and what a sh**show it has been.’

Many would ap­plaud Laura, a 31-year- old dig­i­tal man­ager from Gravesend, Kent, for her great Bri­tish pluck and for get­ting out of the freezer and ‘back out there’.

But when you hear what she has en­dured in her non-bak­ing world, it’s noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle that she put her­self through the whole ter­ror-in-a-tent ex­pe­ri­ence in the first place.

Laura was di­ag­nosed with Gen­eral Anx­i­ety Dis­or­der at the age of 24, and still has mo­ments of catas­trophis­ing and ‘be­ing gripped by this fear that the whole world is against me’.

She tells me she has been on anti-anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion for five years. She did ques­tion, even as she ap­plied to Bake Off, whether her men­tal health was ro­bust enough to deal with the process, and the at­ten­tion.

She says she al­most didn’t ap­ply be­cause she was wor­ried about how the so­cial me­dia trolls would deal with a ‘big­ger girl’ ap­pear­ing on a bak­ing show. But she de­cided to over­come her fears. In­ter­est­ingly, she’s the one who raises the sub­ject of her weight to­day.

‘I de­cided I’d had enough self-loathing — I don’t need to deal with other peo­ple’s opinions of my size,’ she says.

To­day, she also re­veals that, months be­fore ap­ply­ing for Bake Off, she nearly had a gas­tric sleeve fit­ted. She and hus­band Matt, who works as a po­lice sup­port of­fi­cer, mar­ried in 2018 and had been try­ing for a baby.

‘We wanted to start a fam­ily and it wasn’t hap­pen­ing,’ she says. ‘The doc­tor said los­ing weight would help, and sug­gested bariatric surgery. I came close to do­ing it. Very close. Matt was sup­port­ive but said it had to be my de­ci­sion.

‘In the end, I couldn’t do it. I just felt I needed to get my head sorted out be­fore I got my stom­ach sta­pled. For me, I feel the eat­ing is more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sue. Phys­i­cally c hang­ing my stom­ach size wasn’t go­ing to be the an­swer.’

So she ap­plied to Bake Off in­stead — a rather bru­tal way of fac­ing her fears, per­haps. Sud­denly her head- in- the­freezer episode doesn’t seem quite so laugh­able.

‘I had days when I didn’t want to ex­ist’

NOT that view­ers will have been a ware of t hi s . Rightly, this se­ries — surely the most needed Bake Off ever — was a hit be­cause of its lighter mo­ments. One of the best of those was when t he Bri­tish pub­lic watched agog as Laura tried to bring Queen’s Fred­die Mer­cury back to life, in el­der­flower and lemon ic­ing.

She failed: it’s still hard to be sure whether the f on­dant Fred­die ex­ploded or sim­ply slid away, but the end re­sult was un­speak­able.

One critic said it was more ‘Poke­mon with breasts’ than Fred­die Mer­cury. It was un­de­ni­ably TV gold, though.

Laura can see the funny side, now. ‘Ob­vi­ously, at the time, I was dis­traught. I’d per­fected Fred­die. I’d done him six or seven times, and I’d got it per­fect. Then, on the day, ev­ery­thing went wrong. I couldn’t be­lieve it.

‘They didn’t show it on TV, but I went out­side and just sobbed. I thought I was out of the com­pe­ti­tion on week one. It seemed a dis­as­ter.’

And now? ‘You bake to bring peo­ple joy. OK, they didn’t get joy from tast­ing my Fred­die, but they got j oy from the dis­as­ter of it. I’m happy with that. Mak­ing peo­ple laugh this year is some­thing in it­self.’

Laura didn’t win Bake Off. On Tues­day, 20-year-old Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity stu­dent Peter Sawkins l i fted the tro­phy, be­com­ing the youngest ever win­ner. Laura had tipped him as the one to watch even be­fore she saw him in ac­tion.

‘He had this con­fi­dence. He knew his stuff. He was younger than ev­ery­one, but I re­mem­ber say­ing: “He’s go­ing to win.”

And he did, rightly so. He is a wor­thy win­ner.’

