spiked review of books

Call me grossly out of touch, but I miss the days when ladies never talked about their masturbatory habits in public. I’m not keen on sexual equality; total mastery sounds more like it to me – but what is the point in trying to outdo men when it comes to obsessing over one’s genitals? Recently, it seems like feminists prove their worth by penning a memoir that hinges around their va­jay­jay, which is one way to introduce this book by Lena Dunham, the American auteur behind the HBO drama series Girls. This 28­year­old is so devoted to exposing her private thoughts for the feminist cause that she may commence with mere navel­gazing but she quickly gets down to a full colposcopy.

I don’t know where to start with Not That Kind of Girl. And I probably won’t know where to stop, either. With the back cover, where ‘praise for Lena Dunham’ includes a quote from her father? With the chapter headings, which include ‘My Worst Email, With Footnotes’, ‘I Didn’t Fuck Them, but They Yelled at Me’, and the sadly unresolved conundrum, ‘Who Moved My Uterus?’? With the chapter devoted to what the author ate in 2010 (‘1am — Smooth Move laxative tea… 6.30pm — 6­oz filet mignon (348 calories)… one bite escargot, 1/4 snail (43 calories?)’? Or with the vast canvas of crapulence itself, which begins, oh so enticingly, with ‘I am twenty years old and I hate myself’ and concludes 261 pages later with a list of acknowledgements even Gwyneth Paltrow clutching an Oscar might think a little gushy:

‘I would like to gratefully acknowledge… the best editor a girl who uses the word “vagina” a lot could ever ask for your friendship and wisdom have been a balm to my soul… I love you, Mack and Coco!… These words would never exist were it not for… the brassy folks I interact with every day on the internet… the New Yorker magazine, Glamour magazine… Zadie Smith…’, and so on, and so on, and so on. Or shall we commence with Caitlin Moran, third­wave feminism’s onanist in chief? ‘There has never been anyone like Lena Dunham’, Moran explains. ‘To a generation of girls, she is the thing. The very thing. The absolute thing.’

Who are these girls, this generation of girls, for whom Lena Dunham is the absolute thing? The 872,000 viewers who tuned into the first episode of Girls on HBO in the US? Or the vanishingly smaller number that caught Girls on Sky over here? Am I, three years older than Dunham, one of them? (Or perhaps, past 30, I’m a woman?)

I watched Girls. It all seemed a bit reminiscent of the structured reality show, Made In Chelsea. A bunch of girls, talking about boys, and boys, talking about girls, falling out and making up, while not bothering –oh so hilariously – to get an actual job.

Dunham freshens up the mix with her own body (a revelation to many because it is normal sized rather than undernourished), a unique style mantra (of ‘things I might wear if I worked in a bowling alley’ and ‘shorts that are too small for me’), and forensically detailed shag marathons that look so little pleasurable (to the female involved) that you can see why they appeal to aesthetes of the female experience, such as AA Gill.Yet if Random House paid, say, Binky Felstead $3.7million to write an advice book about being a ‘young woman’ for young women who are (presumably) totally mystified as to how to be a young woman, you might assume that someone, somewhere would snort: ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’

This has not been the response to Dunham’s memoir. Rather, the argument that has gained currency is that no one would carp about the sum if it were paid to a man. But then, men who command huge advances are rarely paraded about in the press as the voice of just 50 per cent of their generation; they’re laden with the whole caboodle. Here in the UK, the comedian Russell Brand has produced a book equally zeitgeisty and at least twice as absurd as Dunham’s, and no one blames men his age. It has, to date, outsold Dunham’s book 3:1.

If anything, up to this point I think Dunham has been given more, not less, leeway than a man her age could reasonably expect. In the first series of Girls, criticism was levelled at her for not featuring any black characters in her conception of modern Brooklyn, where the series is set. (I probably should have mentioned already that as well as being privately educated, ‘overweight’, in therapy since the age of eight, and liable to wonder things like ‘what would it feel like to be the face of AIDS in the industrialised world?’, ‘our generation’ would also appear to be very white.)

In the second series of Girls, a black character was duly penned into the drama in the form of a man Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, is sleeping with. In the episode in which he appears, Dunham’s character realises her new beau votes Republican and dumps him. This may be brilliantly illustrative of the essential vacuity of Hannah Horvath, but if a man had responded to his critics on the issue of race by writing in a hot, black woman for the hero to sleep with and then discard, never to appear again, I doubt he’d have gotten away with it.

This would all be by the by if the book were more insightful than the TV series, but its focus is, if anything, narrower, since there is only one character, and that’s Dunham. It isn’t exactly fresh, either, since it has been chopped up already, incident by incident, for use in Girls. The 28­-year-­old very rarely refers to anything that does not relate, explicitly, to her own life. There are no big ideas, no calls to action; instead, Dunham explains, her story should be read simply because it is her story.

‘There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman’, she explains in the introduction. ‘There are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren’t needed and we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter.’

She then demonstrates said gravitas and profundity with observations such as:

‘“When I’m bad”, I announced, “my father sticks a fork in my vagina.”’

‘Joaquin was almost ten years older than me… and possessed a swagger that seemed unearned considering he was wearing a FUCKING FEDORA.’

‘We ate nothing but hummus and drank nothing but beer. We went to his neighbour’s funeral and sat in the back row and got the giggles, sprinted out.’

Dunham mentions her vagina so many times it seems at least as finely nuanced a pen portrait as that of her younger sister.

‘Last summer my vagina started to sting… It was like someone had poured a drop of vinegar inside of me, followed by a sprinkle of baking soda. It bubbled and fizzed… I associate pain in the vagina with weakness and sadness… So what could I be suppressing that was filling me up with pain? Was it ambivalence about sex? Was I ever molested? (If so, that would explain some other things, too.) Was I afraid of where my career might be taking me, and was I running so far ahead of myself that I couldn’t catch up? Do I even know the difference between my urethra and my vagina?’

Who knows? And more importantly… who cares?

Had Not That Kind of Girl been billed as the greatest satire on her generation, it might one day be appreciated as a masterwork. But despite the fact Dunham mentions irony (as in ‘my parents… played tennis ironically’), I’m not sure sentences such as ‘Mike was the first person to go down on me, after a party to benefit Palestine’, ‘Why spend $200 a week on therapy when you can spend $150 once a year on a psychic?’, or ‘Emotions are exhausting to have’, are that way intended.

Lena Dunham must be bright, ambitious and ferociously talented – you don’t get your own HBO show if you’re any sort of dolt – so why doesn’t it come across in this accursed book? Instead the book just consists of what we saw already, on TV (‘It’s all fodder for A and B stories…’); a discussion of the feminist ‘canon’ which mentions three writers – Gloria Steinem (yes), Nora Ephron (uh…) and Helen Gurley Brown (what?). I didn’t laugh, I didn’t cry, but, at times, I was howling bored: finishing ‘Hello Mother, Hello Father: Greetings from Fernwood Cove Camp for Girls’ ranks as one of my more serious achievements.

Not a lot happens, really. Dunham gets her period (‘If my father asked whether I was possibly menstruating I screamed in his face so loud his glasses shook’). There is solipsism (‘In the summer your grandfather dies and you’re secretly glad. You have a place to put all your sorrow now.’) There is narcissism (‘When my grandmother died, I was fourteen. I had recently coloured my hair and bought a satin tube top, a transition I considered to be evidence of irreversible maturity.’) Plus gratuitous boasting (‘When I was 17 years old I even had a vegan dinner party that was chronicled in the style section of the New York Times’). There are attempts at humour in questionable taste (‘I’m afraid that I am infertile… And so I will adopt, but I won’t have the sort of beautiful,genetics ­defying love story that People magazine chronicles. The kid will have undiagnosed fetal alchohol syndrome. He will hate me, and he will nail our dog to a board.’)

