She successfully stepped into Mary Berry’s shoes on The Great British Bake Off and, as the mega hit series returns this week, Prue Leith admits she still keeps pinching herself that she has landed such an incredible TV role.
‘When I got the job on Bake Off, I thought I was so lucky to be asked,’ says Prue as she chats to us about life on one of Britain’s best-loved shows.
‘I’d had a perfectly good life in every way and then it got even better.
‘As long as I continue to enjoy it and have the energy and health to do it, I would like to work for as long as I can.’
She clearly has no plans to retire, despite turning 80 next year (yes, you read that right).
‘Paul Hollywood is such a great person to work alongside and he’s been so supportive.
‘He has become a good friend of mine.’
With three books published since she took over from Mary, her own glasses range and a judging role on the new spin-off junior version (coming soon), Prue has never been so busy.
‘Women sometimes say to me, “You are so energetic, you wear bright colours, how do you do it?”’ she reveals.
‘The truth is I am just very energetic. I enjoy it.’
Prue is always cheerful and gregarious on screen, and she has good reason to be – she admits she feels incredibly fortunate to have met and married two wonderful men.
Prue was married to Rayne Kruger for 28 years until he sadly passed away in 2002.
Then eight years ago, she met her second husband, John, who is a retired clothes designer.
They tied the knot three years ago.
‘I feel very lucky to have had two amazing marriages,’ she admits.
‘But I have not just had two happy marriages, I have also known some wonderful people.
‘Most families have some tragedy but I have managed to escape them all.’
She paints an idyllic picture of life at home in the Cotswolds with every spare moment spent with John, her two children, Li-Da and Danny, and four grandchildren.
‘John is amazing and, before I met him, he spent most of his time walking with friends and going off looking at antiques,’ she says.
‘He still does that but he also acts as my project manager and driver!
‘We are building a house at the moment and he oversees that too.’
She roars with laughter when asked how her children feel about her newfound Bake Off fame.
‘Children are always slightly embarrassed and rather puzzled that their parents should be well known,’ she replies.
‘But the grandchildren love it and they are very impressed with my street cred!’
She predicts this year’s Bake Off will be a very closely fought one with plenty of twists and turns.
All the bakers, she says, forged a close bond during the series, which also features three special new themes – festivals, 1920s and a celebration of dairy products.
‘In one episode, someone won Star Baker, but they were crying because their friend was going,’ she chuckles.
‘They were blubbing about a person losing instead of celebrating the fact they had been crowned Star Baker!
‘What is lovely about Bake Off is everyone knows it is a kind show.
‘We are generally kind and the whole atmosphere in the tent is to try and make it as easy as we can for the bakers to do their best.’
When Prue judges, she has a cheery trademark smile as she delivers her critique.
She readily admits that both she and Paul can sometimes disagree – particularly when it comes to strong flavours – she insists they do, however, always reach the right decision, and the right person is sent home.
‘What is very interesting is I’ll say something like, “I don’t think it’s over-spiced” and Paul will say, “Too much clove” or something and we’ll argue about it, but when we look at the numbers we write down (for judging), we’re nearly always the same,’ muses Prue.
‘I might be a touch more generous than him when I’m marking something but when you actually look at the order that they’re in, we’re never not the same.
‘I never think somebody’s won without him thinking the same.’
A keen advocate for cooking from scratch, Prue – who says she has never visited McDonald’s and has only very occasionally ordered a takeaway – says working on Bake Off has inspired her to experiment more with different recipes and flavours.
‘I love cooking,’ she explains.
‘My husband and I grow a lot of our own vegetables at home and I enjoy it.
‘Food is so interesting now, so easy and I enjoy teaching my grandchildren to cook too.
‘I am very interested in the science of cooking and how and why things happen the way they do.’
Looking far younger than 79, Prue says she tries to eat as healthily as she can.
‘I have porridge for breakfast or a yoghurt, salad for lunch and then whatever for supper with a couple of glasses of wine,’ she adds.
‘And all my life I have wanted to lose a stone but I could never lose it!
‘But I do exercise. I have a personal trainer who comes once or twice a week.
‘If I have an excuse to cancel then I do because I don’t enjoy it.
‘But I do it because I am 79 and my main worry is falling over.
‘A couple of years ago I fell at our train station and it’s taken me two years to recover.
‘You don’t want to break a leg or hip at my age.
‘I think if I can keep everything working, I will be OK.’
She is planning to celebrate her 80th birthday next year in Scotland with John and some friends.
‘We are going on a little puffer boat,’ she says.
‘It’s on my bucket list of things I would like to do.
‘I also want to do more travelling as I love it so much.’
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