Meet our new recruit - Great British Bake off star Karen Wright

Great British Bake Off star Karen Wright.
Great British Bake Off star Karen Wright.

Karen Wright was thrust into the TV spotlight last year when she entered the famed Great British Bake Off tent. Since then she’s barely had a spare moment - but she is finding time to write a new weekly column for the Express, launching next week. In the meantime, she tells us what she’s been up to since her time on the show.

So how have things changed for you since Bake Off? Can you make it around the supermarket without getting mobbed?

Karen will be one of the guest's at this month's Wakefield Rhubarb Festival.

Karen will be one of the guest's at this month's Wakefield Rhubarb Festival.

When the announcement went out in the press and on social media a week before episode one aired things went slightly strange in my world. In a good way, I was powered by adrenaline for a while. I went from having two followers on twitter to thousands. My phone was pinging with notifications constantly. It was very exciting.

We had been advised by Love Productions about how things may impact on us, so we were all prepared in principle but it’s one of those things, it’s impossible to be totally prepared for something so unlike anything you have ever experienced before.

It was crazy, I was stopped everywhere by fans of the show, selfies being the new autograph. I loved all the fuss, and everyone was so kind and supportive. It has settled down now and it has been a week or two since I was last spotted but I always have my lippy on, just in case!

You seem to have been really close to a lot of the other contestants, who have you kept in touch with?

Karen loves a curry at Syhiba in Wakefield.

Karen loves a curry at Syhiba in Wakefield.

All 12 bakers got along well. We were a very tight band during filming and our WhatsApp group was very busy. It was as if it each weekend’s filming was a month not two days, as if we had known each other for years not weeks.

We all follow each other on Twitter and Instagram so there is no hiding place. I text Terry several times a day and we speak at least once a week.

He and I, along with my husband John, are going on a blogging trip in motorhomes to Austria in March and he is coming to see me at the Rhubarb Festival, so I am closest to him.

Kim Joy joined Terry and I for lunch this week and hopefully next time Luke and Rahul will join us!

The Hepworth Cafe is another of Karen's favourite spots.

The Hepworth Cafe is another of Karen's favourite spots.

You’re obviously keeping incredibly busy. What are you up to now?

Lots of fun things are happening just now, writing a weekly article for the Express being one of them.

Also, I have two live demos booked in February including our very own Rhubarb Festival where I will be working a bit of magic with the pink stalks of glory in the marquee on Sunday February 24. I am booked in festivals elsewhere throughout the year.

I have An Audience with Karen booked in at The Walker Studio which is part of the Theatre Royal in Wakefield, that is on February 28. As mentioned above I am on a sponsored trip to Austria with Terry for 12 days in March and a similar arrangement in France but this time just myself in June.

I have even been having discussions with a TV production company too so watch this space!

What first inspired your love of baking?

I was not inspired to bake so much as decorate cakes. I have always been fascinated by celebration cakes, wedding cakes especially.

When I worked at Woolley Hall we had a wedding every Saturday. The wedding cake was delivered on Friday afternoons and I used to love to look and marvel at the designs.

When I got a little spare time, I started to look on the internet and YouTube to see how things were done. I started from there and built up a few core skills. It is more the challenge and the designing that appeal to me which is why I think I always did better at the showstoppers, I loved stretching myself on Bake Off to make something worth the title of showstopper.

Where are your favourite places to eat and drink around the area?

We don’t eat out that often, probably because I just love to cook, it’s like a hobby to me. However, in the past few months I have been to a few local places and had good meals.

The Syhiba in George Street is fab, and in walking distance for my mam to join us. It’s a take your own drinks venue too so makes for good value, which is always on my tick list.

A group of 25 family members had a smashing meal at the Holmfield Arms in the park just before Christmas, which was excellent and great service. I meet up every couple of months with girls I worked with at Woolley Hall.