Is there method in this madness? Do they laugh at this in America? Will this memoir really shift the 500,000 copies it would take for Random House to break even on that preposterous advance? In an age when publishers routinely reject good manuscripts, multiple times, and then pay minuscule advances, chances are the writer who will, actually, make a decent crack at defining our generation is probably quietly getting on with it and will be appreciated only long after she is dead. What worries me is that paying silly money for Dunham’s memoir is just delaying the publication of something genuinely original, like Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half­Formed Thing or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.

And would it be possible, in the meantime, for contemporary feminists to stop sharing stuff any rational person would keep to themselves? Read Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Sontag, George goddamn Eliot — feminism did not begin in the era of When Harry Met Sally. At 28, Lena Dunham is clearly very talented, and as a writer she’s just starting out. If she could stop looking to her vagina and start using her brain, and maybe, just maybe, have a think about something other than herself, she might one day write a book that might help us take over the world. And that would be worth reading.

Can a Hollywood makeover really transform you into a siren? Our writer tests the full Bafta red carpet experience

Every British actress knows the power of a Hollywood makeover. She may make her name with pale skin, wild hair and her own teeth but then fame sweeps her off. Overnight, she emerges on a red carpet, a goddess with radiant tresses, cheeks aglow and incisors so bright they may glow in the dark. If rumours are to be believed Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery recently spent £25,000 getting herself ready for one red carpet appearance alone. If you are hoping to hit the big time, you need to hire a decent hairdresser.

Next Sunday marks the most important date in the British acting calendar. The most celebrated names in Tinseltown will fly into London hoping to win a gong at the EE British Academy Film Awards. Among the actresses nominated in the key acting categories are contemporary legends, including Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain and Marion Cotillard. But unlike Michelle Dockery they won’t need to splash out vast sums in order to look their best – for this year Bafta is employing a team of experts to offer them the full red-carpet treatment.

A decade ago the Bafta awards may have seemed a somewhat parochial affair, playing a distant fiddle to the Academy Awards in the glamour stakes – but no longer. Until 1998, the awards for both film and television were presented at the same ceremony and until 2002, they were awarded in April or May, which made them seem somewhat of an afterthought to the Oscars. In recent years, however, the success of British acting talent and British films, such as The King’s Speech, has made the Baftas one of the most prestigious ceremonies in the world.

The glittering ceremony unfolds amidst the opulence of the Royal Opera House. With a myriad of exclusive sponsors, Bafta now vies with Oscars in terms of the luxury experiences it offers its stars. But can a makeover really transform you into a siren? The Mail On Sunday decides to test the theory by sending me, its resident plain Jane, to test the full Bafta experience.To date, my idea of a makeover consists of taking my glasses off. It worked for Clark Kent – and you would be amazed how much better you look when you can’t see yourself properly in the mirror.

I arrive at the plushest suite in The Savoy Hotel and am immediately plied with Taittinger – which has a similar effect – and am whisked off into the miniature hairdressing grotto of legendary coiffeuse Charles Worthington. Charles, as I now call him, does Claire’s hair (that’s Danes to you) and he does Rebecca’s hair (as in Hall) and he also tends to Sharon (Stone). I haven’t got that much hair to work with but this does not deter Charles, he is going to make me ‘fabulous’.

British actresses are often celebrated for their quirky sense of style. Stars like Helena Bonham Carter and Tilda Swinton work in Hollywood but do not force themselves into the stereotypical Hollywood mould. Charles explains that he always caters a client’s hair to his or her personality and individual style. ‘Red carpet hair is all about looking at the dress and creating something that feels special,’ he says. ‘I think we should do some sort of sixties-ish boofy thing for you.’ He gets his exclusive primping lotions out, created especially for the Bafta stars, and fires up his hairdryer. Then he shakes some sort of heavenly smelling powder into my roots and talks about how important it is to volumise.

‘For me hair is architecture for the face,’ Charles explains. As I am very short, he is perhaps looking at my hair as a potential loft extension. At any rate I soon emerge with a flawless bouffant which gives me an extra four inches. I catch sight of myself in the mirror and wonder if I look a bit like Jedward. With another dose of Taittinger, however, I realise that I am, in fact, channelling Sharon Stone. I just need to preserve my epic new barnet from outside interference. Charles gets out the hairspray. ‘A red carpet do has to stand up to lots of air kissing,’ he explains.

Next I am ushered into the boudoir of Daniel Wingate, design director of Escada.

Up close couture gowns are quite breath-taking. It is surprisingly difficult to choose a dress when each one costs over £5000 and look like they have been made from magic thread, precious jewels and fairy dust. I feel a bit over excited. ‘Oh gosh,’ says Daniel, when I suggest he picks something for me because I can’t choose. ‘I would not do something too overpowering. I wouldn’t break you up. You should be in one colour. We don’t want to cut you in the wrong places.’ This is starting to sound a little brutal. I am hoisted into a sample size and pinned in by two assistants.

I parade about in a succession of gorgeous dresses to see which one suits. Daniel squints at me as I shuffle in trying not to tread on the designer fabric. After three changes, with a magisterial wave, he determines that I look best in the green number. It does not matter that I am so short it now has an added train. ‘Designers have their tricks,’ he says, extolling the wonders of hidden platforms and corsetry. ‘I would never chose a gown that would make you look shorter. On the red carpet no one will recognise if you are two foot tall or six foot nine. You know, Madonna is tiny.’

Recently, Daniel has been responsible for the red carpet looks of rising Hollywood starlet Emma Roberts, Bond girl Berenice Marlohe and the model Heidi Klum. ‘It’s all about the woman herself and how she wants to be portrayed,’ Daniel explains. ‘It’s about the history of what she has worn before and how we can reinvent that going forward.’ When Escada dresses the stars, the process takes months. Stylists liaise, designs are chosen, alterations made. Daniel would probably make me a dress with arms if I was a star. Either that or I’d get a personal trainer.

Hair primped and gown chosen, I am transported to Lancôme to have my make-up done. As I sail down the hall in my high heels everyone compliments me on my hair. I am unused to getting compliments on my hair. Most of the time it looks crazed. Having my face made up is the high point of my day. Lancôme’s Bafta specialist, Jaysam Barbosa, bathes my face in the scent of roses, pats my skin down with Génifique, the new wonder fluid Emma Watson swears by, and sets about painting my face all over with foundation. His brush flicks across my cheek bones with all the skill of an Old Master. ‘Every face is a different canvas,’ Jaysam explains.

Most stars, when they arrive at the Bafta awards, have just got off a plane from LA so they are tired and prone to dark circles beneath the eyes. Fortunately I have managed to simulate jetlag by arriving at The Savoy on just three hours sleep, so I have a fine set of black bags on which Jaysam can demonstrate his skills. He launches into a highly illuminating speech on what Lancôme calls ‘the triangle of light’. Jaysam applies Éclat Miracle in a triangle under my eyes and a smaller one in the inner corner and gently pats this out with his fourth finger. If a flashbulb hits me now I will radiate like a divinity.