Laura, with her messy work­tops, bak­ing dis­as­ters and in­abil­ity to stop swear­ing, won hearts, though. She also won her own trea­sured ti­tle from judge Prue Leith. ‘She signed my book after­wards, and wrote in i t: “To Laura, Win­ner on Flavour”.

Pe r h a p s she also de­serves a prize just for be­ing a Bake Off sur­vivor, though, be­cause her TV jour­ney was quite a roller­coaster.

As well as be­ing re­duced to tears by cake, she was driven to the edge by online trolls, and found her­self at the cen­tre of a dis­taste­ful Twit­ter bul­ly­ing cam­paign which is why, she says, she’s thrilled she didn’t win.

‘Hand on heart, I’m glad I didn’t. If I had, I don’t think I would have been able to en­joy it, be­cause there would have been a back­lash.’

She’s re­fer­ring to the pub­lic re­ac­tion af­ter the semi-fi­nal, when an­other con­tes­tant, Her­mine, was given the boot while Laura was saved.

‘Foul’, called some, mostly on Twit­ter.

There were un­pleas­ant scenes where Laura was

‘I’ve been on anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tion for years’

blamed for Her­mine’s exit. Bake Off J Judged PP au ll H Hol­ly­wood lld­hhaddt to in­ter­vene and tell ev­ery­one to calm down.

Laura was sit­ting at home while the in­sults flew, as the Bake Off se­ries had been filmed dur­ing the sum­mer. ‘It’s hard to de­scribe when you’ve gone vi­ral, and it feels like thou­sands of peo­ple are telling you that you are sh**,’ Laura says.

‘It hurts. Peo­ple were say­ing: “You are a sh*t baker”. Well, you don’t get to the fi­nal of Bake Off if you are com­pletely sh*t, do you?

‘I tried not to read the stuff, but peo­ple tracked me down on my per­sonal In­sta­gram, which was dif­fi­cult to cope with. I kept block­ing peo­ple, but if you do that, you are deny­ing it hap­pened, aren’t you? ‘I de­cided to leave them, and other peo­ple would then take on the bul­lies. You re­alise there is a lot of kind­ness out there.’

She jokes about her lan­guage. ‘Mouth like a sa sailor,’ she ad­mits. Sh She also l wor­ried id that she was ‘too com­mon’ to be taken se­ri­ously on Bake Off. She’s not posh, she points out, but from a very work­ing class back­ground.

Her fa­ther was a self-em­ployed brick­layer, and ‘we nearly lost the house a cou­ple of times’.

Her par­ents di­vorced when she was in her late teens, and it was through her step­mother that she de­vel­oped a love of cook­ing, and bak­ing.

‘She al­ways said you showed peo­ple love by cook­ing for them. No one ever left our house hun­gry,’ Laura says.

She’s quick with t he self­dep­re­cat­ing quips, though: ‘I think I showed too much love, over the years. Maybe I had too many hot din­ners, too.’

We meet via Zoom, and in the re­laxed at­mos­phere of her pris­tine kitchen, away from the stress, the flour-coated apr on, the trop­i­cal heat of the tent, she’s very beau­ti­ful. Laura seems chuffed so many women have com­mented on her ap­pear­ance, in a pos­i­tive way.

‘Women have asked where I get my dresses from, and they’ve said: “I’d never dare wear a dress, but you’ve given me con­fi­dence.” I like that.

‘Some peo­ple think that to be fat is to be lazy and slob by, and to dress badly and have dirty hair. It’s not. I’ve al­ways been very con­cerned about how I look.’

So is she a poster-girl for the body pos­i­tive move­ment, then? In some ways yes. ‘I do think we live in a so­ci­ety which cas­ti­gates peo­ple who are fat, as if we should hide away. That is chang­ing, but there is more to be done. Ev­ery­one de­serves re­spect.’

Which brings us to dif­fi­cult ter­ri­tory be­cause Laura’s size has long been an is­sue in her life.

‘But I’m not go­ing to say I’m proud to be obese, be­cause I’m not,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘I just can’t say that be­ing the size I am is healthy, be­cause I know that it isn’t.’

