Bake Off Confidential – bittersweet adventures in a TV show

Don’t get me wrong: I gained a huge amount from the Bake Off experience and I cook every day I’m at home and still love to bake. I’m not going to give you a blow by blow account of how to fill in the application form since I know no more about what they are really looking for in potential contestants now than I did when I applied. I can make suggestions as to what I think might be important and how you might want to consider the impact of any application not just on yourself but on the people around you and your family finances. Heck I can even dispel some of the myths around Bake Off that I’ve seen promulgated online and tell you some of the inside secrets that don’t break the terms of the contract we were all obliged to sign before we even got anywhere near filming the first episode.

But tant pis she writes with a Gallic shrug, Bake Off has been ruined for me now and I’ll never be able to watch it again in the way that I saw episodes from previous series. And that makes me sad.

Amuse Bouche

The Form

Ok that tricky form. It’s long, complicated and seems to ask a huge amount in enormous detail about the whole spectrum of baking. I struggled with it too. Along with Signe Johansen (writer of the Scandilicious books) I find the whole idea of anything being a “Showstopper’ stupid and pretentious. No one likes a show off so why when I cook for the people I care for would I regularly be doing anything to score points over them and enhance myself in the process? If I make something for a party I ask the hosts what they would like me to bring – it’s their choice not mine and I’m doing it to help them not for self aggrandisement.

So I didn’t have a showstopper anything much less a signature one and the form seemed to be obsessed not just with the range of goods that I’d baked but the complexity of them.

A Response

So here’s what I did: I asked the people around me who regularly eat what I make, what they liked to eat in each of the categories and wrote about the most complicated or difficult things I’d baked and why. In other words I was honest. I told them what I liked to do and why, the times I baked for pleasure and why it helped and how I coped with having to fit baking for necessity around everything else I have to do in my life.

Because unlike your sins, your fibs and half truths on the form will not be forgiven and will be easily found out. We’re amateurs and the researchers are aware of that. They want to know what you’re currently capable of and what your range is, not whether you’re the likely next winner.

The process will weed out the cupcake obsessives and the sugarcrafters who can’t really bake, not because there is disapproval of those groups, simply that expertise in one area of baking tends to be too limiting when they’re looking for all rounders or people with the potential to be. Oh yes, and if you cook as much as you bake it’s a big help. Flavours are important. It can keep you in the competition longer if your technical ability is a bit weak, although in the end it came down to ability to make a cake the best that determined winning this time. But don’t count on that – next time it might be something completely different.

Accept that you’ll never know if you’re ready because you’ll never have baked everything so at some point you do have to feel the fear and let go, trusting that the process will mould you and inevitably form you into a better version of your baking self than you were previously. It did for me.

 Hors D’Oevres

The Process

This bit has to remain confidential but ask yourself, what are the lovely researchers who telephone you and will become your new BFFs in the following weeks wanting to know about you? Well obviously the stuff you wanted to know about us, plus making sure that you can actually bake. You have to be able to ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ and if you can’t….close but no cigar. You can still always have another go next year. This was second time around for Cathryn and look how marvellously well she did.

Like George Washington it is best not to tell a lie. John said from the very first time I met him that he wanted to win, bake for a career and already had half an eye on writing a book. Brendan had his masterplan for social change and I….. had nothing. Well I did, but it isn’t lifechanging TV friendly: I had no intention of any career change. I just wanted to see how far I could get and how good I was compared to the ones who were wanting to make new careers out of it. Sufficient proximity to breathe the same baking fumes and for some people sweetly to think I might have been a real contender even though all along I never saw myself as wanting that.

And yet they still took me, because despite repeated questioning my story didn’t change and I was telling the truth. Anyway it’s boring to watch 12 attention seekers who all want the prize. That’s not Bake Off style. They’re selecting 12 people who fit a formula for 12 different demographic types. I don’t even believe we were the 12 best bakers who applied last year. What I do believe is we were the 12 best fits for a suitable and varied group of individuals that represented UK baking who had all the other qualities they were looking for.

So if you’re not selected, don’t take it personally, but your face on that occasion may really not have fitted. Oh yes and there are no travelling expenses. A modest contribution will be made towards travelling expenses at a fairly late stage, but if you live outside the selection site then you’ll already be out of pocket. Paying travelling expenses at this stage would probably bankrupt the company.

The Wait Before Dawn

I would like to say that this was the worst bit. It wasn’t. But at the time, it felt like it probably was going to be.

All recipes for all the programmes excluding the final had to be submitted by all the contestants before filming starts. They came in waves, usually 2 weeks apart with very specific requirements. Oh and all the recipes have to be original. Some recipes go in the book that’s sold to accompany the series and on the BBC website. So no ripping off anyone’s copyright. Devise your own recipes and then hand over copyright to the production company in return for appearing on the show and getting them assessed. It’s perfectly legal and called a contract.