It is time to grab some jewels. I pick out the biggest necklace in Asprey’s showcase, a beautiful glittering diamond necklace set in white gold. It feels like a cool neck brace, costs £120,000 and comes complete with a security guard who now follows me wherever I go, making me feel ever more like a starlet. He trails me at ten paces as I pick out a watch from 88 Rue Du Rhone and take a look at what my Bafta date will wear at Hackett. I decide he will be Bradley Cooper, wearing blue velvet in the manner of Bradley Wiggins.

Finally I am off to have my photos taken – outside The Savoy. Someone hands me a Bafta. It is surprisingly heavy. The security guard looks worried. With Ian the photographer snapping away, a crowd of passing Japanese tourists start filming me on their phones. As Ian dives into the road directly into the path of a taxi to get more shots I begin to laugh hysterically. The passers-by seem to think that I am crying – probably with joy, because I am clutching the iconic bronze mask and must, therefore, be really famous. As my entourage escorts me back to the hotel – and the security guard wrests back his diamonds – there are cries in the street of ‘Who WAS that girl?’

A complete nobody, is the answer. But a complete nobody who has just won the 2013 Bafta award for best makeover.

Have yourself a very merry BAKE OFF! Winner John Whaite shares his four favourite Christmas recipes

Merry BakeoffJohn Whaite whips off his jumper, rolls up his shirt sleeves and prepares to work his magic. We are in the well-appointed kitchen of a London townhouse so he can share his four favourite Christmas recipes with Mail on Sunday readers.

Ingredients and equipment have been laid out. Pristine utensils are at hand. The state-of-the-art oven is warming. But, then… ‘Hmm, how am I going to get by without baking parchment?’ John wonders, turning to me.
Oh no! It was my job to bring everything on John’s shopping list and I have – idiotically – forgotten the baking parchment.

But this is the winner of BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off. The contestant who used architectural plans to whip up a miniature version of the Roman Colosseum from dark treacle gingerbread. The baker who cracked 15 eggs into a show-stopping ‘Heaven and Hell’ cake, before finessing its chocolate coating with a hairdryer and applying gold leaf with the delicate touch of an artist. This is not a man to be easily discombobulated.

‘Don’t worry,’ he grins. ‘I can do without.’

He gets to work on his first creation, Christmassy Strudels, while we chat. Despite daydreaming throughout the show about a move to Paris to learn more about French patisserie, John has now decided to stay in England. ‘I don’t want to run away to Paris because I don’t want to leave my partner Paul at home,’ he says. ‘Relationships have to come first.’ Instead, in January, he starts studying patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu in London. ‘The course is only 15 hours a week, so I will be able to commute from Manchester at first. It’s a fantastic place – I am so excited.’

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old is looking forward to spending Christmas at the family farm in Wigan, with Paul, a 27-year-old graphic designer. ‘Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without family. Many people go travelling at this time of year but I’ve got to be at home. I couldn’t be anywhere else,’ he says. He will, of course, be baking non-stop. ‘I try not to bake the same thing more than twice but at the start of the festive season my mum’s friends all put in orders for my sticky toffee pudding. This year I have to make ten and I’ve had lots more requests – for birthday cakes and so on. But that’s not really my thing – I just want to do my patisserie. Actually, what I am most looking forward to is creeping downstairs, in the dead of night, with Paul, to raid the fridge and make a giant Christmas sandwich with the leftovers of my mum’s special ham.’

As John sets to with the electric whisk, I ask him about the accident on the show when, mid-strudel, he caught a finger in the blades of the mixer. He was carried off set, bleeding and feeling faint. ‘Fingergate,’ John sighs. He shows me his finger. ‘It’s still intact – there’s a tiny scar on the end. It wasn’t that bad. Television makes things look much worse. When you’re making dough you have to be tactile, so I felt it while it was in the food processor. But I forgot the blade was there and just squeezed. I tried to carry on, but we’re a nation mad about health and safety now so I had to get it checked out. Also, it wasn’t very hygienic to make strudel with a bloody finger.’

He douses today’s strudel filling with whisky and drizzles melted butter expertly over his filo pastry as conversation turns to other cooks. John loves Fanny Cradock, but saves his real praise for Nigella Lawson. ‘I think I’d turn straight for Nigella,’ he confides – although he does mention Paul again in the very next breath. ‘I think I must have baked every day of my life. And I do all the cooking at home. Paul can’t even heat up a can of beans.’

Strudels in the oven, John limbers up for his second creation. ‘When it comes to Christmas, I am a total traditionalist,’ he announces, poised to make a two-tone, candy-cane Swiss roll, oozing with raspberries. He whips up the mixture, adds the colouring and grimaces, saying it tastes of paprika. No one is eating this, he insists, somewhat dramatically. Needless to say, when it emerges from the oven later it smells like all our Christmases have come at once. And tastes like it, too.

John grew up on a farm near Wigan with his elder sisters, Jane and Victoria, and his mother, Linda. ‘I got into baking when my parents divorced,’ he says. ‘It began when I was five – just me, Mum and my sisters in the kitchen. Since then it’s become inherently comforting. I used to have the washing-up job but I’ve worked my way up the kitchen hierarchy at home.’

At school, John’s natural intelligence took him to the top of his class, and he won a place at Oxford University to read Modern and Medieval Languages. But missing home – and Paul – he left Oxford for Manchester University, switching to study law. He was sitting his finals at the same time as filming The Great British Bake Off.In October, seven million viewers tuned in to see him triumph in the show’s first all-male final in which John went cake-to-cake with the favourite, 21-year-old Scottish medical student James Morton, and 63-year-old baking veteran Brendan Lynch.

Judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood crowned him winner and, shortly after filming finished, he graduated with a first. John’s mother, who had been opposed to him pursuing a career in baking, finally accepted that it wasn’t such a bad idea. ‘I was all set to start a job in banking and I was losing sleep because I didn’t want to do it,’ says John. I was going to be a commercial banker in an asset finance division. It was a fantastic job, I was very lucky but it wasn’t where my heart was – and you have to follow your heart.’

John kept his win a secret and he and his friends tuned in to the show each week to watch. ‘It was awful watching it because you had to start again, emotionally, from day one. ‘You watch yourself put salt in a load of rum babas and make an underproved stollen.’ There have been no such disasters in our little bake off, which is completed with John’s pristine mince pies. He dusts them with icing sugar, one-handed.
What is the best advice he could give any future contestants of The Great British Bake Off?

‘A great tip – that James developed and I had to steal – was to swear like a sailor if things went wrong, because then they couldn’t put it on TV,’ he says. ‘I wish I’d learned that sooner.’

And with that, his work here is done and he is off into the night. Looks as if I’m doing the washing-up.

Frangipane? Check. Guinness? Check. Ready, steady — bake!

My idea of cooking is boiling tortellini in a saucepan and putting a fishcake in the oven, so John has his work cut out. Still, he seems convinced he can make a baker of me …

Candy cane swiss roll – with raspberries and cream
John beats eggs, sugar and vanilla bean paste in a large bowl. He whisks the mixture vigorously until it triples in volume. Then he folds in flour. He divides the mixture in half and colours one batch red, leaving the other white. He decants each of these mixtures into separate piping bags. John snips off the end of each bag with a pair of scissors and begins expertly drawing red and white lines, alternately, down the baking tray.
He makes piping the mixture look easy. It isn’t. My Swiss roll doesn’t have stripes, it has wiggles. And don’t even get me started on the next step…

John whips up a Swiss roll filling, using raspberries and double cream. His perfect baked stripes are removed from the oven. When cool, he slathers the raspberry filling on top and carefully rolls up his perfect rectangle of thin, striped cake to make a scrumptious Swiss roll. He neatens up the ends – et voila! I, however, am confronted with a collapsed roll of raspberry mush. John says you can always spike the cream with a seasonal shot of Framboise liqueur. I console myself with a swig.

