"You'd never know when Mary would arrive"
Flora Shedden was easily one of our favourite contestants on the Great British Bake Off 2015, piping her way right through to the final. The 20-year old Scot is now taking a break from her History of Art and Maths degree (more on that later…) to focus on writing her cookbook, Gatherings. We caught up with Flora at AO.com’s Christmas cocktail party to find out all about it…
What was your favourite thing about taking part in Bake Off?
All the viewing parties that people held to watch the show! The reaction I had was really sweet. It was a funny feeling, because it felt like two separate things; the actual filming of Bake Off, having a giggle and going for drinks with everyone, and then a weird month before our names went to press at the end of July, then the show!
So you’d filmed the whole series but couldn’t say anything?
We couldn’t tell anyone. We all sort of thought it was going to go away, we thought ‘it’s not actually going to be on telly, we don’t need to talk about it’, and then when it was broadcast it was really surreal.
Did you watch the show with your family?
I tried as much as possible. When we were filming, my aunty came to pick me up from the airport at 3am and we would have a full hour debrief, and then I got home and would have a cup of tea and would have another debrief with my Mum. You need to let the burden off, so it was nice that they knew everything that had happened.
Was there ever a down side to Bake Off?
A few times I was on the plane having filmed all day. I remember when Matt was kicked out, we’d all become really close at that stage. I was sitting on a plane (I had a gin and tonic, so that was helping) and thinking this is exhausting. It’s a huge investment of time, and I was wondering ‘do I want to come back?’, but you go home, have a sleep and you power through. Of course there are low moments; it’s physically and emotionally draining.
Did you work Monday to Friday, and then head to the tent at the weekend?
No, we filmed Monday and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Friday and Saturday…it changed every week. I think between European Cakes and Pastry week, I was only home for one day and I had my entire teenage rebellion in that day. Pots and pans everywhere, I was screaming, it was all very stressful!
How did you get time off work?!
I had a very understanding boss. I worked in an art gallery then, and he was so excited about the whole thing because he was in the know. Loads of people couldn’t get time off work, so Tamal and Matt would do a night shift and go straight there, Paul would have had a really tough watch at the prison and be quite shaken up…it was a tricky balancing act.
What is the tent actually like?
It’s in the grounds of a lovely big house, there’s a nice river that runs by the field, some bridges… Debbie Puxley, who owns the grounds, would be out in the rain and putting flowers around the tent. It was fun watching them make it look beautiful.
What do you actually do while you’re waiting for your bakes in the oven?!
I went a bit mental and threw macarons, amaretti and anything I could think of at it, I was just so scared of sitting and watching something bake! I had the philosophy of if my hands were busy at all times, my mind wouldn’t be worrying what’s in the oven. Part of me regrets that ethos, and the other part of me feels quite good, because in the technical challenges you were going ‘oh no I’m that person on the telly that sits on their knees and watches their oven the whole time’.
Ok, spill; who took longer to get ready, Paul or Mary?
I don’t actually know, we arrive on site and check all our ingredients, then Paul and Mary arrive at some point. Paul would always arrive in a very loud and noisy car, and Mary would be slightly more subtle, so you’d never know when she’d arrive. We’d all reconvene after breakfast and start filming. It was very early mornings and late nights.
And now we hear you’ve quit uni to write a book?
I haven’t left completely, I’ve deferred. I’m doing History Of Art and Maths joint honours at St Andrews. It's sort of a battle between the artistic and scientific, which I think is quite a nice mixture of the two and good for baking. I really want to do university, I love studying and I was the biggest nerd in school, but you get such amazing offers at the moment and I feel like I need to seize them.
Will it just be cakes?
I cook as much as I bake, so it’s a mixture. My family sort of cook for everybody, it’s a huge thing for us. It’s called Gatherings, and it will be about feasts great and small. I think my generation really want to entertain and put on dinners, but they’re scared – people think ‘I don’t know what fork to use, I don’t know what to wear, what should I take’, and it becomes stressful for no reason. A gathering is just a casual and informal way of eating, which is great if you’re working or coming home late. I wanted to reflect the movement with my generation where we want to eat well but don’t necessarily want to restrict everything, so there will be lots of healthy recipes but it's not like you can never eat white sugar again. I think that's really daft.
Congratulations! Before we let you get back to baking, what else have you got lined up?
I’ve been doing some live demos recently which are really good fun, little bits of telly and radio, and I’ve written some bits and pieces for newspapers. Then just keeping on with my blog and having people round for some grub! I feel slightly like a fraud – none of us went into Bake Off realizing how much of a springboard it would be, we all thought ‘oh this is a bit embarrassing, how did we get here’. I feel very lucky and slightly cheeky when I get these offers, I’m thinking ‘you're sure? You want me? There are some really talented people behind me!’. I'm just adjusting to broadcast being over and not having to hide behind a blanket every Wednesday, which is quite good.