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Bake Off star Paul Hollywood in Chester for new TV series

Exclusive interview with former Chester Grosvenor head baker who promises Channel 4 version will be just as good
Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has been filming at The Chester Grosvenor where he used to work as head baker.

“Bake Off’s back with a vengeance!” – exclaims original judge Paul Hollywood sitting in The Chester Grosvenor where he was once head baker.

Moments earlier the cheeky chappy had roared into his old stomping ground of Chester city centre in a black Aston Martin then parked ostentatiously in front of the five star hotel where he used to work.

Paul, who courted controversy when he moved with The Great British Bake Off to Channel 4 from the BBC , kindly agreed to a spontaneous interview with The Chronicle early on a balmy Monday evening.

The Channel 4 judges and presenters for The Great British Bake Off (left to right) Paul Hollywood, Sandi Toksvig, Noel Fielding and Prue Leith. Photo: Love Productions/Channel 4/Mark/PA Wire

He reveals he’s at The Grosvenor both as a guest and to film a new series about his baking career the following morning.

During the next 10 minutes Paul mounts a strong defence of his decision to follow Bake Off to Channel 4 and fires off what could be interpreted as a barbed comment in the direction of his former colleagues.

He also reminisces about his memories of Chester and his old boss, the late sixth Duke of Westminster , a man he called ‘Gerry’ during their regular chats as he baked his morning croissants.

But first, Bake Off.

Paul, who hails from Wallasey but lives in Kent, reveals the broadcast date is being kept a secret, even from the hosts.

“We’ve finished it already. I have no idea when it’s going to come out. They won’t tell us. It’s a big secret but it will be out very soon,” he says, relaxing in The Brasserie within the ‘shop window’ of the hotel.

Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has been filming at The Chester Grosvenor where he used to work as head baker.

Either he’s hoping to be spotted by fans or more likely keeping an eye on that Aston Martin outside the front door which is attracting rather a lot of attention from admirers. (Did you know he races for Aston Martin?)

But are the magic ingredients still there to make the new Bake Off, with fresh presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, rise like a well baked sponge or will C4 commissioners end up with soggy bottoms?

“The thing is about TV programmes, it’s about format, not the talent, it’s always format,” argues Paul.

“That’s the rule in television. Look at Doctor Who, they change the doctor all the time but the essence of Doctor Who still remains the same. It’s the same with Bake Off.

Mel Giedroyc, Sue Perkins, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, original line-up of judges and presenters from The Great British Bake Off. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire

“Don’t forget Comic Relief ; we never had Mel, we never had Sue, we had different presenters every week and it still worked. It was still a Bake Off. It’s exactly the same.

“We’ve still got the same format, nothing’s changed, it’s the same music, same place, same tents, same challenges. The stars of the show have been, for eight years, the bakers. We’re the framework. The main picture remains the same.”

And yet Paul, whose grandfather was head baker at The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, agrees it’s difficult to understand what lies behind the incredible success story that is Bake Off.

“Part of me struggles as well. I’ve got no idea,” muses the celebrity baker, who explains why he’s back in Chester.

The Chester Grosvenor

“I love Chester. I’m filming. I’m filming a new series about my career in baking so I’m filming here tomorrow. Filming first thing and then back down to London.”

And Paul begins to unpick all the connections with The Grosvenor relating to both himself as well as his dad John and brother Lee.

“I had family living in Chester for a long time and I ended up working at the hotel for six, seven years, pre-Cyprus.

“And then in the middle of that I worked at The Dorchester as well and I loved it. And I was here for a long time. I lived down the road in Chester, off Love Street, the Duke of Westminster owned all the streets, staff accommodation, so we all lived down there.

Bake Off star Paul Hollywood has been filming at The Chester Grosvenor where he used to work as head baker.

“My dad worked here as breakfast chef for a bit. My brother took over from me when I left because the chef panicked thinking ‘What are we going to do?, we need another baker’. So I managed to get my brother here and he worked here for a bit as well.”

Talking about why The Grosvenor is so special sparks memories of the late sixth Duke of Westminster, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last August aged 64.

The Grosvenor Estate own the hotel and Paul grew ‘very fond’ his old employer who used to send a Christmas card to his mum’s address every year.

“The duke, Gerry, he used to come in and see me in the mornings. He used to come in and see me, very nice man,” Paul recalled, saying he was ‘going to miss him’.

The late Duke of Westminster(Image: Ian Cooper)

“I was very sad. Funnily enough I was at Chatsworth House last year filming and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, they were asking me, ‘You worked at The Chester Grosvenor, you must have known Gerry?’.

“I said ‘I did, yeah,’ he used to come and see me and wait for croissants from me on his way to the TA (Territorial Army). He’d be sitting on the flour bin kicking his feet against the bin saying ‘How long you gonna be?’. ‘Twenty minutes, let’s have a coffee’. And she was saying herself, the duchess, saying how sad it was. She’d heard as well.

“He was well loved, you know, and I think by the team at the hotel who he looked after for many, many years.”

It’s also clear Paul has utmost respect for the ‘great name’ of The Grosvenor within the industry, stressing it stood him ‘in good stead’ for his career.

Likewise his admiration for his fellow professionals who maintain such impeccable culinary standards at the hotel.

Grosvenor chef Simon Radley

“At the time Paul Reed was the executive chef and Simon Radley was the chef at The Arkle then. Simon Radley is now the executive chef here and has still got a Michelin star after 17 years.

“It’s a great place, it’s one of the best places to stay. If I’m in the area I will stay up here, if I’m not in Liverpool.

“I’ve always been very fond of Chester. I’ve got good memories from here. I cut my teeth when I was growing up here.”

So what of Paul’s alleged defection to Channel 4? While fellow judge Mary Berry and presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc chose to part company with the programme, he followed, for which he was criticised.

He protests that he's not the villain painted in the media.

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry were the original judges on The Great British Bake Off. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

“I’m not sure what I left. What did I leave? My series with cars is playing out at the moment for the BBC. I still work for the BBC so what did I leave? I’m pointing it out because I haven’t left anything.

"I’m still with the BBC, I’m with Channel 4, I’m still with my job, I’m still with the Bake Off. Three of them aren’t. You’ve got the wrong person.”

Paul says he’s got to the stage in life that he no longer cares what brick bats are thrown but at the same time mentions he no longer has a presence on social media.

It’s a standard journalistic technique to ask at the end if there is anything else the interviewee wishes to add.

Paul’s instant response: “Watch Bake Off, it’s going to be amazing! People will be pleasantly surprised. It hasn’t changed. I watched the first programme last week, Bake Off’s back with a vengeance!”

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