New cookbook is more than a flash in the pan
It’s been a while since John Whaite’s time on the Great British Bake Off – seven years, in fact, and the former winner has recently written about how the show “derailed him from a steady lifepath”.
He was a 23-year-old law student at the time, who was thrust into reality TV fame, only to watch his appeal shrink year-on-year, as each new batch of baking stars emerged.
John has since written five cookbooks and set up his own cookery school in a converted barn on the family’s farm in Lancaster, but now aged 30, he still battles with his own demons.
It was during the production of his latest book, A Flash in the Pan, when things got so tough, contemplating suicide became an everyday thought.
“I was doing my barrister training in Leeds, so I was getting up at 5am and getting home at 10pm, and for me, that was a really stressful time,” he said. “I was going through real bouts of depression and it was really hard.
“I took a break and headed for Canada,” he writes in his book. “At times, even the mundanities of everyday life are mountainous and for me, I’m afraid, it was a case of do or die. I had to escape my life, take stock and recover.
“Canada was really recalibrating,” he continued, “and I don’t mean that in a poncy way. It reset my values and reminded me of who I am as a person. I grew up on a farm, so I’ve always been keen on nature, animals and the simpler things in life – that simple existence. Being around animals and having lives that were entirely reliant on you – that responsibility imposed on me is what every human being needs.”
The depression slowly subsided on the farm and he talks about it being a very purposeful time, getting up at 5.30am, having breakfast with the family he lived with, respecting them and having that enforced discipline, with very little contact with the outside world.
He’s grateful for every day, and for the love and support of his partner Paul (who he might even marry on the farm in Canada), dog Abel and his family. They’re a really important part of his life and he’s close to them.
When asked if baking is his self-care, John nodded approvingly. “Baking is very meditative. It’s precise – you have to weigh out the ingredients, follow it step by step and focus on everything, so it’s just right. It also brings you out of your shell, because if you’ve made a batch of brownies, you share them and its really sociable like that. Churchill used to build walls for his depression and I find that baking is just as creative an output. It’s important to use that destructive energy and turn it into something.
“I think we need to focus less on ourselves and be there for other people. Actions speak louder than words. Act on love. Actually be there for people,” he added.
And of course, we must all eat cake. It helps with everything.