At the time it felt like the seven labours of Hercules, but I didn’t care because this is where I got better. Strudel pastry, vegetarian Wellington, bagels; all were new to me and some I had more success with than others. I was sleep deprived though, going to bed at 1-1.30 am and getting up at 5am because work and life can’t stop at this point. Very few people will “officially” know what you’re doing.

The reason I made savouries at every opportunity was because we still had to eat. We ate the recipes I was trying out, good and bad. Strudel for supper every week with slight variations, curry to eat flatbread. This is also where it started getting expensive. You can put it in the freezer, you can give it away, but when it just goes wrong you can only put in the bin. Sometimes burning fivers might have felt more satisfying.

Main Course

Filming

Anticipation always enhances the pleasure of the moment right? Well the night before filming when we all met as a group for the first time was that point.

The shock in the bus back after the first day’s filming, up since 6am and returning exhausted after 8pm was bad enough. The bus journey back on the Sunday when Natasha had been eliminated was 100 times worse. If you have any ounce of empathy for your fellow competitors, whatever pleasure you may take from success is always tempered by their pain. It’s almost visceral.

The production crew are funny, charming and extremely helpful. They make the experience the best they possibly can, as do Mel and Sue, but they all have jobs to do and the product is not us. We are the ingredients, to be taken out and used when required for filming, baking and interviewing. The hanging around waiting can be tedious even though the others were genuinely marvelous company and on the whole delightful people to spend time with.

However making radical alterations to your routine 2 1/2 days a week has a novelty value that wears off pretty quickly. From then on what will keep you coming back is down to your motivation for entering and desire to succeed. Mine disappeared before the semi-finals although I’d been openly saying I wanted “my life back” from week 6 onwards. I came back because the people around me and the people at work wanted me to see it through to its natural conclusion.

It’s not just you that will have to buy into the process: your loved ones won’t even be getting to enjoy the fun bits. So make sure you really know why you’re applying and never lose sight of that reason. Winning really isn’t everything for many people – or the people around them.

Travelling

Travelling expenses are paid for as are the ingredients that you use on camera, but in between you will still be trying to practise and improve recipes before filming and although we had some contribution to our costs it doesn’t cover what was spent, and the company acknowledge that. So you will be further out of pocket, and still eating the same food.

Some things you may not be able to practise- I’d never done the Clock Tower from construction to decoration in 4 hours before as I simply had no time, and I found out on the day that I couldn’t do it. No wonder it looked such a mess. And the scars I got from the caramel are still present – I’ll need plastic surgery to improve the look of the ones I’ve got at the base of my thumb and back of my wrist.

But I was ‘lucky’. You can’t rely on not having practised, which means you need to be able to clear your diary during filming. And I mean REALLY CLEAR your diary. Life cannot get in the way if you want to progress. My mother was taken into hospital just before filming one episode, and the times when my diary could not be cleared corresponded with the times when I was most shaky.

Judging

It’s not nice. TV shows a highly edited version of the ‘feedback’ you will get. Some is very positive and encouraging, all is meant to improve your skills in some way. But this is TV land not the work environment, and methods of appraisal and feedback you may be used to will not be present here.

Dessert

TV transmission

Seeing yourself on TV isn’t the problem: it’s seeing the disappointment on the faces of the people you care for when you don’t appear much in an episode or you’re portrayed in a way that they don’t recognise as fully you. You can rationalise it to them, but it doesn’t feel good to see them upset about online comments or unable to work out why your bake wasn’t shown and someone else’s was.

Work out a strategy for how you are going to deal with that – although like childbirth, how you can know what it will be like until you actually experience it is anyone’s guess. Remember that in signing yourself up for this, you are consenting them to the experience also. In the end I was in it long enough for the positive effects to be felt by the people around me and for me to take pleasure from that, but it might not be the case for you, and then you may feel unsatisfied, cheated or even relieved.

Recognition

Over 6 million people saw this series and I’ve been approached many times. Those approaching me have been universally kind and generous, but I don’t enjoy being the centre of attention, haven’t courted the media or press and find the whole concept of Z list celebrity anathema in terms of what I’m trying to achieve in my life. If you want it fine, if you win, you will have to court it, and if you don’t win but want to try and use your 15 minutes of fame then you’ve got an uphill task to capitalise on it. Over the ether however, the comments will be much more personal and at times vituperative: people are willing to judge all aspects of your life and personality without knowing you when they don’t have to say it to your face.

