To celebrate this year’s fantastic series of Great British Bake Off, Style Diary caught up with Holly Bell, finalist from the 2011 series. As a wonderful baker, blogger and mother of three boys, we’re thrilled to welcome Holly onto our Style Inspiration blog! We picked her brains about her love of baking and the nation’s favourite baking programme….
How did you get into baking?
I started baking with my Mum, sitting on the work top and ‘helping’ cream cake mixture together. I also have memories of baking jam tarts with my Nanna and being chastised for being a bit too generous with the jam! I carried on baking through my teens and twenties but I guess things really took off when I got married at the age of 28. Suddenly I had a husband to feed, a baby on the way and a lot more time on my hands.
You were a finalist on the second series of Great British Bake Off in 2011. How did you get onto the show?
I blame it all on a good birth experience! My second son, Max, had been born in the October and it had been a very good birth. I felt a bit like superwoman afterwards. So when I saw a plea on a blog for people to apply for The Great British Bake Off I decided that I’d apply, despite having a 2 year old and a 3 month old! Seemed like a very sensible idea at the time. I had to fill in a paper application (seven sheets of A4!), had a phone interview, two live auditions and then I got the call that, frankly, changed my life.
What was your favourite challenge on the show, and what which was your favourite bake?
My favourite challenge on the show was probably the Battenberg cake on week 1. I have long eaten the humble Battenberg but had never made one so it was a bit of a challenge. I approached it as an exercise in construction and managed to come first in that technical challenge. It seems my many hours of playing Lego had paid off. My favourite bake? That would have to be my three-cheese, onion and potato pie. I am a savoury girl at heart so it’s very much my kind of bake. Plus, Mr Hollywood liked it which is a rare thing!
What are Mary and Paul really like?
I think Mary has a reputation for being a soft touch but she really isn’t. She often delivered quite critical feedback but did it in such a way that you came away thanking her for her advice. I warmed to Mary a lot and had a good chat with her about being a working mother. Paul was often harsh with his criticism – he’s the Simon Cowell of baking! However, he has been nothing but supportive since the show finished filming so I think under his lion exterior he may well be a pussy cat.
What have you been up to since the show, and how has GBBO helped?
I have done so many things since the show it’s hard to keep count! I’ve presented a radio show, been the digital face of the Live Well for Less campaign for Sainsburys, presented on QVC shopping channel, made recipe films for Lakeland and lots of other companies, plus written articles for various newspapers and magazines. Last but by no means least, I have published my first recipe book recently which went straight into the bestsellers list! It’s been a rollercoaster and it all started with GBBO. I do pinch myself sometimes that so much has happened.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I oscillate between very practical, classic and slightly preppy. I love Breton tops, well-cut jeans or trousers, loafers and a navy jacket, as much as I love being ultra dressed up and glam. I do love 1950s style dresses as they really suit my curvy figure. I have a wardrobe full of beautiful eveningwear that used to get regular outings when I worked in advertising. Now I work from home so they’re rarely used – I can’t bear to part with them though!