For a man keen to play down his ‘sex symbol’ status, The Great British Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has reportedly been getting quite saucy on his first-ever solo tour.
Billed as a night of fun, stories, demos and audience participation, his Get Your Bake On! tour stretches for 48 dates through to the end of the year and comes to Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday.
But there have already been lurid tabloid headlines, labelling the show a ‘smut off’, and claiming that it’s full of innuendo.
However Paul, who is in his late 40s and has been dubbed a ‘silver fox’ by the media, has denied the tabloid claims and says: ‘I’m not a sex symbol. You should see me in the morning when I wake up.
‘I’m a normal bloke, coming up to the wrong end of 50 – I’m a bit of rough, that’s all. It’s flattering, but I don’t take it seriously.’
Last year Paul was reported to have split with wife Alexandra after an alleged affair with his fellow judge on The American Baking Competition, Marcela Valladolid. He has since reconciled with Alexandra.
He says the tour is his way of getting his fans involved.
‘When I was developing the recipes for the tour, I wanted it to represent my life, from my childhood, which was quite a sweet tooth, to now, where I prefer savoury things,’ he explains.
‘I wanted to answer the questions that I get asked a lot. There’ll be a roving mic going around the audience all night, so people can fire questions at me, and I can answer those questions face-to-face. It’s normally related to cakes, pies, puds, whatever and that’s the premise for the tour.
‘It’s about having a laugh really, and I love teaching, but it’s putting me on the road and doing it.’
Although Paul had been appearing on TV for more than a decade, with guest spots on shows such as Ready Steady Cook, The Generation Game and This Morning, it was becoming a judge on Bake Off in 2010 that has made him a household name.
But as a teenager growing up in the Wirral, he had wanted to be an artist. He says: ‘I never had any intention of becoming a baker. In fact I never really thought about it, to be honest.
‘I went to art school and I enjoyed that. I was going to go on to the next part of my course but my dad phoned me up and said ‘‘Do you want to join the business?’’. I said no and he said ‘‘I’ll give you £500 if you get your hair cut and join me’’. So I immediately got my hair cut and joined the business.
‘And it turned out I was quite good at it. I picked it up very quickly.
‘I was doing everything from scones, to cream cakes, to doughnuts, to cookies, to biscuits, to pies, to breads – I did the whole thing. I stayed with it and I’m glad I did.’
He went on to become head baker at a number of top hotels, including The Dorchester and Cliveden, before moving to Cyprus. And it was there that he got his first taste of TV.
He picks up the story: ‘A TV crew came across to do a show. I met up with the producers in the hotel and they asked if I would like to be part of the programme. I said yes and went in and talked about the local baking in Cyprus. They told me I was good and I should do some more TV – I remember coming out thinking I was going to be really famous straight away.’
When he eventually came back to the UK, he got in touch with an agent and got a show called Use Your Loaf with James Martin.
‘They asked if I would like to work with another guy to break me in, someone called James Martin. I’d never heard of him. I’d been away for six years, so I didn’t know Ready Steady Cook, I didn’t know of him, but I met him in 2000 and we got on really well.’
The pair have been good friends ever since.
But it was a call five years ago asking him to be a judge for a new programme, Bake Off, that has made him a star. Ratings are going up each year – topping 7m viewers in the most recent series.
‘It’s all gone stratospheric,’ says Paul.
‘I’ve always thought there was room in the TV schedule for baking – people have a passion for it. Most people were saying ‘‘it’s too niche, I can’t see it working’’. All of a sudden it was given a platform and I think the format – putting it in a tent – was inspired. Mel (Giedroyc) and Sue (Perkins, pictured left) were an inspirational choice to present it. They’re classic.
‘And of course, Mary. She’s a legend and there’s not too many of them around.’
His affection for his fellow judge, Mary Berry, is clear.
‘We’re very close. We speak a lot, I know her family very well, I never pass her home without popping in for a cup of tea. I do stay occasionally as well if I’m doing work in that neck of the woods.’
And he’s happy to stay with the show.
‘We’re moving to BBC1 this year, which is all well and good. I was happy on BBC2 – I don’t mind where it is as long as it doesn’t change.
‘I think it’s such a great programme to work on – the team, the crew, are fantastic, Mel and Sue are like my sisters.
‘It’s become such a loved programme, it’s become a bit of a national treasure. It’s reached this stage where university students pick it up and have their own games around double entendres.
‘The whole thing is great fun to be a part of.
‘I think everybody bakes, or has memories of baking, whether it’s crumpets, or pancakes, or a cake that a grandparent made.
‘All we’ve done is tap into that. ’
Paul Hollywood will be appearing with his Get Your Bake On Live Tour show at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday from 7pm. Tickets cost £28.50. Go to paulhollywood.com or call the box office on 0844 847 2362.