By Christine Smith
She is, undoubtedly, one of the nicest, most respected and loved British TV stars, thanks to her firm but fair judging on The Great British Bake Off. But even the unflappable Mary Berry can get angry about issues. And it’s the huge amounts of litter found on the streets and the terrible waste of food and packaging that particularly irks the 80-year-old.
“Oh a lot of things make me angry,” she says as she gives a candid interview to Yours today. “Waste, packaging, litter – all sorts of things niggle me. It is very sad that we waste so much. See-through waste bags are a very good thing we have now (to try to combat the problem). James Martin had see-through waste bags when he was doing Operation Hospital Food.
“You can actually see what you are wasting. I think it is very good to have a transparent bag and then everyone knows what they are throwing away.”
Incredibly passionate about encouraging the whole family to bake, Mary also admits that there will always remain a very special place in her heart to try to help other families going through child bereavement. The TV judge has talked movingly in the past about the devastating impact on her own life when her son, William, died in a car crash at the age of 20 in 1989. Determined to try to share her own personal loss with others, she is now patron of Child Bereavement UK – and the work she does for it will always be a huge priority in her life away from television and cookbooks.
“I like to support them in any way I can,” she says. “It is my main charity and I don’t think about the time I give up. I just want to be able to support it. What is wonderful now is that it is a charity which helps parents, siblings and other members of the family, such as grandparents, cope. I was with a family recently who had gone through a child bereavement and they told me how nice it was that the grandparents were included too.”
Sharing her experiences and knowledge is what drives Mary today. Her work schedule would make many people far younger than her feel exhausted but her incredible passion, love of baking and youthful approach to life are a few of the reasons why she is so unstoppable – and inspirational.
We are already working on putting together challenges for this year's Bake Off
Her recently released new book, Foolproof Cooking, to accompany her latest BBC2 series hopes to help people who still feel scared about rolling up their sleeves to make something from scratch. A rack of pork, lobster, beef Wellington and quick pasta dishes are just some of the recipes in the new book, which also gives Mary’s ‘foolproof’ tips on how not to go wrong with each meal.
“I want to share my tips,” she says. “The idea for Foolproof is I hold everybody’s hand while they make the recipes. I don’t like using a lot of ingredients either and I’ve tried to make them simple. One of the most common mistakes people make is they don’t read the recipe properly. I want to be able to help people.”
Does she think many of the old tried and tested dishes have stood the test of time? “Absolutely,” replies Mary. “People still enjoy foods that they had when they were young. Chilli is one meal many families do once a week, as well as pies and casseroles. Most people like to do something quick when they come in. I always like to make it the day before.”
But as she admits herself, there is certainly no respite for now this latest book – to add to the 70-plus cookbooks she has already written – is out in the shops.
Not only does she have a new Easter TV series in the pipeline, Mary has already started working behind the scenes on the new Great British Bake Off series, with her colleague and close friend, Paul Hollywood. Together, she explains, they put together all the tasks and challenges the competitors must face.
“We have started working on it now,” she adds. “We get involved with the actual choosing of the challenges. We try to balance it out. But I really enjoy it and I love doing Bake Off. We film some of it over the weekend, but I don’t mind as it is so much fun.”
And what did she make of the recent celebrity version of Bake Off for Sport Relief? “All of the celebrities taking part were so amazing to give up their time to do it,” she says. “There was nobody with an awful lot of knowledge. They were all battlers.”
What did she think of the Prime Minister’s wife, Samantha Cameron? “Oh she was so lovely,” exclaims Mary. “She put her heart into it. She was such a natural, quiet, normal housewife.”
Yet despite leading such a busy life, Mary, who is always immaculately turned out, still makes sure family time remains her top priority. Living in Buckinghamshire with her husband, Paul, she loves nothing better than baking with her grandchildren and spending time in her garden – another huge passion in life.
But surely given she has inspired millions and is such a much loved British TV star, there must be something left on the bucket list to fulfil? “Everyone asks me this,” she says. “But there isn’t! I love doing what I am doing. I love being able to share everything I have learned.”