Holly Bell: From Bake Off To Blogger
Since becoming joint runner-up on The Great British Bake Off in 2011, Holly Bell has gone on to create the hugely popular and wonderfully engaging blog Recipes From A Normal Mum which focuses on things anyone can make at home without the need for fancy, specialised purchases. Holly has also released a book to accompany the blog and all this while being mother to three boys. For Life caught up with Holly to find out how she manages to be a baker, blogger and supermum.
How did you discover your passion for baking?
I first remember stamping out pastry circles for jam tarts as a 3 or 4 year old sitting atop my grandmother’s kitchen worktop. I recall enjoying the repetition. And of course getting to eat the fruit of my labours at the end! Years later, baking became quite a passion once I got married. Stewart and I met and were engaged within 9 days of meeting and within 6 months I found myself married, awaiting the arrival of our first son and with quite a lot of time on my hands, and so my love of baking was resurrected.
You have three young sons, how on earth do you balance looking after them, baking, blogging and everything else you do?
Like many mums who work I have the full support of my own mother. She is always available to help with the boys. Quite frankly, without her I could not have written either of my books. Grandmothers are the silent army of childcare many mothers rely on. I hope to repay the favour with my own grandchildren one day.
For many people, cooking is very stressful. Is it the same for you?
You know, the answer most recipe writers will give is no. But I hate the thought of perpetuating a dream that isn’t attainable or even real. So… yes! There are days when cooking is most definitely stressful, usually when I have little time and little energy. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that when cooking feels like a chore it’s time to serve up some cheese, crackers, grapes and chutney. A picnic dinner never hurt anyone once in a while.
You get your kids involved with your cooking. Do you think it’s important to encourage children to get stuck in with such things in the home?
I am a huge advocate of children taking an active role in domestic life. I am the mother of 3 boys and shudder at the thought of sending them off into the world without life skills. They all help in the kitchen and also (even the 1 year old) help to load the dishwasher. When my husband or I clean the house, they each help. The eldest enjoys hoovering and the younger two like to help to dust.
You were a Great British Bake Off contestant. Do you think the show has helped inspire more people to bake?
Undoubtedly the Bake Off has inspired many people to get back into the kitchen which I think is wonderful. Good old fashioned British home cooking (and baking) is a thing to behold. I do wonder whether in more recent years, they have showcased bakes that are a bit too tricky. Well, they are for me anyway!
Why do you think Bake Off has been such a success?
Bake Off is at its very heart, basic. A load of men and women in a tent making some kind of magic out of flour, sugar, eggs and butter. There’s no fluff, no back stories. It’s honest and I think the British public respect that.
What is it really like baking in the GBBO tent?
It is incredibly stressful. You have a camera in your face for about 60% of the time. You are using unfamiliar equipment and also baking against the clock. It’s easy as a spectator to shout at the TV that you could have done better (what? just me?) but having been through it, well, it’s quite an ordeal.
How has appearing on Bake Off impacted your life?
Well I used to work in advertising and now I don’t. Quite a big change! That and being recognised occasionally when doing the weekly shop.
Are Mary & Paul as scary and harsh as they seem on the show?
Mary is lovely; quite business-like and ‘proper’ but lovely. She is not a soft touch by any means but always delivered negative news sensitively. Mary is quite a feminist and we had a good chat one week about being working mothers and setting that example to our sons. Paul was very harsh on the show. I did interview him after GBBO once when presenting a radio show and he was incredibly supportive and kind. So maybe TV Paul is quite different to the real Mr Hollywood?!