Petits Fours

There is no money or contract directly associated with winning. Everything else is down to you, although I suspect if you win the production company will help out initially, but they don’t commit to. The people who have done best out of GBBO career wise have been willing to change and absorb that kind of attention. This year John may do very well because he is media friendly, actively wants to do this and also the show will be enhanced by having a very visible success in the way he has said he wishes to progress his career. But next year may be very different…don’t expect it to bring you riches.

The ‘economic’ arguments of winning never stacked up for me, and overall it cost me time and money I’ll never get back. But it’s a hobby. Think of it as buying a set of very expensive golf clubs or a few season tickets: no one really gets paid for their hobby, it’s the definition of ‘amateur’.

Right now I look back and can’t quite appreciate how I ever managed it. I’ll probably watch the next series, and maybe you will be in it. I got exactly what I set out to get from the experience and more that was unanticipated. However I’d never do it again. I know too much of what it takes to be involved and I wish a part of me still had that bucolic fantasy of baking in a tent in a field.

And if you’re one of the poor souls battling away against yourself in that tent, then know that you’ll have at least one viewer who has considerable empathy for your struggles and will have nothing but admiration for everything you do. Because if you want a personal challenge and you can bake a bit, you won’t get a more extreme one than this.

Hold on to your sense of self when all around feels like a Bosch tableau. You are not at the Gates of Hell it just feels like it sometimes, and remember, you have chosen freely to do this. No one is forcing you to change but you will undoubtedly be a better baker as a result. Good Luck.

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68 Responses to Bake Off Confidential – bittersweet adventures in a TV show

  1. Danny,
    You were one of my favourites on the show, and I’m glad you felt you got something out of it, and learned new things. Your post only reinforces my idea that this is fun to watch, but less fun to do. I can only admire you for your grit in doing all this, and keeping ‘real life’ going at the same time. I’m looking forward to more of your writing though, and hearing more about your new adventures in baking, even if they don’t involve giant clocks!
    Louise @ usingmainlyspoons.com

    • Thanks Louise. I got a lovely card from friends during the week saying that their friends now want their next party to have a gingerbread clock tower in the centre of the table! I am dreading it already. :-)

  2. What a brilliant piece of writing. All life experience is valuable and I wonder how many (or indeed how few) other people go into this sort of ‘reality’ type of programme with such a level headed attitude.

    I hope you will continue to write this blog; I have really enjoyed reading it.

  3. SO well written and I know all about this, as I appeared on TV for Britain’s Best Dish and after one show, refused to sign the filming waiver form, so disenchanted was I at the judges behaviour (fighting in front of us!) and the fact we were collected by taxi in the morning and then had to walk home at night to the hotel! I hated being judged alongside a lady whom I had grown to like, and I also hated the “behind the scenes” fiasco of no running water and prepping in a portacabin! (ITV have a smaller budget than BBC obviously!) I also think that the bake off is ageist – I have never seen anyone over the age of 35 progress much, and was surprised that Brendan made it to the finals……I am so pleased that you wrote this, it is well balanced and fair, and it should be said. WELL DONE for all you achieved, and for what its worth, I was rooting for you all along the way….Karen

  4. Well done Danny. You did really well and were a pleasure to watch. It looks like exceptionally hard work and from what you say, it really is.
    I interviewed Peter Bayless, winner of MasterChef in 2006, and he said very similar things in terms of ‘winning’ very little and it costing a lot (well, worse in some respects – the production team got up to some evil tricks to add ‘drama’, such as hiding ingredients and equipment and switching ovens). But I’ll be honest, people applying are unlikely to listen.

    • I agree the people who think it’s some kind of El Dorado will never be put off, but there are people like me who do it for a challenge and I wouldn’t want them to be put off unless this is too big a challenge for them now they’ve read this. There is room for people like me in that format and I appreciate that the producers were willing to recognise that. However my sister now owes me big time for encouraging me in the first place- and she knows it! :-)

  5. Great post, really heartfelt and thoughtful which is my favourite type of writing. Have only just stumbled across your blog but will go back and read some of your other posts. Well done!

  6. Hi! There is so much that you said in this post that I sorta guessed at. I enjoy baking and I am pretty good but still an amature. A lot of people tell me I should apply and I take it as a compliment, but I will never apply. I thought about it a couple of times, but like you i just would wan to see how far i could get. I like baking in my own time and would not enjoy the obvious pressure on all the contestants faces. I have a second degree in mass media and so I am aware of how editing works and the power of those who edit. And you said about fitting a certain mould, its so obvious its not even funny! If you make a list of season contestants you can easily match them up…. John/Rob Cathrine/Holly SarahJane/Jo etc…. Not sure I fit a mould as I am an American ExPat (dual) and I figure no matter if they even let me contend there is no way I would ever be let to win no matter how well I did. If I sucked and got kicked off fair enough, but you know what I mean. I think it is very honest of you for writing this, thank you!