Emily’s difficulty rating: 9/10

Mincemeat and frangipane tartlets
The brilliant thing about John’s mince pies is they are at least three times the size of your average mince pie. And they come with an orange-infused frangipane topping. Plus, he serves them with a dollop of brandy butter. John follows an old French recipe for his pastry. I copy him, placing sugar and egg in a mixing bowl and whisking until aerated.The flour is tipped in – resembling sandy breadcrumbs. Then the butter is added. The mixture clumps together and kneads easily into a smooth ball. After dusting down the rolling pin, it all rolls out smoothly and can be placed in the heart-shaped tartlet tins.

Unfortunately, I forgot the baking beans. John needs to blind-bake the pastry, so improvises with screwed-up bits of greaseproof paper.The next step is to spread mincemeat across each baked pastry case, and then pipe on the frangipane.
Again, John makes piping look easy but when our tartlets are baked until brown and puffy you can’t really tell the difference. To make sure, I douse mine with even more icing sugar. It wouldn’t fool Paul Hollywood.

Emily’s difficulty rating: 4/10

Christmassy Strudels – with sweet apples, cranberries and grated marzipan

John dices up eight apples into 1cm cubes and mixes them up with cranberries, walnuts and caster sugar. He then adds a liberal dose of whisky to his mixture – which makes it distractingly delicious. John promises that if I concentrate I can have the leftovers afterwards, so we get to work grating marzipan. Luckily, this recipe doesn’t require making Mary Berry-worthy pastry. You use frozen filo pastry from the supermarket. At least I have remembered to defrost said pastry – John is grateful for such small mercies.

He unrolls the sheets on to the worktop, carefully. He paints each sheet with melted butter and plonks a helping of strudel innards on. He then tucks the whole thing up into a fat sausage shape. I follow his example and soon get the hang of it. John’s strudels may look much more elegant than mine – but with a liberal sprinkling of icing sugar on the finished product, no one will be able to taste the difference.

Emily’s difficulty rating: 3/10

Last-minute Christmas Cake – with sweetened cranberries, Guinness and dates

With John’s encouraging words ringing in my ears, I decided to bake the Christmas cake at home. It is billed as a last-minute cake but it takes several hours to make, and John didn’t have the time to take me through it on our Great Christmas Bake Off.
On perusing the recipe, I see John admits that ‘some of us do not have the time to make a cake until a few days before the big day’. I last made a cake in the Nineties. Still, there is Guinness in it, so it must be good.

I get cracking and the cake does not disappoint. You simply take cranberries, prunes, cherries, currants and dates and put them in a large saucepan with the Guinness.It smells delicious, simmering away on the stove for five minutes.Then you add brandy, sugar, butter, eggs, flour, walnuts and all manner of festive ingredients.Then you bake it. Success at last.

Emily’s difficulty rating: 1/10

The Lawrence of Arabia child star who quit movies for Harvard… Michel de Carvalho is now king of the Heineken beer empire

As a teenager, Michel de Carvalho was living every boy’s fantasy. While his friends sat in school, 17-year-old Michel was a movie star, with a coveted role in Sir David Lean’s epic, Lawrence Of Arabia.

Between breaks in filming, he caroused through the fleshpots of Beirut with Hollywood stars Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, pursued by hordes of adoring females. The film won seven Oscars and would go down in cinema history. Michel, using the stage name Michel Ray, seemed destined for fame. Many child actors would let the experience go to their heads and veer off the rails, eventually disappearing from view. But Buckinghamshire-born Michel has continued to thrive and enjoy life to the full.

Now aged 68, he is still living out a male fantasy – as a financier with a £5.5 billion fortune and limitless supplies of beer. He did it by deciding to abandon acting on the set of the classic film so that he could enrol at Harvard University. He also went on to compete in two Winter Olympics as a skier and tobogganer. And he married the love of his life, Charlene Heineken, now 58, the daughter of the late brewery magnate Freddie Heineken. In 2002, the couple inherited the £4 billion controlling stake in the Heineken empire.

The shares have surged and with the recent acquisition of the Tiger beer brand the group’s value has increased by more than £1 billion. Now chairman of Citi Private Bank’s business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Michel commutes between London, Washington and Holland. ‘I’ve always believed work hard, play hard,’ he says. ‘Life has never been boring – luckily.’

Approaching their 30th wedding anniversary, the couple undoubtedly lead an enviable life, but their lifestyle has never been ostentatious. Their wealth eclipses that of Sir Philip Green and his wife Tina, as well as the Bransons and the Rausings, but the couple have never appeared in glossy photo spreads or hosted lavish public parties.
Instead, they concentrated on raising their five children in England, away from the glare of publicity. But later this month they may be tempted out for a rare appearance – to celebrate the re-release of the film that could so easily have launched Michel into a Hollywood career 50 years ago.
In the biopic of T. E. Lawrence, Michel played Farraj, one of the First World War hero’s two teenage followers. ‘They offered me the choice of the two roles – one dies in quicksand, the other is blown up,’ Michel recalls, speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday about his extraordinary life. ‘I said, ‘‘Which one lasts longer?’’ And they said the one that gets blown up by a detonator near the railway line. So I took that one, because it paid more.‘Now whenever I tell anyone I was in Lawrence Of Arabia they say, “Oh, were you the one who went down in the quicksand?” And no one can ever remember the other one.’

In fact, Michel appears in one of the film’s most iconic scenes – as he and Lawrence stride into the officers’ mess in Cairo to announce the audacious capture of Aqaba. ‘We’re thirsty,’ Lawrence announces, dusty and disheveled. ‘We want two large glasses of lemonade .  .  . there’s been a lot of killing, one way or another.’

During the 18-month shoot in 1961 and 1962 Michel became acquainted with some of the most talented actors of his age – as well as the countless women who pursued them. ‘The parties happened on rest and relaxation days in Beirut. Quite often I went with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif – and that was super fun,’ he says. ‘We couldn’t possibly discuss the fun in an elegant Sunday newspaper… they were the superstars and I was the bag carrier. But even superstars can only handle so much. And then the bag carrier…’

Camel-riding proved more of a challenge. ‘In the beginning it wasn’t pleasant,’ Michel says. ‘You are sitting mostly side-saddle, with the hump coming up in the middle and you’re not really supposed to grip it. On one occasion I was on a camel which suddenly saw its stable – and it bolted for home, which was terrifying. ‘Years later, friends of mine had a 50th birthday party in Egypt. We went up and down the Nile. On one day they organised a camel race. Needless to say, I won.’

Looking back, Michel appears incredulous at his teenage decision to give up acting on the set of one of the greatest movies. ‘I said – using a huge swear word – ‘‘What am I doing here in the Arabian desert with all these funny people, superstars, Anthony Quinn, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins and the rest?’’ Where are my friends? This is a weird life. And then, almost simultaneously I became self- conscious about acting. And I just couldn’t get over my self-consciousness. It was the worst decision I ever made.

‘I never usually talk about Lawrence Of Arabia, but I was discussing it with someone last night and they said it wasn’t the worst decision because where would I be today? Some ageing B actor, looking for TV adverts. ‘But I should have stretched out the acting career a bit – maybe until 30.’

