Paul Hollywood is without doubt the man of the moment in British baking. His luxurious dough recipes have been single-handedly responsible for the mass ignition of ovens across the UK since the advent of The Great British Bake Off. Admired for his straight-talking style and amazing technical knowledge, Paul's judging partnership with Mary Berry has been described as one of television's best ever. Having suffered a rocky period in the USA - both professionally and personally - Hollywood is now back in England, once again enjoying the astounding success of The Great British Bake Off and his own touring shows. What's more, with his marriage fully reconciled and his wife Alexandra enjoying cooking success of her own, the sky truly is the limit for Paul Hollywood. But then, he was always destined for great things. Descended from a line of illustrious bakers, Hollywood originally trained as a sculptor, giving him the deftly skilful hands his viewers delight in watching. From kneading dough as a 17-year-old apprentice to his father to working as head baker at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, his professional career is legendary. For the first time, this compelling biography sheds light on the man behind the counter, from his youth on Merseyside to the sunny climes of Cyprus and beyond. Journalist A S Dagnell delves deep into Paul Hollywood's story and charts the ingredients that have shaped this enigmatic character into the dazzlingly talented king of British baking.
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By A S Dagnell
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 A S Dagnell
All rights reserved.
Britain's Best-Loved Baker
It should have been a blissful, triumphant moment in Paul Hollywood's life. He was returning to the UK and his life had changed forever. As he sat on the transatlantic jetliner he must have been thinking about how much he had changed. One moment he was running a successful bakery business. A baker by trade, he had grown up around bread, croissants and pastries. His whole family had baked – both for fun and to make an honest living. And Paul had followed in their footsteps from a young age. But he had taken baking to a whole new level, for in a short space of time he had managed to cross over to become one of Britain's fastest-rising TV stars. BBC bosses had recruited him to be the face of a new series that had become an overnight hit. The Great British Bake Off had flown in the ratings and alongside the doyenne of British baking, Mary Berry, Paul had become the face of the series, judging a string of contestants on their various bakes as they vied to become Britain's next big baker. He had gone from being a master baker to Britain's next big telly chef.
And then, as if that wasn't enough, life was about to take a dramatic turn. But not all of it was good. After wrapping up the third series of The Great British Bake Off in 2012, rumours suddenly started circulating. First, newspapers were reporting that the hit British series was going stateside. That was nothing out of the ordinary; it was a well-trodden path for successful homegrown TV shows, like X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing, to be rolled out in the United States. But next the tabloids began linking Paul to the new US series. Would he reprise his role in the US show? Was this the start of a glitzy Hollywood career (for Hollywood)? And if he took the job, would he turn his back on the British version of the show?
The truth was that Paul would sign for the CBS series. Amid all the speculation and hearsay, he signed on the dotted line to reprise his role as a judge on the American version of Bake Off, aptly named The American Baking Competition. Here was a true rags-to-riches tale. For the baker's son from the Wirral, who had started out in the family business, it was monumental for he was now on the verge of becoming a household name in the States with the world at his feet. Naturally, he was brimming with enthusiasm for his new role. 'I think it's going to be fantastic,' he told the Sun newspaper. 'They've got things like Mississippi mud pie and pumpkin pie. They're known for their baking so I think it will be a great success.'
The quote underlined all that Hollywood was about. Yes, it was hugely exciting to be launched as a TV star in the US. It would bring huge opportunities for himself and his supportive wife Alexandra and their young son Joshua. But more importantly, it was all about the baking. The fact that the first thing he was to focus on when describing the pros of being involved in the American series is the delight he would feel when exploring the different types of baking recipes that would be available shows just how much he cared.
For him baking had become a way of life. His enthusiasm, dedication and commitment are second to none. These qualities have made him Britain's best-loved baker. It's hard to imagine that anyone cares more about producing a tasty sourdough or baking a fresh batch of scones than Paul Hollywood – other than his Bake Off co-presenter, Mary Berry, of course, but his professional baking background is what sets him apart. It was his passion for his craft, alongside his popular appeal, that had propelled him to stardom and secured him what was speculated to be a lucrative contract in the US.