    • Thanks Lisa. Well I’m a dual US/UK citizen too and they took me, however I agree with your point. I watched the Danish GBBO last week and could see ‘us’ in their types. I would still say to people if they want to apply after reading this go right ahead and do so. At least you will know more before starting than I did! Best Wishes.

  7. Thank you, a really honest view of your experience. I enjoyed being invited into the contestants baking world for those few weeks. I was amazed at what everyone managed to achieve when faced with what I felt we’re insurmountable expectations. I think all people who put themselves in the media are brave or stupid and I think GBBO falls into the brave category for me. So well done and thank you for sharing.

  8. Hi Danny
    Thanks for this very interesting insight into GBBO. I have to admit I was quite shocked to learn that the contestants are left out of pocket. Given the enormous success of the programme and the fact that many contestants would likely struggle to pay all the costs for participation this seems quite wrong to me. I hope, at least, that you all got paid for the recipes that got published in the book accompanying the series? That is a huge bestseller and you all deserve a fair share of the proceeds. You didn’t mention this point, but I’d be interested to know if you all got at least something for this.

    • Thanks Janice. No we don’t get paid anything. By signing copyright over all proceeds go to the owners of the copyright which is no longer us. We did get a free copy of the book though.
      However we all know this before going on the show and starting filming- in legal terms our ‘payment’ is the feedback we get from the judges on the recipes and our skills and the chance to appear on TV. It’s all perfectly above board- no contestant gets any money directly from the GBBO shows.

      • Thanks Danny. Still seems unfair though. It means that you all paid out of your own pockets to produce recipes that go into a book that sells 100s of 1000s of copies and you don’t get a penny. I can imagine that when you all get the contracts no-one feels able to negotiate (and risk being replaced before filming starts).

      • I can’t comment for the others, but I read the contract, saw what the arrangement was and took the view that since I wanted nothing from the experience other than what they were offering, that was fine. I’ve mentioned it here, so that anyone who does feel there is money to be made directly from the show knows that is not the case. Then they can decide for themselves.

      • Thanks Danny. I appreciate your honesty and respect your reasons for entering GBBO. Clearly this is not the means to make a quick buck. But, it does strike me as wrong that contestants should end up out of pocket. Effectively they are subsidising a hugely profitable enterprise. And what about people who simply can’t afford the cost of all the ingredients over several weeks of creating and practising recipes? They would be at a serious handicap.

  9. ” it doesn’t feel good to see them upset about online comments”

    I’m sorry your loved ones saw unfavourable comments, Danny – if it’s any consolation, you were universally loved on the forums I frequent. Very interesting to read about your experiences; I’ve been trying to persuade two of my baking friends to apply but I don’t think they’d enjoy it, from what you’ve said. Anyway, it was, as always, a lovely programme that I’m already missing. Thank you for being brave enough to take part!

  10. Thank you Mavis. You are sort of confirming what I always thought anyway- that there are very many excellent bakers who will never apply. That’s why we shouldn’t use the title “best’ baker- we’ll never know who that person really is.

  11. It is so refreshing to see an intelligent and considered contestant on a reality tv show. It is one of the reasons I do enjoy watching Bake-Off. Thank you for sharing your experience. There is nothing you have mentioned that surprises me, but I do hope you can take some positives away from your experience. If anything, you made many of us very happy and entertained every week. We were cheering for you!
    x

    • Thank you Elizabeth. I have said all along that I got exactly what I wanted to get from the experience and a whole lot more.
      I wouldn’t do it again as I now have no need to, but I am so much more confident in my approach to baking now and have a clear idea of what one of my plans for retirement (if it ever comes) will be.

  12. Danny, that was really interesting. I think you’ve given a very truthful account of your experience which hopefully may be useful for other potential entrants. You come across as a very well balanced, kind and clever person. Well done you.

    • Thank you. The aim is not to put anyone off but I’ve presented my experiences in a public forum and people can make their own minds up. I learnt a lot from it and overall it was a positive experience but it was not without ‘cost’.

  13. Danny what an accurate and articulate portrayal of the whole experience. I always felt that you wanted the same from the process as myself, a personal challenge, much of which starts well before the cameras start filming! We both have established careers that make a difference to people’s life on a daily basis. From the onset I always made it clear to the production team that the bake off would not pull me away from my chosen career. At times I wondered if this may have jeopardised my place, but I could not lie. I also discovered that I’m not in the least bit competitive, this probably explains my early exit. It also soon became obvious that i may have had a lucky escape being eliminated early. like you i continued to work full time during the process, and worried how the gruelling schedule would take its toll on me being a effective practicioner in my ‘professional’ world. This is why I had the upmost respect for you soldiering on, giving 110 % every week, despite returning to work on Monday, to a job were your making critical and life changing decisions as a standard.
    Now that’s what a call a super woman. That should make you proud, not becoming a finalist.
    Tash x