Born to a Brazilian diplomat father and an English mother in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, in 1944, Michel fell into acting at the age of ten. His father had died when he was very young and his mother married again, to a wealthy leather merchant.
The family entertained many illustrious figures to dinner in their London home – one was the famous producer Sir Michael Balcon, who needed a young boy who could ski, to star in his film, The Divided Heart. Initially Michel’s mother, Annie, was opposed to the idea of her son appearing on screen. He recalls: ‘But Sir Michael said it was only three months and who knows what will happen – this door has opened, why would you close it?’

Michel was a hit and film offers flooded in. Using his two Christian names as a stage name, Michel Ray was the Daniel Radcliffe of his day – going on to great acclaim in films such as The Brave One and The Tin Star. Between films, Michel attended a boarding school in Switzerland, honing a gift for languages and developing his passion for skiing. Aged 17, his star reached a peak with Lawrence Of Arabia. ‘I had massive attention at school,’ he says. ‘I got so much fan mail. I never get that any more – as a banker, you get hate mail.’

Five years after he walked away from acting, just as he was about to take up a graduate place at Harvard Business School, his life took another twist when he was offered the chance to become a member of the British ski team at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. ‘It wasn’t so much for my skill as for my ability to pay the plane fare,’ says Michel modestly. His mother was not keen on the idea. She had been relieved when he gave up acting and wanted him to get serious about making a living. ‘I wish I had kept the telegram she sent,’ he says. ‘Every second word was “bum”. It said, “From film bum to ski bum – if you make this totally stupid decision, you will be completely cut off.” So I made the completely stupid decision.’

He delayed taking up his place at Harvard to compete. ‘I told a huge porkie pie to Harvard – I can’t tell you what it was in case they take away my diploma.’
His mother need not have worried. He duly graduated from Harvard and embarked on a career in banking. But he had just begun his second job, at NM Rothschild, when he was asked to join the 1972 GB Olympic team once again – this time in the luge, the fastest and most dangerous style of tobogganing. Nervously, he asked his new boss for time off to compete in Japan. ‘I was sitting at my desk and the internal phone rang. A voice said, “Will you pop up?’’ It was Eddie Rothschild, the chairman of the bank.
‘I went upstairs and Eddie rummaged in his pockets, pulled out £200 – which was my weekly salary – and said, “Let me remind you, young man, in this bank, England comes first.” ’

Michel competed in the luge with his best friend Jeremy Palmer-Tomkinson – the uncle of socialite Tara Palmer- Tomkinson. ‘In the first week of training, my entire body was dark blue,’ he said. ‘When you are in the double luge you really are just fodder – I was the little guy and Jeremy was the big heavy guy on top. In the Japan Olympics, we were really just clowns.’

In 1983, when he was in his late 30s, Michel married Charlene Heineken. ‘Our families both had houses in St Moritz,’ he says. ‘I was ten years older than her so it wasn’t what you would call love at first sight – certainly not on her side. ‘I always drank Heineken. But the problem was Heineken was the most expensive beer. So when I met my wife I thought, “This is fantastic, I’ll have free beer.” I didn’t realise then that marriage is not just about free beer.’

The couple honeymooned in the Caribbean but suffered a shock on their return. In November 1983, Charlene’s father was kidnapped in Amsterdam and held for ransom for three weeks. ‘It was a baptism of fire,’ says Michel. ‘I was just not prepared for something like that. My father-in-law had no other family but my mother-in-law, my wife and me. Luckily, it all ended well. The ransom was paid and the kidnappers all went to jail.’

In 2002, Freddie Heineken died and Charlene inherited her father’s stake in the family business – which transformed her and Michel, overnight, into one of Britain’s wealthiest couples. Today, Charlene and Michel still play a key role in the business. Sitting in the desert with Peter O’Toole, Michel could little have dreamt how his life would turn out. ‘I never planned my life,’ he says. ‘The good lord has been kind. If you have a bit of luck, you can do quite a lot. But looking back, it was probably a mistake quitting acting.
‘Looking back, someone should have said to me, “No, stay with that.” ’

The Mail on Sunday – 10th November 2012

Homeland howlers: Since when has Beirut been in Israel? Would spies really communicate by Skype? And is there not a single CCTV camera in America?

The Mail on Sunday
3rd November 2012
By Emily Hill

It’s the must-see TV show of the moment – a gripping spy thriller in which a brilliant but intense CIA agent picks up on the smallest clues in her battle to prevent a terrorist atrocity on American soil.
Yet the makers of Homeland are apparently not quite so eagle-eyed themselves – as the acclaimed series is riddled with the sort of errors and inconsistencies that even a rookie spy might be expected to pick up.
As the storylines get ever more fanciful, fans fear the writers and producers are losing their grip on reality. While devotees are prepared to suspend their disbelief enough to accept that a hero former US Marine turned Congressman could be an Islamic terrorist, other scenes are proving far more unbelievable.
Indeed, some Channel 4 viewers are becoming engrossed not so much in the unfolding drama, but in taking to Twitter to point out the many errors and unlikely plot points. Here we present an unclassified dossier of some of the more ridiculous breaches.

Every international counter-terrorism expert needs an intimate knowledge of the world’s geopolitical situation.
But when CIA agent Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, right, flies to Beirut in Lebanon to meet an informant, she somehow fails to notice she’s clearly wandering around Tel Aviv in Israel.
CIA using Skype in Homeland a Market supposed to be in a Hezbollah stronghold sells T-shirts with Hebrew slogans as well as merchandise for Beitar Jerusalem FC – a club with Zionist roots unlikely to have many fans in Beirut.
And from Mathison’s CIA safe house, you can clearly see the Jaffa Clock Tower, one of Tel Aviv’s most famous landmarks – a howler on a par with putting the eiffel Tower in the London skyline.
But there was good reason for filming in Tel Aviv: Homeland co-creator Gideon Raff is Israeli and Israel’s citizens are barred from Beirut.

Pretty much every follower of Islam in Homeland is portrayed as a dangerous fanatic.
But despite their supposed fundamentalist devotion, they seem to take rather a relaxed view of strict Islamic law.
For example, one Muslim woman, above, was seen praying in a mosque while showing her acrylic nails which – under some interpretations – would be ‘haram’, or forbidden, under Islam.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Brody, the Congressman who was recruited by Al Qaeda (played by British actor Damian Lewis), clearly hasn’t fully understood the cause he is prepared to betray his country for.
He mispronounces ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he prays in his garage.
Even driven but fraught agent Carrie Mathison – a former Arabic scholar – refers to Jumu’ah as ‘morning prayer’ .  .  . when it actually takes place just after noon on Fridays.

Secret agents on urgent undercover missions usually do everything to ensure their conversations are not intercepted.
Carrie and fellow agent, Saul Berenson, however, like to update CIA HQ in Langley, Virginia, not via an encrypted phone line – but on Skype… perhaps not the most secure way to brief the boss.
In fact, Saul and Carrie seem to go out of their way to draw attention to themselves, using a far-from-inconspicuous black suburban Chevrolet to cruise through ‘Beirut’.

The Pentagon has some of the world’s most secure briefing rooms, hermetically sealed from the outside world so no vital information can leak out.
Yet Brody manages to text the message ‘May 1’ to his terrorist chums in the middle of observing an operation, so thwarting the US plan to assassinate Abu Nazir, the world’s most wanted terrorist since Osama Bin Laden.
How? By texting on a BlackBerry he somehow smuggled into the building – and while sitting close to the Vice President.
‘Carrying a personal communication device into that type of environment is just forbidden. No one does it,’ a CIA expert said. ‘In any government building where you’ll see classified information, you are not allowed to bring portable electronic devices into the room – and sometimes not even the building.’ The big question is: What network is he on where he can get a signal in a bunker?

