Interview: A festive morning with Bake Off star Jane Beedle

Bake Off star Jane Beedle (photo: Manu Palomeque)

Bake Off star Jane Beedle (photo: Manu Palomeque) - Credit: Archant

Kent Life spends a festive morning with Christmas Bake Off star Jane Beedle in her Faversham home. Article first published in Dec 2019

Click here for Jane's recipe for orange and spiced chai latte cake

There couldn't have been a better day to visit Jane Beedle in her beautiful Faversham home. Bake Off 2019 final night - and this former finalist knew who'd won, but no amount of pleading would reveal the secret. I'd have to wait, like all the other seven million addicts who tuned in later.

Luckily I'm easily distracted, first by the smell of bread baking in the oven, secondly by Jane's excitable twin puppies Florence and Minnie (named after her and husband Ray's mothers) and thirdly by a pumpkin cake waiting for its chocolate icing and honey-glazed pumpkin seeds topping.

Jane takes all this in her stride, chatting away doing a hundred things at once as I sit at the table in her huge kitchen, nibbling home-made biscotti. She and Ray have only been living in Faversham for 18 months, having previously spent more than 20 years transforming houses in the Beckenham area to sell on. They are expert 'do-er-uppers.'

While she now she describes this as their 'forever house,' Jane admits she was reluctant to be so far from the area she knew so well and that with grown-up children Amy and Henry no longer living at home, she'd always planned to downsize in West Wickham. "Then friends of ours from Beckenham who have a house in Faversham kept on inviting us down for weekends, and Faversham just seemed to welcome me in.

"House prices were so much different than in south London, Ray was totally in love with the place - he loves golf so it's perfect, and he's always wanted a boat - and, importantly, we could afford it."

Faversham has continued to welcome and inspire Jane, with early involvement in Faversham Open Gardens through her garden design business, Mulberry Garden Design - yet another string to her bow.

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Gardening has take a back seat since the move and Jane's rather different life since Bake Off, which opened up so many new horizons. On a local level, she is excited about plans for her new cookery school, Monkshill Refectory at Monkshill Farm, a flexible space where she can take cookery classes and be involved in supper clubs. She's already started teaching and putting on events in the café space there, with the official opening planned for 1 March 2020.

Jane's strong work ethic started young. She grew up in Hastings, where her father owned a large bakery with several local shops and a couple of cafés. She recalls the special hot cross bun men her Dad would bring home on Good Friday, having worked all night baking, the fantastic birthday cakes and home-made Easter eggs decorated with little bits of iced maidenhair fern.

"When my own kids were little I used to take the eggs out of their wrapping, put flowers on them and ice their names long before Thorntons started doing it."

Jane went to school in Hastings and later Essex, where she was a boarder, when her parents moved to Brentwood. After studying maths at the University of Kent, she joined her mum at the London advertising agency where she worked before moving over to an artwork studio then a silkscreen printers. Here she met Ray. They've been together 35 years now. "It was love at first sight. I still love it when he comes through the door. My son says I've spoilt him because he now looks for the sort of relationship we have."

Marriage, a move to Beckenham and soon two small children made working in London difficult, so Jane freelanced, doing data inputting for the London Marathon. Her friend Harriet Brown, who has children the same age as Amy and Henry and who was also a keen gardener, suggested they work together. "We put out a flyer saying 'autumn clear ups' - Beckenham was a great area because it had quite a few older people and also lots of busy commuters - and within a week we had enough work to get started.

"It was Harriet who encouraged me to try for Bake Off. She's one of these really annoying people - very pretty, tall but very slim, needed to have a Mars bar every morning just to keep her weight on - so I started baking occasionally for her so she'd have something home made to eat at midday," says Jane.

"She got me into watching the first series of Bake Off, 10 years ago - who would have thought that the idea of 10 people in a tent baking cakes would take off in the way it has? In the end I applied in 2005 just to shut Harriet up really and finally got in for series 7. Hopefully I was a better baker for waiting a bit.

"I'd reached the stage when I thought you can sit back in life and be a spectator, or if you really want to do something, just give it a go."

Jane says the only time she was really nervous was at one of the auditions, when she had to do a technical challenge in a London studio. "It was the first time we'd been filmed and it was a bit of a shock!

"You expect to be nervous once you get into the tent, but by the time series seven came along I'd watched four series and I really knew that tent. And they maintain that for you, they don't let you go behind the scenes so you don't get that magic spoilt by washing up and producers on their monitors. You walk in and you kind of go, ahh, I'm here at last."

Star baker in week one, Jane went through to the final in 2016, missing out to Candice Brown but having had the time of her life. "I loved every single minute of it, and one of the very great things was the friendships, because we 12 still meet up, we still message each other all the time. We all went down to Candice's wedding last year in France and each made a wedding cake for her. We had the best road trip. Three of them are the same age as my kids, but instead of treating you as an older person you're just someone who has shared the same experience."

Although she didn't know at the time, Jane was also part of the final series hosted by presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry as judges before it moved to Channel 4, when Prue Leith replaced Mary Berry and Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig took over as presenters.

"Paul keeps in character a lot of the time and scares the living daylights out of you, Mary was just delightful, positive, warm, encouraging. Mel and Sue are even funnier than they appear on TV - they've been together for so many years and know each other so well, they're sharp and bright and very professional. But there were lots of fart jokes."

Jane got her moment in the spotlight when she won Christmas Bake Off 2018. "It was filmed at Pinewood and that was very special - but it was shot in September and they were spraying snow everywhere for two full days, we had a fire and everything.

"The showstopper had to have a hidden present in it. We'd just moved in here and it was August and I kept asking my builder to try all these variations of my penguin-hidden-in-a-parcel cake!"

Jane also supports local charity Tree of Hope, ran the London Marathon for Great Ormond Street last year as part of a Bakers' Dozen and does Busters Bake Off in Broadstairs, encouraging children to bake.

She's looking forward to Christmas with her family in Faversham, which is always preceded by everyone's strict attendance on 'Stir-up Sunday' to take turns in stirring the cake mix and making a wish. She'll marzipan and ice it, but it's Amy who always does the decorating. Another star baker in the house?

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