She has al­ways been ‘big’. ‘I was a chubby kid, and big­ger as a teenager,’ she ad­mits.

Food was, and is, an is­sue. She talks about ‘com­fort eat­ing’, which is linked to her anx­i­ety is­sues. ‘I spent many years self-loathing and pun­ish­ing my­self, but com­fort eat­ing makes you feel worse.’

She’s done the yo-yo di­et­ing? ‘Oh yes. But the older I get, the more I think not all of it was about weight. I didn’t have many boyfriends when I was younger, and I thought it was be­cause I was big.

‘Now, I think it’s more about con­fi­dence be­cause there are peo­ple who are big­ger than I am, who don’t have th­ese is­sues. Many peo­ple have a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with food .’ How many of them are Bake Off fi­nal­ists, though? She ad­mits the de­ci­sion whether or not to have weight-loss surgery pre­sented her with a ter­ri­fy­ing dilemma.

‘I’ve never wanted to be thin for cos­metic rea­sons. I’m not that per­son who wants to be a size 10 or 12,’ she says. ‘But this was about hav­ing a fam­ily.’

It would also be about chang­ing her re­la­tion­ship with food.

‘The doc­tor did say some peo­ple fall i nto a de­pres­sion be­cause they can’t eat what they want,’ she ex­plains.

‘I’m al­ready prone to de­pres­sion, and food is such a big part of my life. I thought: “How could I go from bak­ing and cook­ing all the time to, like, eat­ing an egg for my meal?” Ul­ti­mately, I thought I needed to work on my brain, not have ma­jor surgery.’

SHE’S aware that be­ing hon­est about this is likely to bring out the trolls, who will sug­gest she chose cake over some­thing much more i mpor­tant. That’s un­fair, be­cause she clearly des­per­ately wants to have a fam­ily.

‘I think I’d be a good mother,’ she nods. ‘I know peo­ple will say: “She can’t want a baby that much, oth­er­wise she’d just lose weight,” but it’s not that easy.’

Have the doc­tors been sup­port­ive? ‘No, not re­ally. They just say: “You have to lose weight — get on with it.” By con­trast, they were very sup­port­ive when I needed help with anx­i­ety. I had coun­selling through [the char­ity] Mind.’ She’s very savvy on mat­ters of men­tal health, and vol­un­teers with the Sa­mar­i­tans, help­ing oth­ers who are strug­gling. ‘It’s re­ward­ing. I can iden­tify. I was never sui­ci­dal, but I did have days where I did not want to ex­ist. You don’t want to die, but you don’t want to be, ei­ther.’

She says she is still a work-in­progress her­self.

Has Bake Off helped or hin­dered in that re­gard? ‘I think it has given me con­fi­dence,’ she says, ten­ta­tively. ‘It’s some­thing I had to push my­self to do, and I’m glad I did be­cause it’s been one of the best ex­pe­ri­ences of my life.’

Hi­lar­i­ously, she came home, out of the Bake Off bub­ble, and re­solved never to bake again. ‘It didn’t last, though,’ she says.

She hasn’t tried a Fred­die Mer­cury since. Nor has she dared take on the cus­tard slice chal­lenge. She did make a key lime pie, though, her fail- safe dessert. Was it gor­geous?

‘No, it was a dis­as­ter,’ she says. ‘I had the grill on in­stead of the oven and it was raw in the mid­dle. My brother said: “Bake Off Fi­nal­ist? Are you hav­ing a laugh?” ’

‘I nearly had a gas­tric sleeve’

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 ??  ?? Grow­ing in con­fi­dence: Laura Adling­ton to­day and (far right) as a child
Grow­ing in con­fi­dence: Laura Adling­ton to­day and (far right) as a child
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 ??  ?? Killer Queen: Laura feared she’d be booted off Bake Off af­ter her dis­as­ter with a fon­dant ic­ing Fred­die Mer­cury
Killer Queen: Laura feared she’d be booted off Bake Off af­ter her dis­as­ter with a fon­dant ic­ing Fred­die Mer­cury
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