Paul Hollywood - Wallasey born and bred
- Credit: Archant
Now Wirral's own Paul Hollywood on the long round to fame and fortune
No sooner have we said our hellos than Paul Hollywood announces with pride: ‘I was in Cheshire Life 25 years ago.’
Paul first came to the magazine’s attention as a 22-year-old baker doing interesting things in the kitchen at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel.
‘I was doing pumpernickel and sourdough,’ he recalls. ‘This was in the 1980s, and it was unusual then. No-one had heard of this stuff.’
There was a little slot on Granada Reports too, a videotape of which Paul still has somewhere.
‘I thought I’d be really famous, and that wasn’t the case,’ he laughs. ‘It took a little bit longer before people knew who I was.’
Suffice to say that since Cheshire Life first championed his talents, Paul Hollywood has done quite well for himself.
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Great British Bake Off made soap opera of an activity previously associated more readily with the Women’s Institute, and the matinee idol of this drama was Paul Hollywood. All limpid grey-blue eyes, deep tan and hands made for kneading, he is the beefcake capable of rustling up a cheesecake, or, as CBS pitched Hollywood to the US market, ‘the George Clooney of baking’.
‘It’s flattering,’ says Hollywood. ‘I’m just a lad coming up to 50 from the rough end of town.’
There is a healthy ration of scouse self-deprecation about him, but he cannot deny his appeal, even to audiences beyond his core fan demographic of women aged 20 to 50.
‘The last school I went to, I was mobbed,’ he says. ‘I was looking behind me to see if One Direction had turned up.’
Baking, it seems, really is the new rock ‘n’ roll. Aside from all the TV shows, there have been Paul Hollywood calendars, tee shirts with baking-related ‘Paul Says...’ slogans (cheeky homage to the Frankie Goes to Hollywood tee shirts of the 1980s) and now, this being rock ‘n’ roll, he’s going on the road. The Get Your Bake On! theatre show will be Paul telling his story, sharing his recipes, connecting with his audience.
That story begins in Wallasey, where, aged eight, Paul remembers being fascinated by dough balls left to rise in front of the fire by his baker dad.
When Paul was ten, his dad moved to east Yorkshire and set up a chain of bakeries which stretched from Aberdeen to Lincolnshire. Young Paul went to Mosslands comprehensive school, and on to art school in Wallasey learning sculpture, but, aged 18, his dad bought a bakery in Walton, Liverpool, and invited Paul to work there.
He got used to early starts (‘I’m still like that now...I’m up with the birds’) and moved on to the Chester Grosvenor aged 19, spending five happy years there in total.
‘I lived just around the corner in the Duke of Westminster’s road, Love Street,’ he says. ‘I spent most of my time around Chester. There’s nothing better on a summer’s day than getting a rowing boat and rowing down the Dee to all the pubs. Happy days.’
He worked at the Dorchester in London too, before spending six years working for a hotel group in Cyprus, where he met and married Alexandra, mother of his son Josh. He had started doing TV work in Cyprus, and when he came back to the UK, more media offers came his way, while he was setting up his artisan bakery in Kent, where he has lived for 14 years.
Paul, now aged 47, is a frequent visitor back to the Wirral and Liverpool, and talks with affection of New Brighton, West Kirby and Parkgate
His Bake Off pairing with Mary Berry (there will be a fifth series on BBC One later this year) is, in TV terms, unusual: older woman, younger man.
‘It shouldn’t work, but it does because we have an actual relationship, almost a mother-son relationship,’ says Paul.
The level of his fame now earns him joshing from old chefs he once worked with, says Paul. It also means his private life is the stuff of media interest, notably his relationship with Marcela Valladolid, his co-star on The American Baking Competition. Paul later admitted making ‘the biggest mistake of my life’ and was reconciled with Alexandra.
There’s one place he can escape his fame and everything that goes with it, though: aboard his Ducati motorbike.
‘I love that I can stick my helmet on, put the mirrored visor on and no-one knows who I am,’ he says.
1966: Born in Wallasey.
1984: Begins work as a baker for his dad in Liverpool.
1986: Goes to the Chester Grosvenor as a baker
1994: Moves to Cyprus for six years.
1998: Marries Alexandra in Cyprus.
2008: Invited to join Mary Berry for The Great British Bake Off, first seen on BBC2 in 2010.
2013: Off to USA to make The American Baking Competition.
2014: Paul embarks on his first major theatre tour, titled Get Your Bake On!