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Kent-based Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood talks the early years and his career as A Baker's Life airs

By Angela Cole

Paul Hollywood gives away nothing behind those steely blue eyes.

While the 51-year-old, who lives near Canterbury, is best known for providing the culinary yang to Mary Berry’s yin over six years of The Great British Bake Off, he insists there is more below the stone-baked exterior. And he shares it with the nation in his new show, A Baker’s Life.

It will take viewers on a journey through his personal and professional history, from his early mornings in a bakery in Thanet, to his first steps into the big white tent, with some favourite family recipes thrown in along the way.

Bake Off's Paul Hollywood Picture: PA Photo/Channel 4/Jude Edginton

“It’s time for the public to see a little more about me,” he says.

“They know this pantomime villain and what they’ve read about me in the press, but, actually, nobody knows who I am or where I came from. This programme was a way of exorcising the demons of the villain of Bake Off.”

Baker Paul Hollywood Picture: PA Photo/Channel 4 Television/Jude Edginton

Speaking shortly before he and his wife of almost 20 years, Alex, announced in a joint statement that they were separating, there is no sign that there is anything amiss.

He is pleased that Bake Off’s debut on Channel 4, with a fresh batch of hosting colleagues, has proved an undeniable success.

In his words: “It’s done much more than I thought it would and we got a much higher youth audience than we did with the BBC.”

Chuckling as he remembers going back over series one footage for his new show, he says: “It was very funny. I was wearing all those hideous shirts.”

Bake off judge Paul Hollywood talks about his life and career on Channel 4

In A Baker’s Life, he is judged by Bake Off favourites, Val Stones and Selasi Gbormittah. “I sat behind the bench and they said, ‘Paul, your challenge is to make a roulade in one hour, and your time starts now’. Then they came round and asked, ‘So what are you making?’ I replied, ‘A roulade with rosewater’. They teased, ‘rose is quite a strong flavour’.

“So I know how the bakers feel now. Initially I thought it was stupid, but as soon as they said ‘go’ and it went quiet, I thought, ‘hang on, I don’t like this’.”

Yet the pressure of two pals with a payback agenda was nothing compared with the work he put in to cut his baking teeth back in the 1990s.

He says: “I knew I was working a lot. My mates were always out when I was trying to sleep in the day. Then I would be up at 10pm. While they were dozing off, I’d put on my chef’s whites and drive to work. In the winter, when it was freezing cold, I would get in and think, ‘why am I doing this?’ But I did it for years, six days a week.” His efforts did not go unappreciated by his friends, as they reveal in A Baker’s Life. Watching the rushes, their words achieved what eight Bake Off finals could not – a few tears from Paul. “It was the first time I had heard them talk about me as the guy off the telly, rather than a mate. I did cry a little bit. But you will never see that soft side of me. Crying is a very personal thing.

“What got me was when they said I was a grafter. I never really, at the time, thought of myself as a grafter.”

Paul Hollywood with his mum Jill. Picture taken from Paul Hollywood: A Baker's Life, Channel 4

Clearly, he has a softer side than you might think from his public persona. So why are there so many controversies around him?

He says: “If I screw up now, it’s all over the press. Whether it’s speeding, or having a go at Liam on Bake Off, I’m the one that’s going to cop it in the neck.

“If I did something wrong when I worked in the bakery no one told me off more than me. I still have a go at myself, but now the whole country is ready to have a pop too.”

But Hollywood is careful not to complain, however, as his chosen path now means international television deals – including the US Bake Off – and indulging passions in both baking and buying fancy cars.

He says: “I never set out to be on the telly. I never set out to be famous. I just set out to be a very good baker.”

The series Paul Hollywood: A Baker’s Life airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday, December 4 and for the next two weeks.

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