Now, as the summer of 2013 was fast approaching, he filmed his first series of The American Baking Competition. All was set for the launch of the show on 29 May. With his commitments complete, Paul made the trip back to the UK. And as he sat on the airplane bound for London, you might imagine that he was feeling more content than ever. With stateside success in the offing, surely this was a time for celebration?
Not quite. For Paul was heading back to face one of the toughest times of his life. His 15-year marriage to his wife Alexandra had hit the rocks, and within days the British newspapers would break the story of their separation. This would undoubtedly be a testing time and cast a dark shadow over what should have been an incredible highlight in his career.
But this wasn't a straightforward separation, for the tabloids quickly linked the break-up to Paul's apparent close friendship with his new co-judge on The American Baking Competition – the young, pretty, glamorous Mexican-born Marcela Valladolid, 13 years his junior. The press speculated as to whether he and Marcela were indeed an item and even suggested they were planning to move in together. A media storm would erupt, with his whole reputation at stake. And there was nothing he could do to stop it – not even via his prolific use of the social networking site Twitter, where he would regularly connect with his fans and on which he kept an uncannily low profile as the news broke. It was testament to the fickle nature of celebrity; one minute you are everyone's hero, the next it could all turn to rubble.
He himself had become only too aware of how quickly his life was changing. In one interview with the Sunday Mirror, he reflected on how much his stardom had risen in just 12 months of being on The Great British Bake Off. 'It is quite cultish, isn't it?' he said, almost naively, not realising the full extent to which the show had grown – almost tripling its viewing figures over the course of three series. 'It's all about timing,' he went on to say, 'when you become a product of a big programme, you get busier and it's hard trying to fit everything in. I am just really enjoying myself.'
But as the tabloids continued to lay into him and to speculate on his love life for weeks on end, the timing couldn't have been worse. What should have been a huge moment in his career was truly overshadowed by the tabloid machine.
The truth was that Paul's apparent sex appeal was what seemed to be setting him apart as a star. At the very least, it was winning him scores of admirers. In the previous year leading up to the launch of The American Baking Competition, female feature writers constantly celebrated his charisma and charm, as well as his undoubted good looks, within the pages of the British press. One writer in the Daily Telegraph even went so far as to describe his work as 'patisserie porn':
Close your eyes, ladies. Feel the lightest dusting of icing sugar on your lips, the caress of cream on your tongue, breathe in the heady scent of raspberries and vanilla and – ooh, is that Paco Rabanne? And possibly essence of WD40? Yes, this is real baking by a real man, with the impassive flinty gaze of a Liverpool bouncer and the sensuous hands of Christian Grey. May I present to you Paul Hollywood, Britain's most unlikely pin-up. Twitter is a-flutter, the racy opinions on Mumsnet would make a navvie blush and last weekend, when the Daily Telegraph included his 'Fifty Shades of Granary' supplement, there were practically riots in newsagents the length of the land.
It seemed that a big part of Paul's appeal was that he wasn't just a good-looking man but one who could bake too! As one writer explained: 'Hollywood's twinkly appeal, coupled with the fact that Britons gobble 3.25 billion loaves a year, is a tempting concoction.'
Nevertheless, despite his rapid rise to fame, Paul seemed to be taking everything in his stride, even if fame and all its trappings were not necessarily something he always felt comfortable with. 'I'll admit I am a bit of a show-off but I'm actually shy,' he told the Daily Express. 'The guy on TV is the guy I hide behind. I do get stage fright. I'm shaking till I walk out and then this twin takes over. Obviously you're there to teach but you can't just stand there spouting instructions. You've got to entertain people and it's hard work. I'm exhausted at the end.'
