The fabulous Bake Off boy’s back
When cheeky charmer Liam Charles was evicted from the tent last year, he vowed he’d return. And now he has – with his own show
When Liam Charles left The Great British Bake Off in the quarter-final last year, there was a chorus of disapproval. The acting student from Hackney, east London, made such an impression with his cheeky charm that he was dubbed the people’s champion. He left saying, ‘I’m coming for Paul Hollywood’s job in a couple of years!’
It was no empty promise. Even though he’s only 21, earlier this year Liam made his presenting debut as co-host with comedian Tom Allen on Bake Off: The Professionals. He released his debut cookbook Cheeky Treats, and now he has a six-part series starting on Channel 4 – Liam Bakes.
The show’s working title was Bake Boy, which would make a rather appropriate superhero alias. Liam’s a massive fan of The Avengers, the band of heroes including Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. ‘That,’ he admits, ‘would be my ultimate acting goal. I want to play a superhero.’ Well, heroes don’t just wear capes, they wear aprons, too.
The new show sees Liam in the kitchen with family and friends, and out and about in Hackney. It wouldn’t be complete without a cameo from his nan Cynthia. Liam loves to put his own spin on her traditional Caribbean recipes and won star baker in last year’s pastry week thanks partly to a salsatopped pie inspired by her Sunday dinner – filled with curried meat, plantain and potatoes. Paul Hollywood loved it so much he called her a genius.
‘When Mum was working I’d go to Nan’s,’ says Liam of his childhood, ‘so I had a lot of her food and still do. Her food inspires my savoury bakes. Caribbean food has so many flavours – ginger, cinnamon, Scotch bonnet chillis, turmeric. Nan’d never put curried goat in a pie, but she liked my pie... in spite of herself!’
Liam will be seen making savoury scones with his mum. ‘My nephews are in the show too,’ he says. ‘We make a massive layer cake. My youngest nephew is seven and he thinks
I’m cool. My eldest nephew, who’s 12, plays it down. When we were decorating the cake he was buzzing, saying, “I made this!”, but then he was complaining that his friends and teachers are always talking about me.
‘A great thing is when youngsters get inspired,’ he adds. ‘One boy, who was 11, came up to me and said, “Bro, you got me into baking.” I didn’t go out to inspire people, but it’s cool.’
While the headlines tend to concentrate on the seamier side of inner-city living, it’s important to Liam to present the reality of life in Hackney. ‘There’s good and bad everywhere,’ he says, ‘Hackney’s changed a lot.’
He has been heavily influenced by the diversity of his surroundings. ‘I’m a combination of everything around me,’ he says.
‘ If you go to Stoke Newington there’s loads of Turkish restaurants, so it’s baklava, rose water, pistachios. If you go to Dalston there’s a heavy Caribbean and African influence. That’s a walk of just ten minutes. All those flavours to excite your palate. Food brings people together, it’s a universal language.’
Liam wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for Bake Off – watching the show taught him to bake. ‘I was 16 when I got into baking,’ he explains. ‘I’d watch loads of cooking and baking shows on TV. I loved watching Bake Off. If it was, say, biscuit week, I’d look at the recipe books I had and make biscuits inspired by the show.
‘I watched loads of Paul Hollywood shows too,’ he adds. ‘He was my food hero – he made me think, “I need to do this.” And Tom Kerridge – he had a series where he baked a cake on a barbecue. Heston Blumenthal is like a mad scientist.’ Liam was actually voted the student most likely to appear on Bake Off when he was at school. ‘I’d do a weekend bake and then come into school with my Tupperware,’ he says. ‘To go from watching the show to standing in the tent was an out-of-body experience. It was crazy. I was in so much shock.’ Standing in front of Paul and Prue Leith with your bakes is scary, but they were ‘very positive and encouraging. Paul’s cool and Prue’s like the aunt you don’t want to disappoint. After week three – my rockiest, as it was bread – Paul said, “Just focus.” So I did. Everything they say is constructive.
‘But fifth place is good. I was there to prove to myself I can bake to a good standard, to learn. We were all mates in the tent and still see and message each other. I was with Steven Carter-Bailey [one of last year’s runners- up] only the other day.’ Liam’s full of praise for the Class of 2018. ‘I was so happy Rahul won. He took us on a journey and it was amazing. He’s so deadpan, he doesn’t realise how funny he is!
‘ I loved Kim- Joy in Chocolate Week,’ he says. ‘The way she poured hot chocolate on her showstopper then we saw the little turtles she made... wicked. ‘And I adored Ruby from week one – she’s a Londoner, so that’s family for me,’ he adds. ‘She won star baker two weeks running and, like me, she’s a Man Utd supporter. I was so sad to see Briony leave at the semifinals. I felt every emotion the bakers went through. And that wagon wheel challenge in Biscuit Week!’ he laughs. ‘ I don’t know what would’ve happened if it was me.’ Still studying Drama and Theatre Arts at Goldsmiths, Liam graduates in December. ‘Drama was my first passion,’ he says. ‘I went to the Young Actors Theatre in Islington. I did Silent Witness in Year Seven at school – my first drama job.’
But right now it’s the baking that’s taking off. ‘It’s mad,’ he grins. ‘I pinch myself every day. To have a show about what I love to bake is awesome.’ Liam Bakes begins on Monday at 8pm on Channel 4.
Liam today and (below left) with host Sandi Toksvig and judges Paul and Prue on Bake Off last year