Jo Wheatley won the 2011 series of The Great British Bake Off – an achievement that changed her life. We spoke to her about her experience and found out her advice for other bakers.
Tell us about your love of baking and how it started
I used to go to my nans every weekend, she made lots of pastries, and she taught me. It was nothing fancy, but watching her and spending time with her gave me the love of baking. I used to make jam tarts, as she’d give me the offcuts. But, when I think about it now, they were probably like bullets, because I would roll them and re-roll. I was only about three at the time! Then when I had my own family I just really didn’t like the fact that shop bought stuff had such a long shelf life. So I started baking for my own family.
How has baking has helped you?
Pre-Bake Off, when my boys were little, it gave me relaxation. It was my chill out time; I’d go into the kitchen and bake something, and the kids would love it because they got something in return for being good while I was baking. Also, with three boys, everyone seemed to congregate at our house so I always had a whole football team of hungry boys around. So I always baked to feed these hoards of hungry children. Boys’ appetites never seem to wain!
What were your thoughts when entering GBBO and did you expect to do so well?
A friend of mine rang me to say there was this new show starting, before series one. I just Google’d it and there was an application form. There was no more thought beyond that. It was as easy as a click of a button, so I clicked the button and got an email back saying, unfortunately, this year’s positions are all taken, could we put you on the waiting list for next year? I just said yes, watched the show and really liked it. I didn’t really think anymore about re-applying until I got an email saying are you still interested? I just clicked yes and the process started. I never dreamt that I would win! I was really excited to get through to the first audition process, as they told me that I’d get to meet Mary! That was my incentive really.
What did it feel like when you won?
Amazing! It first felt like tumbleweed in my head – I genuinely didn’t realise. I heard them say my name, but I wasn’t sure if they’d said last place first or something, and then I saw my kids jumping up and down and I thought ‘oh, I’ve won’. Sue asked if I wanted to say anything and, literally, there was nothing – because I’d only planned what I was going to say as a runner up. I never dreamt that I would win. I think that really helped me, because my nerves subsided on the final day.
What have you been up to since Bake Off?
I wrote my first book A Passion for Baking, which was absolutely amazing. I absolutely loved every minute of it! Writing it totally consumed me; when I handed it over the publisher, it felt like I was like giving my child! Then the day the finished book arrived, it was such an amazing feeling. Seeing my name on the spine of a book, I felt really proud, it was such a massive achievement for me. I was a bit of an under-achiever at school, but I always think that if you can find something you really enjoy then everyone can achieve great things. It’s just being lucky enough to find that thing you’re really good at and really love.
— Jo Wheatley (@JoanneWheatley) August 29, 2016
What are your baking plans are for the future?
I have a cookery school that I run from home, which I really enjoy. I write for newspapers sometimes, and I work with Stork margarine – we’re getting school cooks back to baking from scratch. I do lots of the food shows, they’re really good fun. In the near future, I’d love to write another book.
What’s your advice for budding bakers?
Do what you enjoy. Take it calmly, have everything weighed out before you start baking and tick it off your list as you go. I always have a pencil on hand. Enjoy what you bake, and as you get confident you can experiment a little bit: if you don’t like chocolate chips then use raisins, or if you don’t like raisins then cranberries. As long as you exchange the same weights, you can usually have a little jiggle around to make someone’s recipe your own.
Have you been watching GBBO this series? What would be your tips for the contestants?
I always enjoy watching Bake Off. It’s such a lovely show. I would just say try to keep calm and remember that you really enjoy it. The problem is you get there and feel the constraints of the tent; there’s studio lighting, there’s a camera crew running around – it’s very different from baking in your own kitchen! So I’d say keep calm and enjoy it.
How would you describe your style in terms of finishing touches and cake decoration?
My style is classic, but with my own twist on it. I like my bakes to be quite pretty, but achievable. I like the shabby chic style.
What is you favourite baking / cake decorating trend at the moment?
I really love naked wedding cakes! I think they’re stunning with all the fresh flowers. I’m not a big lover of overly sweet icing, so I love to see the naked cakes with the flowers cascading down them – they’re beautiful.