‘Ooo I do love Somerset Brie, so much so that I don’t even bother putting it on a cracker!’ TV presenter and Great British Bake Off semi-finalist Briony May Williams is soon to grace the Farmhouse Kitchen Stage at the Bath & West Food & Drink Festival this month, and with this particular event also paying homage to the 28th British Cheese Awards, we find ourselves laughing that despite never meeting before, we have, within minutes, formed a Somerset cheese appreciation club. ‘Somerset just makes such a cracking brie, doesn’t it? I mean, it hardly makes it out the wrapper before I’m chowing it down – I love it!’

Briony’s giggle and sunny disposition are infectious and it’s easy to see how her transition from teacher to TV presenter was a natural move for this proud Bristolian. ‘I taught French and Spanish to the boys at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in central Bristol, I absolutely loved it, but after having my daughter Nora, I knew that I wanted to stay at home with her for as long as possible. It was during this time that I found myself baking – my first cakes were awful mind you!’ After receiving several orders for birthday cakes from her wider family and friends Briony realised that baking had a calming effect on her, and so thought she’d apply for Bake Off, ‘it was a huge surprise and a wonderful experience to be in the tent for as long as I was – and it changed the direction of my life. In fact, during my time in the tent, one of the crew; Giorgia, said to me, ‘You’ll never teach again!’ and then I caught up with again recently and she said, ‘I told you!’

Great British Life: Briony May WilliamsBriony May Williams (Image: Briony May Williams)

That’s not to say that everything landed in Briony’s lap since she became a semi-finalist in the 2018 hit baking show, ‘Immediately after finishing the show, I was approached by an agent but after 6 months they dumped me! I was absolutely heartbroken. But then I got back in touch with another agent I had met along the way, and it was all a blessing in disguise, I absolutely believe that everything happens for a reason, and my new agent Andrew treats everyone with respect. Plus, he’s a huge advocate for promoting disability which aligns with me.’

Briony was born with a congenital upper limb difference, known affectionately by Briony as ‘my little hand’; she doesn’t shy away from talking about it, but equally she doesn’t wish to be defined by it either, ‘During my time in Bake-Off I asked them not to highlight it, I wanted to be there solely for my baking skills and to show that you can just get on and find your own way to do things even if you do have a limb difference. But now I am proud to be working with charities and using my contacts in TV to help raise awareness. There has been a lack of representation on TV and since I’ve been on screen, I’ve had messages from parents with children who have hands like mine thanking me for just getting on with it.’

Great British Life: Briony on location with Escape to the Country Briony on location with Escape to the Country (Image: Briony May Williams)

Since her success on GBBO, Briony now regularly graces our screens as a presenter on BBC 1’s Morning Live and Escape to the Country, as well as Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped. ‘Food Unwrapped is amazing; I’ve filmed on location; being sent to Germany, Sweden, Norway – in fact they’ve sent me everywhere where I don’t speak the language!’ With the show busting food myths and getting behind the scenes as to how kitchen cupboard staples are made, Briony can often be uncovering unusual secrets behind the food we eat, ‘I’ve definitely learned so much random stuff – but it’s a real joy!’ And with this experience under her belt, it wasn’t long before she found herself talking with the executives at the BBC about a possible presenting job at Escape to the Country, ‘They asked me to record an episode to see how it would go and I absolutely loved it! The first couple I met had been living on a canal boat and they wanted to move to Somerset to be near their family in Portishead so we were filming in Uphill. They are just the sweetest couple and after filming that episode I really wanted the job! I think this show brings out my strengths; I love talking to people and helping people moving house is a big deal so I really enjoy it.’ It’s no surprise then that Briony kept in touch with the couple after the show, welcoming them to their new Somerset house with a home-made cake, ‘You are genuinely seeing people uprooting their lives and moving house or relocating to a new area and I feel privileged to be able to help people through this stage in their lives. It was lush to catch up, sit in their garden and see them settling into their new home.’

