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Last month, Americans exploded like an overcooked soufflé when Netflix announced that the new season of The Great British Baking Show would appear on its streaming service, complete with a brand-new creative line-up. Alongside the new additions of judge Prue Leith and hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig — no need to worry, they’re great! — 34-year-old baker Sophie Faldo ended up clinching the win this season, charming the judges with her consistently innovative and gorgeous bakes. (Our favorite showstoppers? Her trifle terrine and “Ode to the Honeybee” entremet.) Vulture recently gave Faldo a call to discuss her whirlwind experience, why the tent can’t be cooled down, and, obviously, her thoughts on Paul Hollywood’s “piercing” eyes.
What encouraged you to apply for the show in the first place? Did the new judging and host line-up affect your decision?
In terms of the channel change, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was my boyfriend at the time who saw an advertisement somewhere on social media, so he gave me the push to send in the application form. I actually missed the deadline initially, but they extended it by a few days, so I got my form in that way. You never think you’re going to get picked, so I threw in an application form and waited to see what happened!
What did you have to do to prove yourself as a worthy contestant?
It’s quite exhausting. It takes months. I sent in my application form in the winter, and then I had a telephone interview that lasted an hour and a half. If they like you, then you do an in-person audition, and you have to bring in a couple of bakes and do another interview. And then, there’s a second round of auditions that includes an actual technical challenge, so they can see if you can actually bake or if someone was doing the baking for you. From start to finish, it was many months.
When you master your bakes during the week, do you have to foot your own bill for the ingredients? Or does the show give you a stipend?
They do give you a small allowance and you do get a little bit of money per episode, but people tend to spend quite a bit more. But it really depends on how much you want to spend. For me, I don’t need too much practice. I’d do my bakes maybe once or twice, but I know others who would bake upwards of 12 or 13 times. Or others will spend a lot of money on the presentation, like a special cake stand. I didn’t bother with too much of that, because I thought that my bakes should stand on their own. They’re certainly nice, but I didn’t think the judges took that into account much. So yeah, it’s pricey. You definitely spend more than you end up getting back.
If you had to estimate, how much did you spend on your bakes?
I honestly couldn’t remember, but I didn’t really want to know. [Laughs.] Stacey, for instance, practiced a lot. That’s what she felt she had to do to calm her nerves. For me, as long as I did it once and did it within the time allowance, that was good enough for me.
There was all of this hoopla over the new judge and hosts, but, dare I say, this line-up might actually be better.
Obviously, there were some hard shoes to fill. I love Sandi and I love Prue so much, so at least they were filled with good people.
Did you give Prue a stern talking-to after she unveiled you as the winner a day early?
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] Not really! She sent me an email to apologize. She’d been given a really, really hard time about it, so she felt awful. It was quite funny, really.
What was the most surprising aspect of filming the show?
You know when they get to the end of every challenge and the music kicks in to build drama? It looks like everyone is panicking and running around? I thought that was put on and everyone would actually be finished a half-hour before and the show would make it look like everyone was rushing. But it really is like that! [Laughs.] Those last few minutes are always really mad and people always flap and run around. It really has that adrenaline. It’s very true to life. The show isn’t produced and there’s nothing unnatural about it. Everything happens as it happens.
What’s everyone’s relationship like with the cameramen?
There are four cameramen in total, and when you start out there’s one for every three bakers. By the time contestants leave, you get one each. They do hover around a little bit and have a schedule of what your recipe is, so they know the interesting things they’d want to ask you about. They’d be like, Let us know when you do this with the ingredients, because we’d like to see that. But despite the hovering, they’re very respectful. If you’re busy and don’t want to talk, they’re cool with that. I didn’t mind them, but some people did. Some people were like, Get out of my face! They loiter, but that’s the point of them, isn’t it?
I always feel so bad when the tent gets hot and everyone’s bakes melt. Is there a reason why there’s no air conditioning?
It’s the noise. It’s too loud to use air conditioning in the tent. We had tiny fans we were allowed to have by our feet, which we could hold up to ourselves every now and then. It wasn’t too bad; you do get used to being sweaty after a while and stop caring. The show is good to make sure there’s chilling equipment. If you’re organized, you can put your stuff in the chiller and there’s always room. It was challenging, but manageable.
I still feel so bad! When there’s chocolate involved, I’m like, Why would you assign this bake?!
I know! It’s Britain, so you can never predict the weather. The thing that’s annoying is that you practice at home and it works great, but it goes wrong in the tent because it’s so hot and humid. You’re like, Ugh, I swear I know what I’m doing and I’m not an idiot! I promise you, it’s the weather!
Weather mishaps aside, which bake are you most proud of?
There were two. The technical from pâtisserie week — so the semifinal — were those Les Misérables slices. The judges said it was the most difficult technical they’ve ever set. Usually you have one or two [pages] of instructions, and this one had four. Prue just said it was perfect and Paul had nothing bad to say about it. So that one, and then my entremet in the final. It was wholly original, I didn’t get the recipe from everywhere. It was purely something I came up with in my mind one day that worked. I practiced it one and a half times — I baked one loosely to figure out the ingredients, and then another time after that. It meant a lot to know I could nail it so quickly.
The end credits said you and Steven have enjoyed traveling together since the show ended. Where have you visited?
We went to Kew Gardens, does that count?
I’ll count it!
So we went there! [Laughs.] We’ve been out for dinner and hang out a lot, but we didn’t actually end up going anywhere.
Well, this is a shocking twist and I want you both to have an international cooking show now.
We did offer it up. We were like, there must be somebody who wants us to go to Norway or somewhere to cook! But nothing yet.
Do you still keep in touch with other bakers?
I’ve spoken to Sandi and Prue since, but we’re not best mates or anything. I feel if I needed something, they’d be receptive to a phone call. Us bakers all have a WhatsApp group and I’ve remained good mates with a lot of them.
Are you still pursuing a career as a stuntwoman, or do you have your sights strictly on cooking at the moment?
I’m trying to run the two in parallel. The key word is “trying.” I’m still very much training for the British Stunt Register. That’s ongoing and will probably take me another two years at least. But baking is what I do now and I channel all of my energy into that. That’s my main focus. I just started a little catering business doing wedding cakes and dessert tables for events.
I’ve saved the most important question for last. Who has the bluest eyes in person: Noel or Paul?
Oh my, it’s definitely Paul. Definitely Paul. Paul’s eyes are quite piercing and bore into your soul.