His newfound fame meant that he needed security at large events. And he was suddenly being mobbed by hundreds of autograph hunters. 'I don't want it, but it's necessary,' he insisted. 'I'm always happy to sign autographs or [to] have my photo taken but if you stop for one person, before you know it they're 10 to 15 deep around you and I'm supposed to be somewhere else but I can't move. I'll shout out, "I will sign if you come back after" as I'm being bundled away.'
The truth was that after three series of steadily building success, The Great British Bake Off had become a national phenomenon, inspiring home bakers the length and breadth of the country to dust off their aprons and start kneading their first batch of dough while encouraging those already partial to a bit of home baking to up their game and try some of the more ambitious recipes from the series. It seemed Paul was in great demand, though even he couldn't quite get his head around how quickly it had all happened. To begin with, neither could the critics, but they quickly came on board. 'On paper Great British Bake Off sounds like a daft idea, at best fit for nothing more than the most brain-dead slot in the daytime TV schedules,' wrote Anna Pukas in the Daily Express. 'Yet its success has been nothing short of astounding. The first series in 2010 started with 2.4 million viewers and ended with 3.8 million, while for the second last year ratings shot up from 3.6 to 5.1 million. This series is averaging 5 million viewers.' Or, as Paul put it more plainly, 'It's gone completely mental.'
Soon he would be such hot property that features would be written about his hair, with one writer from the Weekend Argus demanding she be allowed to touch it:
Let us be clear from the outset, I don't insist upon stroking the hair of everyone I meet. If I did, I would be writing this on pieces of tracing paper that I had secreted under the mattress of the bunk in my cell. But when you meet Paul Hollywood, you can't help yourself. It's like giving in to the urge to tweak the cheek of an alabaster cherub in a museum, or stroke the delicate folds of the ballet skirt on a Degas ballerina.
He had the female viewing public, as well as the critics, eating out of the palm of his hand. The close bond that he had formed with his co-presenter, baking guru Mary Berry, on the series had cemented his reputation as a 'nice guy'. It seemed Mary's welfare was of paramount importance to him, and in the course of one interview, journalist Sarah Chalmers from the Daily Mail noticed how Paul, usually so cool, calm and collected, only became on edge when she mentioned the possibility of Mary leaving the Bake Off. 'After a momentary pause,' she wrote, 'he replies, "She'll go on forever."'
And it was their interpersonal chemistry that truly set them apart as one of the best judging duos on British reality TV: Paul was bad cop to Mary's good cop. It was a routine that worked wonders on screen. While Mary was always more sympathetic, even if the bakes she was judging had been an unmitigated disaster, Paul was far blunter, in the process earning himself a reputation as the 'Simon Cowell of the baking world'. But as far as he was concerned, he was just delivering an honest opinion. 'It's not personal, it's just about what they do,' he told the Scottish Daily Record. 'Some programmes have a pop at the person themselves but I give an honest opinion and maybe they've never had an honest opinion before. That's part of it and, if they get upset, it's a good thing. If they didn't get upset I'd be more worried. If they did nothing, they're never going to get better.'
He was also of the view that the differences between himself and Mary only made their on-screen relationship stronger. 'Mary came from a home cooking background and I came from a professional baking background,' he explained. 'I won't make one cake, I'll make 50. So I'll look at it from a business point of view.' Indeed he would often say how much he has learned from Mary, thanks to their differing approaches.
Paul's greatest asset, though, is his directness. When it comes to judging, he calls a spade a spade. Little wonder he would later reveal that friends and family often become nervous around him when presenting him with cakes. 'Friends ask me to judge their bakes now, and I sometimes get embarrassed,' he told the Sun. 'I was at a party recently and the hostess asked me to judge a cake she'd made. I tried to put her off but she insisted – so I admitted the cake was a bit dry round the edges and had sunk in the middle. She didn't speak to me for weeks.'
On another occasion he attended a cake sale at his 11-year-old son Joshua's school. And you can imagine the panic that descended on the other parents. 'My son's school had a cake sale in the playground recently and you could see everyone panicking when I arrived,' he told the Daily Mail. 'They all watched to see what I'd go for. I bought a particularly good lemon drizzle cake, and I'm sure the mother who made it is still living off the story!'