  14. Well done Danny for getting through such a hugely demanding set of challenges the way you did – I don’t know how you managed to hang on to the fragile thread of reality in amongst the madness of the competition!!!! Thank you for such an honest and useful piece of writing. I must admit to being in the midst of completing the entry form and am finding it so hard to analyse and categorise my baking. I bake because I enjoy it – end of! My decision to enter was based on curiosity as to the tecnnical quality of my baking, the excitment of the challenges and a huge desire to learn more…..topped off by a lot of encouragement by my workmates….BUT, after reading your blog I realise just how naive some of my thought processes have been! So, I am off to delete my application with a smile and then head off to the kitchen to make something for my lovely workmates – they always appreciate something homebaked with the end of shift cuppa, and that’s exactly what my baking is all about……thank you! :-)

    • Thanks for your comments Mandy. Your reasons were exactly mine for entering egged on by my sister. I wouldn’t want to put anyone off for the sake of it, but what is to be gained from the experience isn’t necessarily what people watching at home may think will be being gained.

  15. Danny thank you for an excellent and thoroughly honest guide for all would be contestants on next years bake off. You were lovely to watch and I found the whole series very inspiring for myself as a home baker. I had been tempted to apply for the Irish version but I think this post has safely removed that temptation! And maybe it’s a good thing too, to be able to watch it with rose coloured glasses untainted by the experience of actually participating. Thank you for writing this excellent piece!
    Marie

  16. Hi Danny,

    I’d like to say thanks for writing this. I very nearly applied last year and have downloaded the application form for this year, but I keep putting off filling it out and sending it in.

    Just this afternoon I was talking to my mother in law and my husband about it. I had decided not to apply because I love baking, it’s my fun, haven’t got a care in the world thing. It makes me happy and melts my stress away. I felt that if I was successful and got onto the show, then I would lose that and never be able to approach baking in the same way. I don’t want that. Having read your post I feel like that’s exactly what I would feel if I had got through. I will be able to watch the next series and all the series’ that follow and simply enjoy them.

    Thanks
    Sarah

    • Well Sarah, my reasons for still baking are back and they are the same as yours and I’m better than I was. It’s up to each person to be comfortable with the decisions they make.

  17. I really enjoyed your account of the ‘Behind the Scenes GBBO’ as I know that the editing team must make it look so lovely for our TV screens. For some I know doing well on the show can kick-start their baking careers (proof from Series 1 and 2 contestants) but I was so inspired that you managed to juggle your A&E job as well as all that baking! I am an aspiring doctor and you and James were my favourite contestants (no bias) – not only because you baked so wonderfully well with inventive ideas but because you still entered the show knowing full well it was going to just continue as a hobby for you. I enjoy baking and cooking too but really applaud you for ‘putting yourself out there’ on TV – this series was thoroughly enjoyable!

  18. What an amazingly frank and beautifully written post. I was gripped from the start and had tears welling by the end. I have been involved in making a few documentaries, so I can recognise some of the aspects and emotions you write about. But Danny, you were amazing on the GBBO, as were most of the others in their own way. I was only half toying with the idea of applying, and have now made up my mind. Like you, and thanks to your sharing your experiences here, I will never look at the show in the same way again. I have always been impressed by people who can put themselves through these kind of ordeals, but I think my admiration has rocketed!

    Take care!

  19. Thank you for writing this Danny. I am nearly 16 and a keen baker (unusual for my age, I know!) and a lot of my friends have approached me in the last couple of weeks asking me if I would apply seeing as though the age restriction is 16. However, after reading your post, I don’t think Bake Off would be for me in the near future; I have had a lot of pressure from studies (I’m currently finishing my GCSEs, as well as doing early A levels) and I think the added pressure that you have pointed out wouldn’t be healthy for anyone in an already hectic situation. I really needed to read this, I have realised that maybe the age restriction is more of an inclusion of a vast age range as opposed to the idea that a 16 year-old who is probably mid-exams could cope with the competition. Your petit fours were fabulous and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see your wonderful skills.

    • Hi Maria, I have to say well done for such a mature approach to applying. Keep enjoying the baking and make a clear idea of your priorities. The opportunity to enter Bake Off may still be there in the future so having made a decision to concentrate on your studies now doesn’t preclude you from a future application. Best of luck with your studies in the interim.

  20. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It’s really interesting to get the ‘behind the scenes’ facts from a contestants point of view.

    We were very proud to see someone from Sheffield do so well. You’re the Jessica Ennis of bake off :-) .

