Oh, Great British Bake Off. How we miss you in these cold, winter months. As the evenings get darker and the days get colder we nostalgically cast our minds back to the multitude of pretty pastel-coloured Kitchen Aids, familiar tense yet annoyingly addictive music as the last ten minutes of the Showstopper Challenge sped by and above all... The warm cast of characters who filled our weekday nights with baking and laughter.
Those days have sadly passed us.
But I couldn't let this time go by without some kind of memento of the many happy weeks I spent enjoying the last of the sunny days and watching people stress themselves out making sadly sloppy Baked Alaska (sorry, I just had to). So, I am incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to interview the amazingly talented and lovely Martha Collison, the 18-year-old quarter-finalist of Great British Bake Off 2014. I was so delighted to be able to talk to Martha, as I am aware we are the same age and she has already achieved so much. So here is the talented Martha Collison on baking, time management and why she thinks it's important for teenagers to step out and try something new...
When did you decide that you wanted to apply to Bake Off?
Applying for bake off was a very spontaneous thing for me. I'd always been a huge fan of the programme so I thought it would be fun to apply just to see how far I could get. I didn't expect to make it past the phone interview so every step after then was such a bonus, I was just so excited! I applied 2 days before the closing date in January, so I'm very happy they waited for me!
Were you nervous about going into Bake Off when you knew that you were the only teenager competing?
When I met the other contestants for the first time, I was quite surprised to find them all over 30! I knew I'd be the youngest, but they often have uni students or people in their early 20's so I wasn't expecting to have 14 years between the next youngest contestant and me. They really wanted to emphasise the age gap! I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't have the experience that they had, but luckily that didn't hold me bake too much.
What was it like working with people who were all older than you?
After the initial surprise of finding they were all a lot older than me, we all really got to know each other and age just wasn't a problem. Being younger meant the other contestants really looked out for me, so I was always cared for, and I think making new friends who are different to who we would usually choose helped all of us. I grew up and matured a lot quicker because I was hanging out with lots of adults, and people like Nancy said that she felt young again and it was refreshing for her to make younger friends. I was an unusual situation but definitely benefited us all.
How has Bake Off changed you?
Bake Off has completely changed my life. I'm 18 years old and living the home baker's dream, it's just fantastic. Over the 8 weeks I was in, my confidence noticeably grew and now I am so much more comfortable talking to people I don't know! If you'd told me last year that 12 million people would have seen and listened to me, and that I would have done live demonstrations in front of 300 people I'd have thought you were crazy! I've also learnt a whole lot more about baking from all the different challenges and from listening to Paul and Mary.
What is the most important piece of advice (baking or otherwise!) that you have taken away from Bake Off?
The most important thing I learnt was how important time management is in baking. When I bake at home, there are no time limits, no space restriction and no 'there must be 36 of these'. On bake off, it took me a while to get used to tight time limits and I ended up rushing everything in the last 10 minutes! Now I'm much better at working to deadlines.
How did your friends and people at your school/college react to you appearing on Bake Off?
My friends couldn't get their heads around it at first. I filmed it all April to June and wasn't allowed to tell anyone, so when it all got revealed in July people couldn't believe that that was what I'd been doing all that time! Now they just think it's funny that everyone knows who I am, and they take great pleasure in pretending not to know me when we are out, and then pointing and shouting 'isn't that the girl from the bake off?!' just to see how much attention it attracts. It's so embarrassing!
How did you balance Bake Off and AS levels?
Bake Off and AS levels. Not the best idea! When I applied, I never expected to actually get onto the programme, so I didn't factor in how difficult it would be to spend at least 2 days a week filming, the rest solidly practicing for the next week, and still try to fit in revision. If you ask the other bakers, they will confirm that in the 2 and a half hours between finishing a bake and it being judged (yes, 2.5 hours!) I would whip out my chemistry text books and try to get some studying in. My mind was so buzzing that I couldn't focus at all, but at least I tried! I decided to prioritise bake off because you only get opportunities like this once. I was lucky to pass my exams and just have to retake a few modules this year, I'm very lucky!
What advice would you have for someone applying to Bake Off?
My advice for someone applying for the bake off is just go for it! If you never try, you'll never know what could have happened, and the worst that can happen is that you don't get into the final 12. What I would say is don't be too disappointed if you don't make it. When the casting team were down to the final 50 potential bakers, they said that we were all good enough, it was just about getting the right mix of people. You might be what they are looking for, or you might not, but don't let that stop you from baking!
Why do you think it's important for teenagers to step out of their comfort zone and do something different?
Teenagers today get a bad name in the press, so I think it is so important that we step out and show that we are a generation of many talents. It's not easy to step out of your comfort zone, but it is so worth it and shows that we are passionate and that we do care about our futures.
Check out Martha's blog here: http://bakingmartha.co.uk
Follow Martha on twitter: https://twitter.com/marthacollison