Prue: I was wooed by Scot and his cook­ing

Bake Off judge Prue on her re­cent mar­riage and life in the fa­mous tent

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - FRONT PAGE - by bill Gibb bgibb@sun­day­post.com

NEW Great Bri­tish Bake Off judge Prue Leith has re­vealed her love of all things Scot­tish is at the heart of her life.

And cen­tral to it all is the late-life love Prue, 77, who re­places Mary Berry in the new-look GBBO which starts on Chan­nel 4 this week, found with a Scot.

She met re­tired de­signer John Play­fair, 70, at a din­ner party six years ago and af­ter he wooed her with home- cooked din­ners, the pair tied the knot in a low-key civil cer­e­mony here last year.

“John’s from Ed­in­burgh and it has a spe­cial place in my heart,” Prue told The Sun­day Post.

“I love the city. I got mar­ried to John in Loth­ian Chambers last Oc­to­ber. It was just the two of us and two wit­nesses.

“We had tea in the New Club, which looks over St An­drews, and then we walked up Sal­is­bury Crags to the mount at the top.

“I was in high heels as I had just got mar­ried, so I went up in high heels and came down bare­foot! It was lovely.”

Prue has fam­ily and other con­nec­tions with the cap­i­tal, hav­ing been in­stalled as Chan­cel­lor of Queen Mar­garet Uni­ver­sity last month.

“Of course I’m hon­oured,” con­fides Prue as she set­tles down for a chat ahead of the muchan­tic­i­pated launch of Bake Off’s first se­ries away from the BBC.

“I have al­ways ad­mired the place be­cause it started as a cook­ery school.

“They have never for­got­ten about the prac­ti­cal skills of cook­ing. They have more fe­male stu­dents than male, they do a lot of nurs­ing de­grees and health, lots of med­i­cal, and lots of hos­pi­tal­ity. It’s a nice con­nec­tion.

“And all my grand­par­ents came from Scot­land, one set from Caith­ness and one from the Bor­ders.

“I wear a kilt, a Leith tar­tan. There are two Leith tar­tans, the Port of Ed­in­burgh Leith tar­tan and the Leith fam­ily, which I wear.”

Ever since the BBC lost out on their top- rated show last au­tumn af­ter the £75m move to com­mer­cial telly, the fo­cus on Bake Off has been full on.

Mary Berry, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins’ de­ci­sion to stay with the Beeb paved the way for Prue, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Field­ing to join re­main­ing judge Paul Hol­ly­wood in the new line-up.

But while the scru­tiny – even the quirky trailer for this se­ries was foren­si­cally an­a­lysed and crit­i­cised – has been in­tense, Prue is de­lighted to be on board.

So, no hes­i­ta­tion about sign­ing up?

“Not a sec­ond. Who wouldn’t jump at this job?

“We care about the show and the bak­ers and ob­vi­ously we hope we haven’t let the fans of the show down.

“I hope ev­ery­one will be pleas­antly sur­prised when they re­alise it is still Bake Off.”

Much has been made about the chem­istry, or sup­posed lack of it, be­tween the new pre­sent­ing and judg­ing quar­tet.

Prue, how­ever, pre­vi­ously a favourite from the Great Bri­tish Menu, is quick to shoot down such tales.

“Paul is a plea­sure to work with, and Sandi and Noel just make me laugh.

“You know, it’s just so dif­fer­ent and it’s so much more re­laxed than any­thing I have ever done.

“You are there for two whole days but turn­ing up in the tent and eat­ing cake can’ t be con­sid­ered hard.

“There is no script to learn, I say what I feel about the bakes.

“I don’t say it’s like a hol­i­day, but you are com­pletely pro­tected from any­thing out­side. You are in this lit­tle bub­ble.

“You don’t have enough time to get into a con­ver­sa­tion out­side of it. I might write a bit more of my novel on my lap­top when there is a break, but there aren’t many.

“It’s an ab­so­lutely plea­sure of a job. You just go with the flow.

“Paul and I pretty much agree on the judg­ing of the bak­ers, and we come to the same de­ci­sions.

“There might be oc­ca­sional shades of dif­fer­ence but we tend to rank ev­ery baker in the same or­der.”

The pre­vi­ous se­ries have shot some of the bak­ers to na­tional fame. Sev­eral, such as Perthshire girl Flora Shed­den and last year’s champ Candice Brown, have landed lu­cra­tive pub­lish­ing deals.

And 2015 win­ner Nadiya Hus­sain has be­come one of the BBC’s most pop­u­lar pre­sen­ters, in­clud­ing on their new ri­val show The Big Fam­ily Cook­ing Show­down.

Prue says she has a new­found ad­mi­ra­tion for the bak­ers af­ter an up-close look at them over the past few months.

“I of­ten feel the anx­i­ety of the bak­ers. When you know they have messed up and they know they have messed up, then you feel for them.

“But they be­have so well. They don’t use ex­cuses, they know it is a fair show. You do get at­tached to the bak­ers and it’s emo­tional when they leave.

“They all have a goal to get to week three or week five and they are nor­mally right. They do go when they have pre­dicted.

“I’ve learned a lot about bak­ing from Paul and the bak­ers.”

While Noel was quoted – or, he in­sists, mis­quoted – about not sam­pling the fare, that’s far from the case with Prue.

“I made one of Paul’s tech­ni­cal bakes which is quite fat­ten­ing but worth the calo­ries.

“I ate it in the tent first, we then ate all the bak­ers’ bakes, and then I went home to bake it, so that was a lot of cake!”

Even with her hugely im­pres­sive culi­nary pedi­gree, in­clud­ing run­ning a Miche­lin­starred restau­rant and found­ing the fa­mous Leith’s School of Food and Wine, she in­sists it has been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

That’s partly be­cause cook­ing wasn’t some­thing she didn’t do from child­hood.

“My mother wasn’t a great cook,” she con­fesses.

“I grew up in South Africa and if you were lucky enough to have peo­ple to run your house in those days, you didn’t cook.

“So we had a won­der­ful cook called Char­lie, and I could have learned from him, but you just didn’t do that in those days.

“I went to Par is to the Sor­bonne to study French, and I fell in love with food there.

“I grew up in a fam­ily where it was vul­gar to talk about food or re­li­gion, or sex, pol­i­tics – I don’t know what we did talk about!”

And whether tarts are over­cooked, pas tries are un­der­done, breads aren’t proved enough or any num­ber of bakes turn out to have soggy bot­toms, view­ers can be sure Prue will know just what that’s like.

“The very first time I made a cake was at school,” she adds.

“It was a Christ­mas cake and, come Christ­mas Day, my fa­ther tried to cut into it but be­cause I hadn’t put any glyc­er­ine in the ic­ing it was rock-solid.

“As my fa­ther hit the cake, the knife, which was a fam­ily heir­loom, ac­tu­ally split in two!”

The Great Bri­tish Bake Off, Chan­nel 4, Tues­day, 8pm.

Paul and I have oc­ca­sional shades of dif­fer­ence, but Sandi and Noel just make me laugh

Prue wed John – then climbed Sal­is­bury Crags!

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