  21. What a wonderfully honest blog – friends have said I should enter but I don’t have a single competitive bone in my body – I just like baking/cooking for friends. Like others have said, I did not realise that competitors would be out of pocket. I guessed that you needed to practice at home beforehand and, obviously, that particular expense would need to be written off by each competitor. One thing that I have wondered about are the timings of each challenge, especially with the technical challenges. Do you think that Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would be able to fulfil each challenge in the allocated time? I am full of admiration for every one who participated but especially those, like yourself, who were holding down full-time jobs (or in the case of John and James taking their exams). After the final it must have been strange to find so much more free time again! Well done, I was rooting for you to win. x

    • Thanks Dotty. I think it’s telling that the final wasn’t about gender as some people have suggested but about time. Whilst GBBO runs to so many episodes it is very difficult to work, run a house and do it- the cumulative toll is very great. It is telling that the final included 2 students whose exams had finished before the week of the final and someone semi-retired- and they still looked exhausted after all 3 having given it their all. I take my hat off to them and admire everyone who enters and gets through to the final twelve. It is no small commitment for anyone taking part.
      As for the challenges- well they are set by Mary and Paul so we have to take it as read that they can. But that is why they’re professionals and we are all amateurs. The gap between the two is huge and should not be underestimated. Professionals have a degree of consistency that none of us had over the 10 episodes.

  22. Really brilliant piece – it’s so fresh to hear someone tell their story in this way. I guess it confirms that in many ways some things really are best parked up on that shelf in the imagination. Although much more diluted and less obvious than something like The X Factor, I guess it goes to show that even a BBC produced show like this exploits it’s contestants for viewing sake.

    What I am curious about as a viewer is with all challenges, but in particular the technical – do you “enjoy the challenge” or are there times when you find it irksome that you’re having your skills measured by being asked to create something that in reality you would not make yourself in a million years?

    Then again I guess there’s only so much Vicky Sponge you could film someone knocking up hahaha

    • Thanks Alex. I have to say I don’t feel exploited as it was all above board and I chose to go ahead with it anyway. I have corrected some of the misapprehensions people may have had – in effect I’ve blogged what I wish I’d known beforehand. I don’t think it would affect my entering never having done it, but I wouldn’t do it again as the balance of life disruption versus actual pleasure doesn’t work for me like that any more. However I am glad I did it- although slightly amazed how it all happened.
      The technicals are actually really interesting, generally because it was stuff I would never make again, so it really was a test of my skills. Overall it was the ‘challenge’ aspect that made me better. Sarah Jane was the most relaxed of anyone about the technicals – she argued it was because there was nothing to be done about it anyway so why worry. Great attitude.

  23. A fascinating, well considered and eye-opening article. Lots of what you say I’d guessed at, but it’s so interesting to read about it from someone who has really experienced it!

  24. A fabulous considered insight to GBBO – you confirm various things I’ve long thought to be the case. As TV shows go, I think GBBO is one of the ‘nicer’ ones in that contestants aren’t set up to look stupid or be at war with each other i.e. like Come Dine With Me.

    However it’s still knock out stage reality telly and requires drama and as you say, casting of characters. I was amongst the final 20 for series 1 and knew that my not getting in meant they’d cast someone else as ‘the mummy’ rather than a rejection for not being good enough. I really empathise with what you say about putting the rest of your life on hold and how it impacts on your family – certainly I wasn’t in a position to drop everything and at that time, travel the length and breadth of country to film every week. I was well aware too of just how much practice (and expense) would be necessary on the 4 days a week you weren’t filming in between. I didn’t have the support network around me to manage it even if I’d been desperate to do so (which I wasn’t, I’d been directly invited – like a number of baking bloggers – to audition by the production company as opposed to filling in an application form). So yes – there’s another revelation for people thinking of applying – the production company cherry pick people to audition at the last minute who haven’t even applied to be on the show.

    Prior to filming, I guess it’s to be expected the production company would not pay expenses to GBBO hopefuls – I raise an eyebrow though whether they’d be bankrupt if they did so these days. Since GBBO has become such a merchandising machine, someone owning the concept somewhere is lining their pockets with proceeds from books, licensing of kitchen products, iPhone apps etc. Like Masterchef, I’m sure it’s a nice earner for someone else they’d not have the incentive to keep making new series.

    Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous thing to have done, a unique and memorable experience to look back on and I wish you all the best!

    • Well Sarah, you’ve certainly taught me something about the selection process for series 1 that I didn’t know. The reason I’ve talked about the costs involved is to give people a clearer idea when they apply as to what the ‘other’ factors they might not have thought of are.
      I do look on it as paying for my hobby so didn’t mind the arrangement but I have seen rumours that we get paid or that we make money directly from association with it and that is simply not the case.

