It’s probably true that after the events of 2020, shows like the Great British Bake Off and their ability to provide some light relief have never been more necessary.
And while most series of Bake Off give us one or two break-out characters to root for, Channel 4 gifted us with one of the show’s best ever casts this year. This included waistcoat-clad Rowan and his unique approach timekeeping, Lottie, with her creative bakes and dry sense of humour, and the ray of sunshine that was patisserie queen Hermine.
For many, though, it was finalist Laura Adlington who proved to be the most relatable of this year’s bakers.
The self-professed “clumsy, sailor-mouthed, loud, messy baker” emerged as an early favourite, fan-girling over Bake Off host Matt Lucas and unapologetically leaving chaos in her wake after each challenge.
Viewers shared in Laura’s triumphs, but also her struggles – of which, it has to be said, there were many (her fellow contestants later jumped to her defence when some fans took issue with the fact she’d landed a place in the final).
In the final part of HuffPost UK’s series 2020: The Year That Wasn’t, we spoke to Laura about channeling her “inner Lizzo”, brushing off online abuse from Bake Off fans and what’s next for her in 2021...
Thinking back to January, how did you feel looking ahead to 2020?
I don’t think I went into the year with any major expectations. Bake Off was still kind of a pipe dream at that point... I think I went up for one audition at the end of January.
I remember after every stage of the audition process I phoned my family up at the end, and I was like, “I definitely won’t get past that stage, but what a great opportunity, just to say I got to the first or second stage”. And that was every single round! By the sixth round I was thinking, “Jesus Christ, what’s going on here?”.
But I was actually gearing up to have a gastric sleeve operation at the start of the year, so I think that was my priority in January. I’ve always struggled with eating, but I realised during that process – and it was nothing to do with Bake Off – that I wasn’t emotionally ready. I realised surgery wouldn’t fix the issue, mentally, with my eating and decided it wasn’t for me – but I take my hat off to people who do have it.
A lot of people might think it’s the easy route but I genuinely don’t think it is. My weight is something I’m always going to struggle with, but I’m trying to channel my inner Lizzo and love myself a bit more.
How did lockdown affect what you already had planned for the year?
The 16th March was an unforgettable day for me. I got the call around lunchtime [to say I had made the cast of Bake Off]. I was working in an office and I was naughty and ended up taking two hours on my lunch hour to phone immediate family and a couple of really, really close friends. I cannot tell you the shock and the excitement, it was just surreal.
And so that was really giddy and amazing, and then at five or six o’clock, Boris Johnson announced that we were going into lockdown. The exact same day. And I remember just being like, “are you kidding me?”. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. My stomach sank – and not just from a selfish point of view about Bake Off, but for everybody, it was really scary.
We were in constant contact with Bake Off throughout lockdown, which was great. I didn’t know this at the time, but when we actually got there and started filming, a lot of people said, “there were a few points where it looked like it wasn’t going to happen this year”. And it took a lot of effort on their behalf, in terms of insurance and legalities and all that boring stuff.
I remember the first night we got there, the crew all got really drunk because they were just so happy and relieved that we made it, and then they got even more drunk after the first episode wrapped. Everyone was just like, “we’ve done it, we’ve done the first episode, we can do 10 more”.
How did you make it work in 2020 and what are you most proud of?
With Bake Off, I was really nervous about going on telly because as you can tell, I’m not your typical reality TV type of person, and I was very worried about being in the public eye and what people would say about me being a bigger woman, a plus-size woman on telly, around cake, and all of that.
Often, when you’re bigger, being seen to be around food, you feel like there’s a lot of stigma around it. So you feel like you’ve only got to eat salad or an apple to be accepted.
I’ve had so many messages from people saying “it’s so nice to see somebody like me on telly”, and there’ve been a few messages from other plus-size women saying how lovely it is to see people like myself being around food.