Terrorists clearly need to make sure they are not being bugged as they plot their evil deeds. Journalist Roya Hammad, an ally of Abu Nazir, does this by the cunning ruse of simply asking Congressman Brody whether his office contains any hidden devices. Genius.
Later on, Roya asks Brody to rifle through David Estes’ office to steal some important information.
Estes is director of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Centre, so Brody shouldn’t expect to find the top-secret files, clearly marked, all neatly in one place, and not covered by security cameras.
Well, guess what .  .  . they are.

A terrorist needs to be spirited away to a safe house – a simple task that’s surely within the job description of even the most lowly of minions.
But not in Homeland. Instead, the job is assigned to Brody – on the very afternoon he is due to give an important speech in front of the vice president. It sounds like the outline for an implausible sitcom rather than an authentic spy thriller: a famous senior politician driving a terrorist around.
To add to the sense of farce, the job doesn’t go well, and Brody ends up killing his charge, known as The Tailor.
Was Abu Nasir’s internationally feared terror network really so short-staffed that Brody was the best man for the job?

Brody’s job as Al Qaeda’s top cab driver goes wrong when he gets a flat tyre while driving The Tailor. He deals with this – without calling the AA – then runs out of petrol. What a pro. At the service station, The Tailor runs away, and Brody gives chase through the woods.
During a tussle, The Tailor is accidentally impaled on a metal spike. First Brody tries to save him – but is interrupted by a phone call from his wife. When The Tailor starts moaning in the background, Brody shuts him up in the obvious way .  .  . by snapping his neck.
The Congressman is now covered in dirt and blood. How best to deal with this? Simple – take a shower in a car wash. Not in a bathroom at a petrol station – in the actual pressure wash. Presumably he didn’t need to get tokens to operate it. And, of course, absolutely none of this was captured on CCTV.

A key premise of the first series of Homeland is that Carrie will not be allowed to work for the CIA if the agency discovers she suffers from bipolar disorder. It seems understandable that a leading espionage outfit might not want to use a mentally ill employee for dangerous high-pressure missions.
But in Series Two, she ends up working for the CIA again, even blowing an operation by letting her paranoia run away with her.
However, all Homeland fans admit Claire Danes’ intense performance is one of the best things about the series – so don’t expect that to change any time soon. Whole blogs have now been devoted to the expression she makes while crying.

The secret Nazi family history that inspired Ben Elton’s novel: Comedian’s uncle was made to join German army as rest of family were condemned to die