  25. Danny, thank you so much for sharing your story. I love ‘Bake Off’ and it has got me baking again after falling out of love with it. So, I am sorry that you won’t enjoy watching it in the future but rest assured that I for one thought you were great. Carry on baking.

  26. A fantastically well written piece Danny…. I couldn’t agree more with what you have said…..I entered this year and was down to the last selection, for the final 12 to go through and was extremely disappointed when after the final process of reference’s I wasn’t selected into this years series…… Having jumped through the hoops required to get to that stage maybe I have had a lucky escape !…. I am still baking , making cakes and honing my skills….. But having experienced what I did I won’t be re-entering. I wish every success in whatever direction this may take you
    x

  27. What an interesting and inspiring post. I feel like we have had a real insight into the workings of a tv programme. An area that always feels like a hidden world. I constantly get pressure from people to enter but fear I am definitely in the category of ‘sugarcrafter who can sometimes bake as long as it isn’t bread’. Not sure the GBBO has a category for that?! I thoroughly enjoyed this series. I enjoyed seeing intelligent people who knew their reasons for entering the show and didn’t appear desperate to win at all costs. How refreshing from the x-factor type shows where it is ‘all I’ve ever wanted’. Fair play to you for taking part. Thanks for making Tuesday evenings so enjoyable!

    • Thanks Helen. Bizarrely I never thought of us as making entertainment in that way until all the feedback on this post has pointed it out.
      It’s actually really nice to think that we were ‘entertaining’ people in all of this. :-)

  28. Hi Danny- I saw this linked from the Dove’s Farm facebook page (randomly) and I am so glad I did. I really enjoy watching the GBBO, and of course I know that things go on behind the scenes, but it is interesting to read what actually happens. I would have thought that the contestants would get some money towards the cost of ingredients in the week, and also something from the books. I know you said that you were happy and signed the contract, but as a viewer having bought books from previous series I thought some of that would be fed back to the contestants.
    I like your reasons for entering the show though, and I just wanted to say that I really love watching the show for the unusual ideas- your clock tower gingerbread was such a fantastic idea.

    • Thanks Maria. I went into it with my eyes open but I guess it’s important that the facts do get in the way of a good story sometimes- wherever that story originates from! The company never made any suggestion that there was any cash directly associated with appearing on the show so some people are genuinely entering for the love of it as true amateurs. It’s just that I’ve had people ask me about ‘payment’ and so I figured if they believed that to be the case, it was important that potential entrants didn’t have the same misapprehension. That said the show is a very successful product now, so it may well be that next time there may be different contractual obligations, although I suspect it will still be a show where contestants are essentially amateur. It’s part of the charm I believe, and no one wants to think that contestants are really doing it for financial gain, real or perceived.
      I have to admit the clock tower was my least favourite thing I had to bake on the whole show, so I’m glad someone appreciated it’s wonky melted state. It ended up like Big Ben crossed with The Scream :-)

  29. Another great post Danny, thank you so much for the warts ‘n all, behind the scenes report of the GBBO.

    Like, I suspect, every other keen baker in the country friends have suggested I apply but I’ve always known it wasn’t for me. I bake for love and approval, I bake to make the people around me happy so they say ‘that was delicious, you’re amazing’!

    My 10 year-old really enjoys watching it with me and it’s bad enough when she examines the crumb structure of my loaf or the foot on my macaroons! :-)

  30. Danny, I really enjoyed watching you bake week in and week out, but I have to say the experience was enhanced when I found your blog – you write beautifully, but your posts are also full of insight, empathy and good sense. Everything you write seems thoughtful and carefully considered, and I really hope you continue blogging now that the Bake Off is over! Thank you for sharing your experience behind the scenes – as a spectator it’s easy to forget just how much can be edited and manipulated to appear a certain way, and thus overlook the gruelling hard work you had to put in.

    • Thank you. I will be writing intermittently but this isn’t a business or commercial venture for me, so purely as a hobby I’ll keep some dialogue going about baking and cooking for as long as people want it.
      Best Wishes

  31. What a fantastic post – although post doesn’t really do it justice – article is a better word! I’ve bookmarked it, and will send it with a sense of relief to everyone that suggests, yet again, that I apply. It sounds exactly how I imagined the process, and confirms that any of it, even the early selection stages (since realistically I’d not get any further!) would not be compatible with ‘normal’ life. But friends seemed convinced I was wrong. Mind you, they’re friends that don’t bake so perhaps they don’t understand! Now I shall be able to set them straight, and they’ll not feel that I’m throwing away the chance of some form of baking mecca. I’d rather keep enjoying baking, and watching others go through the trials and tribulations. You did an amazing job juggling everything, and helped spread some baking magic to all of us watching at home.