House hunting aside, Briony’s other regular slot on our screens is on BBC One’s Morning Live. Joining Gethin Jones and Helen Skelton, Briony makes VT’s (short films) which can vary from baking a Baked Bean cake – ‘ it was a real challenge to make but it was delicious!’ or focus on more serious issues such as limb difference, ‘it was an emotional film to make, but I put the idea forward and it was an absolute joy to make. Representation matters, and it’s an incredibly special community and right now, I feel very lucky to be a part of it.’

In addition to her TV work, Briony is also a proud ambassador for the charity, Reach who provide support for children with upper limb differences, ‘They were an incredible support for my Mum when I was a kid. So, every year I go along to their family event, and I’ll do a baking demo’ and closer to home, Briony is also an ambassador for Paul’s Place, and Mind, two charities based in Bristol. ‘I’m born and bred here; I am a very proud Bristolian, and I am forever grateful for the support that the South West have given me. Everyone was behind me during my time on GBBO and it meant the absolute world.’

Great British Life: The Gloucester Old Spot pub is a favourite location for the screening of the Great British Bake Off finals each year. The Gloucester Old Spot pub is a favourite location for the screening of the Great British Bake Off finals each year. (Image: Amy Devenish)

With so many family and friends wanting to watch Briony on TV during her time on the GBBO, she approached her local pub, The Gloucester Old Spot, who agreed to put the show on the big screen so her family could all watch it together. ‘In the end we used to get about 50 people turn up for each airing, so I started baking what I was making on that week’s show so that everyone could taste it as they watched me on the telly!’ Since then, the TV production company behind GBBO, Love Productions, hire the marquee at the pub to celebrate the final of every season. ‘It’s been amazing, we’ve celebrated fellow Bristolians Giuseppe Dell’Anno winning his series of GBBO and Tasha Stones from the latest series too. That’s the thing with living in Bristol, everyone is so supportive. I’ll never forget it when I got hollered at by a bloke on some scaffolding in Westbury – on Trim, ‘Oi!Briony! I bloody loved you on Bake Off!’

Carol Paris who is the Chief Executive of the Royal Bath & West of England Society is very excited for Briony to be a key part at the forthcoming festival, ‘We're delighted to have Briony opening this stage for the very first time, bringing her humour, warmth and exceptional baking skills to the show. As one of the most recognisable faces on TV and a West Country treasure, Briony will be sure to get our celebration of the region's food & drink going in the right direction!’ Briony is set to be joined by celebrity guests such as Andy Clarke, Nigel Barden and George Egg, and attendees can expect to hear top foodie tips as well as topical discussions such as how to eat on a budget, and sustainability within the drinks industry. Running alongside the talks and food demos, will be the British Cheese Awards. Now in their 28th year the awards recognise and promote excellence in the wide diversity of cheeses produced throughout the UK. And with over 500 entries, there will be much competition for these prestigious awards including many entrants from our very own county.

‘We love cooking with local ingredients in our household and you already know how much I love a Somerset brie!’ laughs Briony, ‘But in all seriousness, the Bath & West Food and Drink Festival is a great way for local producers to showcase their food and drink, and for people to try something new. My husband and I have always loved a food festival, in fact even the day before our wedding we were wandering through a local food festival, enjoying a bottle of red on the go and sampling all the fantastic food. Who needs wedding stress when you’ve got a food festival to explore?! The Bath & West Food & Drink Festival will be a brilliant family day out too, and if you’re anything like my husband and daughter you’ll find something delicious like Somerset Charcuterie and then you'll make it a weekly staple! We love nothing more than chowing down a cured meats and local cheese board!’

Great British Life:  Does it have a good nose? Judging will be taking place at the 28th British Cheese Awards this March. Does it have a good nose? Judging will be taking place at the 28th British Cheese Awards this March. (Image: Paul Aston)