The Mail on Sunday
28th October 2012
By Emily Hill

It is the deeply personal and heartfelt story he has wanted to tell all his life. But only in middle-age has Ben Elton finally felt he has the maturity and experience to commit it to paper.
The one-time enfant terrible of the Eighties ‘alternative comedy’ scene, Elton is now a comfortably off, 53-year-old, with 13 best-selling novels and four hit musicals to his name. He need never write another word again.
Yet by his own admission, he became obsessed writing his new novel, Two Brothers, which tells the tale of German ‘twins’ who end up on opposite sides during the Second World War.
‘This book woke me up at two in the morning – for 50, 100 nights,’ Elton says. ‘I would think, “I’ve got to get back to sleep, this is dysfunctional.” But I knew if I stayed in bed I would just lie there awake so I had to get up and write. I loved writing it but it was hard work. It just pulled at me.
‘Everything I have ever written in the past has come immediately from an idea that occurred to me. But this was different. This book has been gestating inside me all my life.
‘I think I needed to be as old as I am now to want to go into the details. It was depressing researching it. But you do not write fiction about such a dreadful period unless you know what you are talking about.’
Two Brothers tells the tale of Paulus and Otto, twin sons of German Jews who thrive in the Weimar Republic. But in 1933, when Hitler and the National Socialist Party take power, a secret is revealed.
One baby dies and is replaced by an adopted Aryan baby born on the same day. The two are brought up as ‘twins’. In Nazi terms, the second baby is permitted to live while the rest of his family will be condemned to die. One brother escapes to Britain, while the other is compelled to join Hitler’s army.
But while the premise may sound unlikely, it is not complete invention. Elton says: ‘It is fiction, but I’ve drawn on my own family’s story.’ His father, Ludwig Ehrenberg, was born in Tubingen, Germany, in 1923, two years after his brother Gottfried. Their parents, Victor and Eva, were scholars and secular Jews who regarded themselves as Germans. Indeed, Victor had fought in the First World War.
Family affair: Ben Elton’s uncle Gottfried, left, and his father Ludwig Ehrenberg, who later changed their names to Geoffrey and Lewis Elton after arriving in Britain
Family affair: Ben Elton’s uncle Gottfried, left, and his father Ludwig Ehrenberg, who later changed their names to Geoffrey and Lewis Elton after arriving in Britain
In 1929 the family moved to Prague, when Victor obtained a professorship at the city’s German University.
After Kristallnacht in November 1938, when thousands of German Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, the Ehrenbergs realised they were no longer safe.
Through his academic connections, Victor secured a research position in London and the family fled Prague in February 1939 just a month before Hitler occupied the city. They arrived in England on Valentine’s Day.
Eva persuaded officials at Dover that Ludwig and Gottfried spoke fluent English – although they barely spoke a word – and then managed through a friend to secure places for them at Rydal School, Colwyn Bay in Wales.
‘I always grab every opportunity to remind people who want to run Britain down that it is, largely, an extraordinarily tolerant nation,’ says Elton.
‘I am extremely conscious of the good fortune my father’s family had when Britain took them and basically gave them sanctuary. They managed it by the skin of their teeth. They were impoverished when they came to Britain – but they were alive.’
Other members of the Ehrenberg family were not so fortunate. Some were taken to concentration camps, while Eva’s sister was shot. Only one was able to remain safely in Germany – Ludwig and Gottfried’s cousin Heinz, who had been adopted by Elton’s great-uncle Paul. Although he was brought up as a much-loved son of a Jewish family, he was not ethnically a Jew.
While Heinz was conscripted into the Wehrmacht, his cousin Gottfried enlisted in the British Army and became an interpreter with the Army Intelligence Corps. He was advised to anglicise his name because an Ehrenberg would immediately be identified as a refugee Jew by the Nazis if captured.
So Gottfried Ehrenberg became Geoffrey Elton – later better known as Professor Sir Geoffrey Elton, the eminent historian. Ben’s father Ludwig changed his name to Lewis, later becoming a professor of higher education at University College, London.
‘I find the fact that I had one uncle in the Wehrmacht and another uncle in the British Army fascinating,’ says Elton. ‘I always thought I would write about them. A Jew and Jewess had adopted a non-Jewish child – Heinz.
‘The anti-Semitic laws that Hitler introduced in the Thirties stripped Jews of their rights and I have long wondered what that must have felt like – all the other members of Heinz’s family became race enemies of the state and he was not.
‘I’ve asked my father but he didn’t really know or remember. People who lived through that period don’t talk much about it.
‘It’s an interesting moral dilemma –Heinz wanted to stay in a country that had deemed his parents unworthy of citizenship. Later, they would be classified subhuman [they fled to Holland and later America].
‘But he was just a young man, who wanted to finish his education and become a farmer. As it turned out he had to spend six years in the Wehrmacht.’ During the conflict, both Heinz and Geoffrey served in Italy and later worked out they had been stationed within a mile of each other.
Divided: Ben Elton had one uncle serving in the Wehrmacht and another in the British Army
Divided: Elton’s ancestors ended up on opposite sides – with one uncle serving in the Wehrmacht and another in the British Army
When the war ended, Heinz returned to the family farm in Germany, which Elton remembers visiting as a boy.
‘I spent many holidays in the Sixties on that farm,’ he says. ‘I can remember once we went on a walk and I found an old, steel Wehrmacht helmet buried in the woods.
‘It was all rusty and I was thrilled with it – obviously these things are lying all over Germany waiting for little boys to find them. I put it on and when I got back to the farm I did a Hitler salute.
‘I was only eight. And I can still remember the face of Aunt Ninny, Heinz’s wife. She became very grave and sad, and Mum scolded me, saying, “Don’t do that Benji.” ’
The two branches of the family are still in touch – in 1994, Heinz came to Britain to attend Sir Geoffrey’s funeral – but Elton thinks it inevitable that the link will eventually wither. ‘There was a lot of closeness there but the years go by and when Heinz dies there will come a point when the English and German sides of the family lose touch because things move on,’ he says.
He seems particularly concerned by the passage of time and its impact. As the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis begin to slide out of living memory, Elton worries that the younger generation are unaware of their significance.
‘You would be amazed, now, at how many people haven’t heard of Kristallnacht and the Night of the Long Knives, but then lots of young people haven’t really heard of Margaret Thatcher now,’ he says.
Elton, an only child born in 1959 to Lewis and his English wife Mary, has been aware of his family’s extraordinary war-time experiences for as long he can remember, although they were rarely discussed.
He grew up in Surrey and remembers his paternal grandparents, who lived in Hampstead, North-West London, as ‘wonderful, slightly weird people with strange accents’.
‘They were quite well off because Germany became an exemplary state after the war and paid pensions to many,’ he adds.
‘My parents were secular. I am an atheist. I didn’t know the word “Jew”. I don’t consider myself Jewish. I am half-Jewish by race but not through my mother. I knew my dad could have died in Nazi Germany – but he didn’t. And it really wasn’t part of my life.’
Nevertheless, despite his protestations, it is possible to discern a thread linking the persecution suffered by his forebears, to the satirical political diatribes that were the hallmark of Elton’s stand-up act during the Eighties.
Virtually exploding with righteous ire, he would rail against perceived Right-wing injustices and iniquities, ending a rapid-fire rant with his catch phrase, ‘Little bit of politics there’.
He was the scourge of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – or ‘Thatch’ as he dismissively referred to her.
Throughout that decade, Elton was one of the brightest stars on television, first with a regular slot on Saturday Live and then as the host of Friday Night Live. At the same time, he was working on screenplays. Aged 23, he co-wrote the cult hit The Young Ones, with Rik Mayall.
Soon afterwards, Richard Curtis invited Elton to help sharpen up the second series of Blackadder and he became a co-writer.
However, in 1989, when Blackadder Goes Forth satirised the futility of the First World War, he ran into trouble – with Sir Geoffrey. Elton recalls: ‘He wrote me a letter, slightly pompous and grandiose, which said, “Without the British Army your father who sired you would not be here.”
‘Of course I knew that. And I’ve known that all my life. Instinctively, I would do nothing but respect the men who fought in those wars. But Geoff served in a war, and he had a deep emotional connection with the British Army and what it fought for – it really affected him.’
Elton wrote back, insisting that the satire was intended to be respectful and Sir Geoffrey backed down.
‘He accepted it, rather grumpily, saying, “I’ve watched some more and I’ve decided that it’s probably all right. But you shouldn’t be so sensitive to criticism.” ’
Over-sensitivity is a charge that is frequently levelled at Elton. His Left-wing routines made him enemies, before he then alienated some fans when he began writing not only screenplays and books but musicals, including Queen tribute We Will Rock You, which has made him a rich man.
Fellow comedian Stewart Lee has compared him unfavourably with Osama Bin Laden – because the world’s most-wanted terrorist had ‘at least lived his life according to a consistent set of ethical principles’.
Now living in Australia with his wife Sophie and their three children – Bert, Lottie and Fred – it was even claimed Elton had emigrated because he was so upset by the repeated tongue-lashings. However, he insists this is untrue.
He met Sophie while touring Australia with Rik Mayall in 1986, when she and her all-female band supported the British comics. ‘I didn’t ask to fall in love with an Australian,’ he says. ‘Had I met her as a poor backpacker it probably would have been a beautiful dream and nothing more.
‘But I could afford the plane fare so I ended up with this double life. We lived in Britain throughout the Nineties and it took us a long time to have children.
‘When they reached the age of ten, we had to face a very difficult decision. If we continued to live in Britain, our children would never know, in any real sense, their very large and very wonderful Australian family.’
Elton now divides his time between Britain and Australia. Currently, he is in London working on Slings And Arrows, a BBC sitcom set in a council’s health and safety department.
‘It is hard being away from my family, but when I am at home I get to see more of my kids than most breadwinners, so I am very lucky,’ he says.
‘For me, everything has been an improvisation. My life changed fundamentally when I met Sophie. I was sitting in Australia, not famous there, twiddling my thumbs. I have this ongoing compulsion to write. So I started to write a novel.’
He certainly seems to have felt compelled to write Two Brothers, his magnum opus. His parents have both read it and given their seal of approval.
‘My parents are never particularly effusive, but my mother liked the book a lot. It’s a page turner, as she said. Now, I wish that I’d written it a few years ago, as my dad is getting very old now… but it took a long time to get around to it.
‘The story was living with me before I wrote it – and it’s been living with me since I finished it. It’s very strange for me. I’ve never read a word of any of my other novels after I have finished them. I’ve never seen a whole episode of Blackadder. If I’ve finished it, I’m not interested any more.
‘But with Two Brothers I feel more joyful at having completed it than anything else I have ever done.’

The fabulous Bake Off boys… as definitely NOT seen on TV!

