Meet the Yorkshire-born winner of Bake Off,David Atherton
- Credit: Archant
Baking memories as the GBBO winner launches a new books for kids
It all started with cracking eggs. Sat around the kitchen table in his childhood home in Ruswarp, just outside Whitby, David Atherton and his four siblings were always encouraged by mum, Judy, to experiment with food. Days were spent playing in the garden but also cultivating their supply of home-grown vegetables and spending time in each other’s company was favoured in place of time in front of the television.
‘We seemed to do things a little differently to other families, although it wasn’t something we knew at the time,’ says David. ‘My mum was the original hippie, these days she would probably be called a hipster, but she really was ahead of her time.
‘We all loved being in the kitchen, it was the heart of our family home. My mum always let us be there, watching and helping her as she made the most wonderful breads and cakes. We were all given big handfuls of dough, it was our playdough.
‘She was letting us create and letting us enjoy food. We were cracking eggs by the age of two. She gave us a great connection and relationship with the food we ate.’
But his mum’s influence went further than the kitchen table. Her altruistic nature – she is also a district nurse – is something that has moulded his life. Leaving the comfort of his Yorkshire childhood at 18, he studied art and design before doing a postgraduate degree in experimental and alternative medicine. Like his mum, he then went on to work in the aid sector for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and spent the ensuing years working as a health advisor on projects in countries around the globe including Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Ethiopia and as a clinical instructor in Malawi. He advised on everything from health and nutrition to working with expectant mothers in third world countries, encouraging them to make the long walk from the remote areas they lived in to get to the hospital before they went into labour.
‘I have had some wonderful, profound experiences that will stick with me throughout my life,’ says David. ‘My mum always taught us we should help people and that had an impact on me. Food is an extension of how you can help people, even now she holds bread making courses for people back in Whitby.
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‘I knew I wanted to explore but also try and help people and give back. Her time volunteering with VSO was something that really inspired me. She did it when it wasn’t really something people did.’
He drew on his life experience, and expertise in health and nutrition on Great British Bake Off. He had watched the popular programme since the second series – and appearing on It gave him the chance to mould his passion for health and creativity with a competition he adored. He became known for his healthier bakes.
What he achieved on the programme was incredible. Initially brought in last minute from the reserve list, along with fellow finalist Alice Fevronia, he was consistently considered the underdog, not once winning the coveted Star Baker prize. Despite this, and for the first time in the competition’s history, he went on to win.
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’What an experience it was walking out of that marque on the final,’ he recalls. ‘I can’t actually remember being announced as winner, though, it is a complete blank. The only memory I have is what was on television.
‘It really was the most amazing experience and I made friends for life, while I was on the show too.’
While most Bake Off winners get a book deal after their appearance on the show, David was already working on his – the soon to be released My First Cook Book, before he was declared champion.
His philosophy on homecooked, nutrient-packed food, he hopes, will be passed onto a new generation of cooks. It is packed with fun recipes aimed at getting children creative in the kitchen, much like he did during his own childhood. It is beautifully illustrated by friend and children’s illustrator Rachel Stubbs, too. The illustrations are an intentional move to prevent young cooks being disheartened by glossy, seemingly unachievable pictures of completed dishes. Some of the recipes are those he used to cook with his mum.
‘I started cooking when I was very young and I still get excited about new recipes,’ says David. ‘I loved the first cookbook I have and I remember taking turns with my twin brother, now a GP, to pick a recipe. Mum, of course, was always there to help.
‘Cooking is and has always been about experimenting, with new flavours and recipes, and about not worrying if things don’t turn out as expected, they will still taste delicious. I want to instil that sense of fun in young children. If you catch children young enough then you are setting them up for a life of good food.
‘There are so many baking books for children, often with recipes full of sugar. I didn’t want to do that. Food is such an important foundation to have – there is so much good that comes out of it, not just for your physical health but your mental health, too. I hope the book inspires children and their families to get cooking.’
David’s idyllic childhood continues to have a huge influence on his life. His Whitby hometown is a place that remains special to him. When he returns, he loves to go walking on the North York Moors or feasting on treats from Marie Antoinette’s in Whitby with partner and visual merchandising guru at Nike, Nik Sariyski.
The 37-year-old, who now lives in south London with Nik, is working on another book due for release next spring and continues to focus on his VSO work.
‘I didn’t want to give up my work so I still do that three days a week,’ says David. ‘It not only keeps me grounded but I think it’s really important to give back.
‘My mum is incredible, she really is. She always encouraged the idea that you are always better if you are helping other people, it’s always good to do something for others. It’s the way I try and live my life.’
My First Cook Book by David Atherton is available now from all good booksellers.