She’s a showstopper, alright! Bristol baker and GBBO semi-finalist Briony May Williams chats about her time in the tent, and what’s next
With her warm, down-to-earth ways and showstoppers such as her Nana Pat kagekone and Alice in Wonderland-themed pie, brilliant Bristol baker Briony May became a bit of a Queen of Hearts during her time on the nation’s favourite cake-based TV programme this year – as well as a semi-finalist. We caught up with the lovely lady during a rare pause from the post-show whirlwind.
What was it like when you discovered you were going to be on The Great British Bake Off?
I applied on a whim at the end of the last series, never thinking that I would even get through the application stage, let alone end up on the show. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call. I was in the car with my mum and we squealed; we were so excited!
When did you first start to bake?
I used to bake with my mum when I was little – fairy cakes and birthday cakes – and my nan was a home economics teacher. But I only really started properly in 2013 when I was off work, ill, and someone suggested I try baking to stay sane. It was so therapeutic and helped me get through a difficult few months. Baking is one of my happy places.
Have any particular favourite chefs inspired you? Which cookbooks do you go back to time and time again?
I love Juliet Sear. Her cake decorating book is amazing! I also love the Primrose Bakery books, they have some awesome recipes in.
What did you think of the final bakes?
The three finalists are incredibly talented; they so deserved to be there. They worked very hard to get into the final and I know the blood, sweat and tears that goes into the preparation. What they managed to produce in the time allowed is really quite amazing.
We can imagine how stressful it must be in the tent; which task would you say was the hardest for you?
I found the biscuit chandelier really tricky because it was so fiddly! I didn’t mention my hand because I wanted to be judged the same as all the other bakers, on my baking alone. But that one was hard, all the bits of ribbon and threading through little holes in delicate biscuits.
What’s it like being in there for hours on end? Do Paul, Prue, Noel and Sandy stay in the tent with you throughout?
I loved being in the tent. I really miss it and would go back and do it all again in a heartbeat. Paul and Prue dip in and out but Sandi and Noel are there a lot of the time, offering support and comic relief in the really stressful moments.
“…Paul and Prue dip in and out but Sandi and Noel are there a lot, offering support and comic relief. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat…”
You guys certainly get through the cooking equipment! Is there a dedicated washing up team on the show?!
There is an incredible team behind the scenes that source the ingredients and clear up at the end of the challenges. They work so, so hard. Bake Off is a big family and the people you don’t see are at the heart of it.
It must have been a surreal experience; has it been hard to adjust since?
It was so bizarre being in the tent all weekend then going back to normal life in the week (as normal as it can be when practising the bakes for the next week). The hardest bit was after filming finished – then there is a gap of a few months until they release your name so you just have to pretend it never happened because you can’t tell anyone.
We loved your hazelnut mocha cake. What did you like making most?
The hazelnut cake was great fun but my favourite has to be my Alice in Wonderland pie in pastry week. All my practices that week (and there were a lot!) were disasters so when it came together on the day I was over the moon.
You all grew so close during your time on the show. Which friendships do you think will continue beyond the tent?
The friendships and kindness you see on TV are all genuine and we really do care about one another. My baking besties are Ruby, Manon, Antony and Imelda. I definitely formed a very special bond with them and we message daily. I am also really close to a lot of the crew as they were such a support to me throughout.
“…I didn’t mention my hand because I wanted to be judged the same as the other bakers – but the biscuit chandelier was hard. So fiddly…”
Who was the hardest person to see leave?
The week Manon left was really hard. We were so close by that point and I was so upset.
What’s next? Please say you’re going to open a bakery in Bristol…
One day, maybe! It is all quite exciting at the moment as I have signed with an agency so I am hoping to do some more TV work, a book maybe and some live demos at food shows. I am very lucky to be in this position so I want to make the most out of it!
We’ve been avidly following Briony’s creations on social media since the show ended – look at this chocolate orange beaut!
Got any further facts or insider knowledge to feed our GBBO hunger?
People always worry about where all the bakes go after filming – they think they get thrown away but the hard-working crew eat them all!
Your decoration skills are tip-top; is this something you especially wanted to focus on or do you just have a natural eye for design?
I never really thought of myself as creative but I have loved that part of the Bake Off process. I am coming up with a lot of my own recipes now and that is something I want to continue doing in the future.
Any favourite Bristol foodies and/or bakers?
I think Elly Curshen (Elly Pear) is amazing! I am also a big fan of Bakesmiths on Whiteladies – they have some delicious baked goods and a bakery on site. Also The Gloucester Old Spot, Bell’s Diner, Grupo Lounge, Bakers and Co… I could go on and on! I love food and Bristol is such a great foodie city.
• Follow Briony on Twitter or Instagram: @BrionyMayBakes