  32. A thoroughly fascinating post – confirming some of what I knew, and illuminating the things I didn’t (I often end up testing and writing recipes for various books, so I know how boring and expensive recipe-polishing can be, for instance). I hope you are really glad you did it, whatever, and I certainly appreciated the appearance of savouries in all that sugary sweetness… and congratulations on coming out the other end!

  33. This is the first series I’ve watched – and I loved the warmth of contestants towards each other, the wry humour in the face of baking disaster and the chirpy kindness of Mel and Sue.

    I was rooting for you Danny, loving so many of the goodies you made.The general ‘unflappiness’ with which you conducted yourself, and that clear Professional At Work applying yourself to John’s injury, for instance, all added to your persona of a genuinely lovely person.

    Well done for getting so far

    • Thank you very much. The warmth of contestants towards each other was genuine. People’s reasons for doing it were all different but on the whole what each person was trying to achieve was respected which meant that we really did try to support each other, and Mel and Sue propped us all up!

  34. what a great insight into ‘behind the scenes’ x

  35. Having been in a handful of documentaries, I take all ‘reality’ television of any stripe with roughly a bushel of salt. I’ve been fed lines, seen my words edited to make it look like I’ve said the opposite of what I’ve actually meant, just basically seen directly that nothing is necessarily true to the spirit or beliefs of those on screen. That said, I’m glad that you found this to be a positive experience overall.

  36. I have sent this to all my friends who keep telling me to apply – I love baking – I love it when stuff comes out great and I shrug my shoulders when something is a disaster – there are no repurcusions. And of course I learn something.too. I wouldn’t enjoy baking if I knew it was going to be judged or if I was competing against someone else.
    It was a brilliant read

  37. I really appreciate your writing this. I’ve read it three times now, really really thought about it, compared it to John’s blog on the same thing and it’s really helped me to decide. so I’ve sent in my entry feeling fully informed and I’m grateful for that.
    Fingers crossed!

    one question – how long did take from when you sent in your entry to when they called you? I am of course now sitting on tenterhooks

    • Hi Imogen- congratulations on your decision and fingers crossed it comes out well for you. I think it was about 6 weeks for me until the first phone call but don’t take that as gospel- they seemed to recruit the twelve of us in waves. I wrote this piece to explain what it was like for me as a professional in full time employment and with other commitments to do this. Of course everyone’s experience differs and it would have been disingenuous of me to say that it was easy for me to do it. It was not and I could not have done it without fantastic support from my employer, co- workers , family and friends. I am very appreciative of them. It was never about a career change or winning for me but that doesn’t stop it being a valuable experience if it’s what you want. Professionally we are taught the best way to make a decision is to be in full possession of the facts. My very best wishes for your success.

  38. Hi Danny, I thought you were great on the bake off and thank you for such an honest account of your time there. I have also applied for series 4 ( about 3 weeks ago now and am also on tender hooks every time the phone rings!) . I too work in the NHS as a research nurse and love to bake as a hobby and applied after many people telling me to apply. Thanks again for a behind the scenes look. Well done for getting so far and you appeared to be so genuine, calm and enthusiastic :-)

    • Thanks Gemma- and best of luck your application comes off. If you’re as highly motivated to do as it as you sound then I’m sure that will come through. Here’s hoping I see you on TV next year :)

      • Ha thanks, although I’m not getting my hopes up :-) starting to regret it now I’ve read your post… What will be will be as they say

  39. Don’t regret it if you’ve made a positive decision. I wrote this piece as it forms the information I wish I’d had before I started- my circumstances with work and family meant that it was considerably harder than I or they ever imagined it would be. My professional background teaches me to give everyone all the information you can that’s relevant and then they can make their own minds up- ‘an informed decision’. That’s how I view it- I have no wish to persuade or dissuade anyone but if people feel better informed reading this and therefore more comfortable about the decision they make then it’s done its job. I still wish you luck and success!

  40. Thanks for this great insight. Speaking selfishly, I hope it doesn’t put too many applicants off, as it’s people like you who have always been the stars of the Bakeoff – clever, fun and dynamic people with careers or commitments outside baking. How often do we get to see interesting, sane and intelligent people like you on our TV screens? Hardly ever.
    Anyway, thank you again for your brilliant blog, which I very much hope you are able to continue.

  41. Hi Danny
    It’s a real pleasure to read an insightful account into something that truly intrigues me, one which does not judge, but gives all the relevant information for that so so important ‘informed choice’. I have applied for one series of the GBBO, lost heart the last 2 years, so I’m teetering on the edge of applying this year.
    You have confirmed what I have suspected for some time, so it’s no surprise, but still there will be people who would have no clue of the reality of reality TV.
    Like others, you were my favourite bake off contestant, you seemed to be very grounded and I hope that your love of baking stands strong.
    All the best x

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