Someone wrote me a really lovely message, I’ll never forget it, saying that seeing someone my size loving food, being comfortable around food, not being ashamed of anything, and just embracing it… she was like, “I can’t tell you what a confidence boost that’s given me”. And for me, that makes it all worth it.
I have spent a lot of my life not really loving myself, as cheesy as that sounds. But I’ve got to a point now where, at my age, I’m not going to let fear or other people’s opinions stop me from doing anything. And that was a big thing for me, to even apply – and even when I got the call I was like, ‘Christ do you really want to do this, this is going to be a potentially life-changing thing’, so that’s the one thing that at the beginning of the year I was proud of.
And then throughout filming Bake Off, I learned a lot about myself. Again, it sounds really cheesy and I hate saying it, but I am really proud of myself for the resilience I had.
There were so many times that I wanted to give up, where I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, in the heat, missing my family, being away from home, feeling really out of my depth, having imposter syndrome. And as everyone saw on telly, I had my fair share of meltdowns, but after every one, I had a good cry about it, then put a full face of makeup on and got back on the horse, like, “right, let’s go, next, bash, let’s do it”.
And so I learned I’m stronger than I think I am, and no matter what, you have to keep going. And that’s a bit of a motto for 2020, for all of us. We’ve not had any other option but to put one foot in front of the other and take each day as it comes.
What was the one thing that got you through lockdown?
Well, it certainly wasn’t Zoom quizzes, I can tell you that. I think it was Bake Off, to be honest. I feel incredibly lucky to have taken part in a show that I have genuinely loved for so many years, and to have had that to look forward to and keep me going during lockdown.
I’m very mindful of the fact that for so many people 2020 has been terrible, but while I’ve also had my worries and I’ve missed people and had my own ups and downs, it’s been amazing in what’s otherwise been a tumultuous year.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge or lowest point of this year?
I think there have been points where, like everybody, I’ve felt like “what is the point?” or where I didn’t really want to get out of bed. I started off lockdown really well going for a walk every day, but after that I just had no motivation, and I wasn’t in a great headspace. That was before I really knew what was happening with Bake Off, and I just felt quite lonely and isolated.
And then while the show was airing, I was very anxious. I struggle with anxiety anyway, and it was like a big rollercoaster. Gearing up for every Tuesday night – it was exciting and it was fun, and I don’t want to sound negative about Bake Off, because I really did love it, but dealing with being in the public eye, and Twitter in particular, was challenging, to say the least.
I just wanted to be like, “Jesus, it’s a show about cake, give me a break”. I felt like I’d murdered someone at some points, the hate that I was receiving. That was really tough.
What’s the biggest lesson you’re taking away from 2020?
Always be yourself. When you’re growing up as a teenager and you’re bigger, you always kind of want to be someone else, and you feel like you’re never good enough. And I’ve got to a point where I feel like I am good enough. I’m a nice person, I’m just going to focus on that.
And never give up… a lot of it is how you handle things, isn’t it? People say “we’ve all been dealt the same hand this year”, but I couldn’t disagree with that more. We might all be in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. When celebrities come out and say “we’re all in this together”, I just think, ‘no we’re really not’. But it’s how you deal with things – a lot of people have shown a lot of resilience this year and I think that’s something to be commended.
How do you feel now looking ahead to 2021?
Quietly optimistic, but I don’t really believe in this whole “new year, new me” bullshit. I read something the other day which I loved, that was like “rather than new year, new you – new year, do you”. And I love that.
I feel like I have gained a lot of confidence this year, because I’ve almost had to develop a thicker skin. So I’m going into 2021, with no ambitions to really change who I am. I’m still going to be the clumsy, sailor-mouthed, loud, messy baker that I am, but I’m just trying to have a bit more confidence and grab every opportunity I can, really.
I’ve been talking to a couple of brands about doing some plus-size fashion brand endorsements and stuff like that, which is really cool, and I want to do more around body positivity and loving the skin you’re in. I’d love to do more TV work, and maybe even a book. Who knows?
The most recent season of the Great British Bake Off is available to watch on All4.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.