It’s been a TV favourite for more than a decade now, but during this year’s global pandemic, Great British Bake Off has been a real lifesaver.
The Channel 4 show has given millions of us something to look forward to each week and inspired more amateur bakers than ever to get involved – helping to flood Instagram feeds across the nation with dodgy banana breads.
At one stage, it looked like the show might not be happening at all this year. But with a change of venue, new restrictions put in place and a monumental effort, the show went ahead – and we’re so glad it did.
But how did they film this year’s series, and what was it like living in the ‘bubble’ on the show?
This year’s contestant Rowan Williams spoke to Metro.co.uk about his experiences behind the scenes on Bake Off, discussing everything from working with no hot water in the practice kitchens to filming at 5am.
Things got off to an uncertain start for music teacher Rowan. The 55-year-old was told about his place on the show in the very same week the country was put into the first lockdown.
‘For ages nobody knew whether it would happen [but] they made sure it was as safe as it possibly could be for everybody involved,’ Rowan said.
‘We had a nine-day quarantine before going to the venue in Essex where it was filmed,’ he added.
Rowan spent two weeks in the Bake Off ‘bubble’, staying in the same hotel as his fellow contestants and people working on the show.
There was a lot of down time for the bakers to get to know each other behind the scenes. Although the venue didn’t allow contestants to bring their partners with them, Hermine and Marc spent time with their children throughout the show.
‘We would have a drink in the bar after filming,’ Rowan said about getting to know his fellow bakers. ‘They laid on entertainment too. We had a zoom quiz with [An Extra Slice host] Tom Allen.’
Thankfully, the contestants all got on like a house on fire, and they’ve all stayed in touch via a Bake Off Whatsapp group.
‘I’ve been on group holidays before and after a few days there’s normally at least somebody you want to shoot or wring their neck – perhaps they wanted to do that for me,’ Rowan said.
‘Prior to going in I was thinking oh my goodness, this could be appalling. Actually though, we all got on very, very well indeed.’
The bubble came with its own challenges, especially when the contestants were faced with practising their bakes in custom built kitchens, often without running hot water.
‘They set up practice kitchens in other tents for us. It was a bit like a Nightingale hospital.’
He added: ‘They did their very best, but the facilities were quite basic and sometimes didn’t have hot water. You had to do your own cleaning up and we had very limited time to practice too.’
The bakers worked on a ‘two days on, two days off’ basis, and Rowan spoke about the demanding filming days in the tent.
‘We would go very, very early in the morning. We had our temperatures taken at five o’clock and then we were on set by six o’clock,’ he said.
Rowan added: ‘It’s exhausting, I tell you. In my final episode you can see me nodding off. I was absolutely shattered.’
Describing a typical day in the tent, Rowan said: ‘First, you go to the tent and you do social media filming and all your pieces to camera. Then you have to set up your bench to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients you need.
‘Normally we would start baking at eight o’clock in the morning. In the early stages, the judging takes ages because there are so many of you. Then you do your technical in the afternoon. You’d normally finish six or seven o’clock in the evening. It’s a very long day.’
He added: ‘On the second day of filming, we did the show stopper. That wasn’t quite as early. You start baking mid morning, at around nine o’clock.’
But the bakers’ early starts and long days were nothing compared to Prue Leith’s schedule, whose worth ethic on the show was ‘incredible’.
‘We all know she’s not a spring chicken,’ Rowan said. ‘She had to be up even earlier to have her hair done, and she’d work until six or seven o’clock. She was amazing.’
The great British weather played havoc during the series too, with bakers having to adjust to the elements while filming.
‘We had to have the side flaps of the tent open for coronavirus reasons,’ Rowan explained. ‘Over the first week it was bitterly cold. Absolutely freezing. We put our ovens on to try and keep warm.’
Each episode takes two days to film, with bakers famously required to wear the same clothes on both days – something that came with its own set of problems.
Rowan said: ‘It’s not ideal. Especially when the tent got so hot. You just wash your shirt out at night and hope it dried in time. I mean, everybody knows that it’s over two days. So I don’t know why they like to keep the illusion it’s all filmed on one long day.’
Rowan was the third contestant to leave the show, having spent a total of two weeks in the bubble. Despite the challenges, he described the show as a ‘life-changing’ experience.
‘I look back with great fondness. Largely because the people are just so lovely,’ he said.
Great British Bake Off continues Tuesdays at 8pm on Channel 4.
Credit: Original article published here.