Having entered Bake Off on a punt I never really expected anything to come of it. Well wasn’t I wrong!! Got to take Sarah to Strictly this week, no big deal…
I find Twitter really useful. Being a builder can be quite a solitary job sometimes so there are a few things that can connect me to life off-site during the day – the first is listening to a lot of Radio 4, but the second is Twitter. Before I started on Bake Off, I didn’t use to tweet much at all! I had 22 followers, and most of them were my family so most of the time it was easier to shout up the stairs than tweet. I still probably don’t have much worth saying, but through my time on the show the number of people who contact me on Twitter has gone up at a pretty amazing rate. I try to reply to as many people as possible and through Twitter, I’ve met some really great people, as I’ve talked about on my blog before. I’ve also had some fantastic support.
In the week of the Bake Off final, there were a few articles questioning whether I was actually a ‘real’ builder. I’m not quite sure what the definition of a real builder is! I’ve been a builder all my life really and a partner in my family business for 15 years. I’m in partnership with my Dad, but both of us graft all day – definitely not a ‘management role’, which implied I sit behind a desk and delegate the work to other people. I’m glad I do a physical job, otherwise I’d have put on even more weight than I already did in the Bake Off! Anyway, as a result of the coverage that week, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), of which me and my Dad (and my Grandad when he was alive) are members, put out a statement supporting me.
The Chief Executive of the FMB, Brian Berry (pictured with me above), invited me to lunch this week to talk about some of the issues the building industry is facing and how to attract more young people into the construction sector. We talked for hours – it’s a subject really close to my heart. House prices in London are so ridiculous that most young people are never going to be able to get on the property ladder here. The only reason me and my wife Sarah were able to is because we were able to buy our first flat and then our house, which both needed a lot of work that I was able to do myself. For that reason alone, building has been a great career route for me and I was lucky to have learned from my family from such an early age.
I am a massive believer in part time education – to give people the opportunity for career changes or to learn new skills while holding down a job. I went to uni to study Biology after leaving school. But I dropped out in the first year – I didn’t have the discipline for studying at the time and wanted to be earning some money. When I moved back home and joined my Dad in building, I went to Barnet College in the evenings to do my NVQs in Bricklaying, which meant I could carry on working full time. More recently, I did my BSc in Biodiversity & Conservation through evening classes with Birkbeck and got a First! I reckon doing a lot of evening study over the years as well as renovating my houses part time prepared me for the amount of practice and work I had to do for Bake Off.
I’ve been doing a lot of baking this week too. I’m trying to actually write down my recipe ideas as I’d really like to do a recipe book. I love baking with my kids – whenever they want to play with their Play-Doh I think there’s probably something edible we can play with together instead. This week we made challah rolls in different shapes. Most of the bakeries around where I live are kosher bakeries so I’ve grown up eating a lot of challah – it’s delicious!
We practised with lots of different shapes and the girls were really excited to make their own breakfast for the next day. For some reason, I don’t have much trouble plaiting bread in all sorts of different ways but I’m still unable to do my daughters’ hair for them neatly in the mornings! I make quite a few Jewish-influenced bakes – a friend of mine, Louise, loaned me this book which I’ve since had to buy a copy of myself. My challah recipe is my own version though.
Another person I’ve got to know through Twitter is Heidi Stephens. Heidi writes the live blogs for The Guardian on the Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing. She was very generous about me during the series of Bake Off and very funny too. We’d been in touch with each other on Twitter since Bake Off finished. Yesterday, she was coming to London as had a night off from the Strictly Live Blog to go and watch the filming of the show instead. As Elstree Studios is only about 10 minutes away, we invited Heidi and her sister Ange round to our house for tea beforehand. I was making apple and cinnamon doughnuts, rhubarb and custard doughnuts and raspberry and blueberry Danish pastries. Heidi kindly helped me pipe the custard on the doughnuts (see picture above). It was great to meet another ‘Twitter friend’ in real life.
The reason I was baking so much yesterday is because I was also going to Strictly Come Dancing! The wonderful, beautiful, talented Karen Hauer was an avid viewer of the Bake Off and had been in contact with me on Twitter during the show. She invited me and my wife Sarah as her guests at Strictly yesterday, which was incredibly generous of her – we were bowled over. So the least I could do was to thank Karen with boxes full of baked goodies!
We had the most INCREDIBLE night at Strictly, thanks to Karen. It was great to meet her fiancé and fellow professional dancer Kevin too. I also got to spend a lot of the evening with Karen’s dance partner from last year, the awesome Dave Myers from Hairy Bikers fame, and his lovely wife Lili (all pictured above). I’m hoping to catch up with Dave again at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham next weekend if I make it there. He’s a total legend! The Queen of Baking, Mary Berry, was there last night too and it was great to see her again, as we were sitting right behind Dave and Mary in the studio.
It was one of those evenings where beforehand you think “I wonder what all these people off the telly are like in real life” and the answer was “even friendlier”. We also met Janette and Jake, Aljaz (my wife Sarah went a bit weak at the knees) and Kevin’s sister Joanne. Pixie and Trent recorded a little message for our kids, who are in love with them, so they’ve now watched it about 1,000 times today already. I was really excited about meeting Steve Backshall – he’s a hero of mine. It was such a fantastic night.
I’ve had a brilliant week this week. And with quite a lot of exciting stuff planned for the next few weeks until Christmas, I can say with a bit of confidence now that I think 2014 has been the best year ever. See you next week…