Antiques, tequila and trash TV
It’s pretty rare that I get a weekend off and in my line of work every day involves something different. Luckily, however, I can do a lot of it from home so that’s where I’m usually to be found. My partner Paul [Atkins, a graphic designer] and I live between Blackheath and Woolwich in south-east London, in an area where, I recently discovered, Fanny Cradock used to live. I feel I am channelling one of my idols just by going home - Paul and I are like the new Johnnie and Fanny.
If we’re going out, I prefer to do it on a Friday night rather than a Saturday so I’ve got the whole weekend to acclimatise back into sobriety. We’d go to a nice restaurant – obviously I like to eat, that’s no secret – and have some good food or something really indulgent, like curry or a Chinese meal, and maybe a few cocktails. Margaritas are my drink of choice at the moment thanks to [the actress] Cleo Rocos, who got me hooked on the tequila. We’d come home not too late and have a long lie-in on Saturday morning. I rarely get to do that, because when I’m on breakfast television I have to wake up at 5am and trundle across London in the rain.
On Saturdays we love going to Greenwich retro market. We’re complete hoarders. You have to get there really early, for about 10am, because the vendors unload their vans and people come and swipe it up immediately. We usually find some little bit of furniture or whatnot, and then we’ll go to the new Peyton and Byrne that’s just opened in Greenwich and have coffee and cake and sandwiches.
Afterwards I’ll probably have to do a bit of work in the kitchen, testing and photographing new recipes. This isn’t spontaneous cooking: a lot of meticulous planning goes into it so even though it’s what I love to do, it still feels like work. Paul might help, mostly by doing as he’s asked and cleaning up while I make more mess. Then we like going into central London for an early supper at Duck and Waffle or somewhere like that.
Paul and I don’t get to spend a great deal of time together because, like everyone with a job in London, he tends to work all the hours God sends. If we do get a night off we usually want to spend it on the couch, eating sweets and watching trash television. That’s a dream come true. X Factor, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Orange is the New Black and Bake Off are our favourites – although Bake Off is not trash TV, of course!
I absolutely love watching the show now. It’s nice to be emotionally detached from the cakes and Mary [Berry] and Paul [Hollywood], and I didn’t enjoy watching myself. I spent the whole time thinking I should have worn a better outfit or not had so much to drink the night before.
Just after I won there were a few really mundane months when no one except Paul and my close family knew the result so as not to spoil the competition. I’d finished my law degree at the same time, and felt a great deal of delayed excitement. When the show was actually broadcast, it was a complete whirlwind – and I really began to understand what that cliché meant. I had to leave my job and spent all my days travelling into London to different TV and radio studios, going from publisher to publisher having meetings and so on. It was
Herbal tea or stiff drink? Stiff drink. Watching my mum make butterfly cakes. I would stand on this little chair at her side so I could peek over the countertop.
Anything you can’t cook? When I can’t do something I make sure I learn it, even if it takes me all day and I spend £1,000 on ingredients. I will bloody well master it, because I’m a control freak.
Greatest extravagance? Food and cocktails. We went out a few weeks ago and the bill came to £400, pretty much just on margaritas… there were three of us, to be fair. Sometimes if I can’t be bothered I don’t get organised, so I’ll just throw all of my used pots in the sink. That way I get really stressed because the kitchen is a mess and I’ve got no one else to blame but myself.
Who will win ‘GBBO’ this year? I hope Nancy. Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. I am Nancy’s boy, I love her.
Most common question from fans? It’s always to do with baking. How do I get my meringues to rise, or how do I get my Victoria sponge right? I never mind chatting to people about the Bake Off – it’s nice that when I get recognised it’s because I’ve done something people enjoy, not because I’ve done anything wrong. There are so many. I love Fanny Cradock for the entertainment, Nigel Slater for his literary abilities and I love Nigella because she’s just indulgent. And Richard Bertinet, he’s very good. exhausting but so exciting, and it is still so busy even now, two and a half years later, which I didn’t expect. Touch wood it will last forever.
I’ve now got to a position where I can choose what I do. There are a few publicity things I did that I slightly regret now, because they were cheesy and cheapened me a little, but I felt that I couldn’t be a diva and turn opportunities down or I wouldn’t get anywhere. So I rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in. Now I’ve done two books and have my own range of chocolates, The Hungry Dog Artisan Chocolates company. I named it after my granddad, who sadly passed away just after we finished filming Bake Off. He was a farmer and always used wildlife and nature analogies, and he’d say to me “the hungry dog hunts best”. I think it means that you might not know what you want in life until you’re so hungry that you’ll go out and find it.
Chocolate production has halted at the