Like father, like son, Joshua is also proving to be a keen baker. Paul recounted to the Sunday Express: 'Our son, Josh – who's 11 this year – is the same. He's also got a fine palate and will tell you if you haven't put enough Parmesan in a risotto. He's also a great little baker and I've made cupcakes and pizzas with him. He wanted to compete in Junior Bake Off. There were loads of tears when I said, "I'm your dad. It's not going to happen, son ..."'
Without doubt, Paul's reputation as a master baker was beginning to precede him. When it came to breads, buns and baking per se, he was a genius. No one could fault what he could produce with a bit of dough and an oven. But now it seemed that his reputation was being called into question. As his marriage ran into difficulties suddenly questions were being asked in a whole string of newspaper stories. So, was he as nice a guy as everyone first thought? What would happen to his career? And would his personal life affect the success of the British and US Bake Off shows? Or would the series continue to go from strength to strength?
And most important of all, would Paul remain Britain's best-loved baker?
Only time would tell.CHAPTER 2
Liquid Yeast Running Through His Veins
As the newest and most up-and-coming star of the quintessentially middle-class world of home baking, you might imagine that Paul Hollywood comes from a similar background himself. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While his star turns on The Great British Bake Off sent him on a stellar trajectory that would see him conquer TV land in the UK, and hopefully on the other side of the Atlantic where an American version of the show was to be launched, making him a household name in the well-appointed living rooms of millions, it's fair to say he comes from humble, working-class roots. They are roots that Paul, no matter how successful he becomes, has never forgotten and never will.
Born in 1966, he grew up Wallasey, on Merseyside, and was the eldest of three brothers born to his parents, John and Gill. And it seems that his fate was sealed from the get-go. John himself was a baker by trade, and Paul and his brothers were brought up in a flat above one of the bakeries that he owned. From an early age, Paul was introduced to the joys of freshly baked bread, cakes of all different shapes and sizes, pastries and biscuits. John was an incredibly hard worker. After setting up the bakery over which he and his family lived, he would gradually expand the business to open up a string of other shops in and around the Liverpool area, and later across other regions of Britain. Indeed his father's guiding principles of good baking and a solid work ethic proved a steady influence throughout Paul's formative years and his early adult life.
John would work around the clock building up the first bakery business, which served hundreds of people in the local community – everything from traditional daily staples such as loaves of bread and rolls to more elaborate cakes and biscuits. One can only assume he was something of a legend in the area as he soon became part of the locals' daily routines as they popped by on their way to work or during their lunch hour. 'Dad was always in bed in the afternoons because of getting up in the early hours to bake,' Paul recalled in an interview with the Daily Mail.
Yet as a young boy, the early mornings were something that perhaps dissuaded him from following in father's footsteps – in the beginning at least. 'It's one of the reasons I didn't want to be a baker initially,' he explained in the same interview. 'I was a bed person. I think most teenagers are. But eventually you realise that getting up at dawn on a summer morning is the best time. The roads are quiet, you can think and you work while everyone else is sleeping.'
Excerpted from Paul Hollywood by A S Dagnell. Copyright © 2015 A S Dagnell. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Britain's Best-Loved Baker 1
Chapter 2 Liquid Yeast Running Through His Veins 11
Chapter 3 The Royal Seal of Approval 29
Chapter 4 Six Years in Cyprus 43
Chapter 5 Back in Blighty 59
Chapter 6 In the Dough 75
Chapter 7 The Bake Off Takes Off 93
Chapter 8 The Bake Off Continues 111
Chapter 9 Greatest Judging Duo in History 127
Chapter 10 The George Clooney of Baking 143
Chapter 11 Baking For Blokes 159
Chapter 12 Paul Goes to Hollywood 175
Chapter 13 A Heartbreaking Twist 193
Chapter 14 Testing Times 209
Chapter 15 Bread, Buns and Baking 225
Chapter 16 The Future 247