We have been going to the Walnut Tree in Sandal, my request as it a great place when you are watching the calories, everything listed on the menu and plenty of flexibility with choices, jacket potatoes available instead of chips, that sort of thing.

This weekend is my wedding anniversary, so we’re going to the Fox and Hounds at Newmillerdam. It is handy for where I live, you can have a good stomp around the dam with our frisky dog Mim and as it is dog friendly, she can come too, how romantic! It’s a good cosy feel in there.

If I am in town and have time to grab a coffee and a cake, I love to pop into the Marmalade Café, love the selection and the atmosphere is really laid back so it’s smashing to just sit there and take the weight off.

What would be your dream meal? And which celebrity chef would you like to cook it for you?

My dream meal would have to be French. Perhaps an onion soup with a baguette, a beef bourguignonne but encased in a tender pastry accompanied by dauphinoise potatoes. For dessert an assortment of patisserie, choux, tarte citron, mille-feuille for example. An amazing bottle of something red from Burgundy.

The celebrity chef, well it must be Paul Hollywood, it would be great to turn the tables on him the old blue-eyed rascal.

And if you could bake for a favourite celebrity who would it be?

I would choose Dicky Bird. He just makes me smile and he is local too. I can imagine him being most appreciative and complementary. Baking is such a gentle and kind thing I think it would suit him whatever I made for him. Or Terry Wogan, unfortunately he is otherwise engaged but I loved him.

What three places would you visit on a day off?

On a day out I would start up at the Sculpture Park, a long walk with the dog. On the way home, I would call in at Blacker Hall Farm Shop for any bits I needed and possibly squeeze in a coffee.

I would drop the dog in at home, get changed and head into town and have lunch at the Hepworth Café and a quick breeze round there to see what is new before heading up to Trinity Walk and maybe buy something for my wardrobe.

That is three, can I add a fourth? I would try to get in to see a production at the Theatre Royal just to round off a great day

In the tent you became just as well known for your fashion as you did for your bakes, where do you like to shop?

When I was auditioning for Bake Off, I got my first and most memorable item in Brighton, I was in H&M and the stripes just grabbed me. I picked up a pair of red boots the same day from Primark.

Then I got so busy I didn’t have time to sleep never mind shop, so I shopped online from H&M and Debenhams. I quite often pick up vintage things from eBay and charity shops.I also buy things when I am in Asda shopping, so George labels are in the mix.

I never spend very much on clothes; £30 is about the maximum for an item and that’s rare. I do have a penchant for colour and sparkles, stripes too. I try to have a few things that I can put together to make a different look. I like hats, berets especially.

Do you have any hobbies outside of the kitchen?

Hobbies come and go with me. Over the years I have done various crafts. I can paint and draw reasonably well. I used to be very active in musical theatre and drama groups.

I spend lots of time browsing cookery books. Caravan and camping holidays are how I spend holidays. I am an appreciator of wine.

I like to dance, generally people don’t like to dance with me as I am a bit too much of a dad dancer but a mum if you get my drift. I really like visiting stately homes and the seaside. I read biographies as people and social history interest me.

If you could appear on any other TV show what would it be?

If I had the fitness level it would have to be Strictly Come Dancing. When my Dad was alive and still had enough puff, we danced at every opportunity, usually in the WMCs. The quickstep was my favourite! Or a brand-new show with Terry and I on our travels cooking in a campervan!

And finally, your new column begins in the Express next week - what can we expect?

I am so excited, I am brimming with ideas. I think it will be a roundup of what I am up to but with the focus on food, baking and cooking. I want it to be fun, if things go wrong and taste vile or look terrible, I will say so.

Last week for example I made a Victoria sponge and it sank so much it was like a sinkhole, the birds got a treat that day.

I try to make every day a joy, it’s my philosophy at the moment and I want to share a few laughs with the readers.

Readers will become acquainted with my nearest and dearest too, my Grandpa and his parsnips gets a mention week one and he died in 1984!