The Mail on Sunday
13th October 2012
By Emily Hill

For the past nine weeks, Brendan, John and James have enthralled The Great British Bake Off’s millions of devoted viewers with their spectacular creations: perfectly formed petit fours swans, a Colosseum constructed from gingerbread, even a bicycle made of Paris-Brest pastry.
Of an initial dozen contestants, the trio have survived every gruelling round, and the ‘soggy bottoms’ and other put-downs of judge Paul Hollywood. On Tuesday, they will battle for the title of Britain’s best amateur baker in the first all-male final of Mary Berry’s series.
In and out of the kitchen, they couldn’t be more different: James Morton, an unlikely sex symbol known for his knitwear and inspired baking; Brendan Lynch, the eldest, coolly confident at the oven; and John Whaite, the handsome but accident-prone underdog. From Hillswick, a tiny village in the Shetlands, James is favourite to win, according to online polls. At 21 the youngest contestant in the series, he began baking early. ‘My gran taught me how to bake when I was tiny,’ he says.
‘I used to go to her house after school and we’d make apple and lemon meringue pies.’
He expresses his Scottish roots in his baking. The strategy has won him plaudits – for his ‘clooties’ (dumplings) – but also criticism: he uses whisky far too liberally for the notoriously strict Hollywood.
Blessed with boy-band good looks, he has many female admirers on social networking sites and has made Fair Isle tank tops and geeky glasses sexy, yet finds being a heart-throb ‘hilarious’.
‘I had 60 Twitter followers before,’ he says. ‘Now I have nearly 15,000. It began after the third episode when I got “star” baker and wore a tank top. I think people confused their attraction to the tank top with liking me. The Fair Isle jumpers were a deliberate decision as I’m a proud Shetlander. They did get a bit smelly after a long day’s filming in that warm tent, I must confess.’
A medical student at Glasgow University, James was revising for his exams during filming. ‘I thought I’d get loads of studying done on location,’ he says. ‘But when on a 12- to 16-hour-a-day adrenaline rush, you need a full day to recover. Some weeks, despite a cheery facade, I just wanted to be home.’
On past form, James is most likely to win, having already carried off the ‘star baker’ title three times – for tarts, biscuits and patisserie.
Sadly for female fans, James has a beautiful girlfriend, fellow Glasgow University medical student Fenella Barlow-Pay.
She noticed his weight balloon during filming (an occupational hazard of baking) and quickly whipped him back in shape. ‘I gained two stone,’ James says. ‘As soon as it all finished [the final has already been filmed], I went with Fenella on a tandem bike to France to cycle for two weeks.’
John, 22, had the same problem. ‘Since the start I’ve put on a stone,’ said the law graduate. ‘If you’re baking full-time, you need to hit the gym 24 /7.’ As if to prove his point, John posted a picture of himself on Facebook, looking buff and sporting just a bow tie, explaining: ‘Me before the extra stones piled on due to The Great British Bake Off.’
But he has faced greater peril than piling on pounds. In Pudding Week John slashed open his finger on a Magimix blade – yet carried on, wearing a blue latex glove. Pale and dizzy, eventually he was escorted from the tent.
Manchester-born John discovered baking as an escape when he was a child and his parents were splitting up. ‘My mum used to spend a lot of time baking with me. It’s become comforting,’ he says. ‘I’ve always used baking as a therapy in times of stress.’
He was struggling in the quarter finals – until he whipped up that gingerbread Colosseum: 100 black treacle and spice-flavoured pieces in a marvel of architectural baking. ‘It took a week to design,’ John says, adding that it was all due to ‘Paul, my amazing partner. He’s a graphic designer and works for an architect’.
John’s family insisted that baking came second to education. He won a place at Oxford University to study law but, missing home, transferred to Manchester and got a first. ‘It’s not something I really have an interest in,’ he says of law. ‘My parents wanted me to take the academic route. I wanted to pursue baking. I thought if I could prove myself by getting on the show and demonstrating what I could do, maybe they’d let me change career.’
Many see John as the outsider, but don’t rule him out. With his beautifully styled hair and tendency to redden under pressure, he may look as if he lacks the necessary true grit. But every week he goes in the tent, throws off his leather jacket, and knuckles down.
Yet to win he must see off the most experienced baker, Brendan. The company director has impressed viewers, both for his Seventies-style retro creations and his ability to colour-co-ordinate his shirt with his epic bakes. Twice star baker – in desserts and puddings – Brendan, 63, has run James a close second in many other tasks.
He lives in Birmingham with his labradoodle, Monty, but was raised in rural Ireland. ‘My mum died when I was very young and my older sisters took over the cooking,’ he says. ‘I was brought up in a very strict Catholic tradition.’
He first baked as a child. ‘Men didn’t cook or bake. It was women’s work, so it was quickly jumped on. It wasn’t till my late 20s that I took it up again. It’s been a passionate hobby ever since.’
Now semi-retired, this baking obsessive is on a two-year project to bake all the breads of the world (he has made more than 90) and his ambitions don’t stop there: he wants to be baking’s equivalent of The Choir’s Gareth Malone.
‘I saw him go into an old people’s home, gather them into a choir and take them to the Royal Albert Hall,’ he says. ‘I’d like to use baking in a similar way. My plan is to take my skills into retirement homes to allow residents to make bread and cakes for themselves and to sell.’
Surely here’s the spin-off series.

What are the odds? Brendan is second favourite to win, with 25 per cent of votes cast. Brendan, pictured left in the Seventies, has won plaudits for his retro style.
A nice, even bake? Celebrated for his theming and decoration, he excels at puddings and desserts. His most delicious-looking design was a set of tiny, choux pastry swans. Judge Mary Berry has said: ‘You looked at them and thought, “He’s arrived.” ’
Soggy bottom? Brendan’s Disney-style gingerbread house looked gorgeous – but judge Paul Hollywood was scathing about his decision to use mini Shredded Wheat for the roof tiles, saying every feature should be scrumptious.

JAMES HORTON, 21, Hunk In The Tank Top
What are the odds? Fifty-eight per cent of those surveyed want James to win.
A nice, even bake? Well-known for his sometimes eccentric experiments, James’s best creations include that show-stopping bicycle made of Paris-Brest.
Soggy bottom? Although he is rarely in Paul or Mary’s bad books, James – pictured left with girlfriend Fenella – may want to brush up on his desserts for the final, after being criticised for his fig, chestnut, cherry and ganache meringue.

JOHN WHAITE, 22, The Brave Battler
What are the odds? Near-disasters mean just 16 per cent of viewers want John to win, according to an online poll.
A nice, even bake? A bread master, he’s won the technical challenge with a plaited loaf before finishing off with bagels.
Soggy bottom? Not soggy – brave. After slicing open his hand, he soldiered on.
Soldered on: John, who cut himself while trying to bake a strudel during the competition, has only 16 per cent of viewers wanting him to win
Soldered on: John, who cut himself while trying to bake a strudel during the competition, has only 16 per cent of viewers wanting him to win

My tips for the final? Don’t let Sue near your food!
Edd KIMBER – the first-ever winner of The Great British Bake Off – has gone on to write a bestselling cookery book and teach master classes in macaroon-making since taking the title in 2010.
The 27-year-old, from Bradford, who was taught to bake by his mother, says his life has been transformed by the show.
His first book, The Boy Who Bakes, was an instant bestseller while his second, Say It With Cake!, is to be sold at clothing chain Urban Outfitters. Here he offers his tips to the last three contestants:

1 Try to make Mary grunt: ‘I made her grunt with my macaroons. I think it was one of the only times in my series she made that noise – the guttural ‘‘uhh’’ is her ultimate seal of approval.’
Edd Kimber, the first-ever winner of The Great British Bake Off, offers his tips to the last three contestants
Dos and Don’ts: Edd Kimber, the first-ever winner of The Great British Bake Off, offers his tips to the last three contestants
2 Do everything really well: ‘It sounds obvious but it’s very important. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple or complicated recipe, provided that it is executed well.’
3 Learn Paul and Mary’s favourite flavours: ‘Paul loves banana but Mary doesn’t. As for booze, you need enough to suit Mary’s taste for it but not too much for Paul.’
4 Watch out for Sue Perkins: ‘She eats everything in front of her so it’s dangerous to let her near any rare ingredient. In the first series she ate someone’s special chocolate – without realising.’
5 Avoid getting hit by fake food. ‘Mel, Sue and Paul would see how hard they could hit each other on the bottom with plastic bread. Even Mary hit Paul with it once.’

1 Argue: ‘Especially with Paul – he is so far into his career it is hard to disagree with him about technique.’
2 Talk too much: ‘If you’re not concentrating you can make fatal errors. The toughest thing is how to balance baking with being on camera. Producers usually want to talk during stressful times!’
3 Lose sight of your best bakes: ‘In Bread Week, Paul had told me my focaccia was the best he had tasted outside Italy in years. After filming, it disappeared and I found out he’d taken it home to serve at a dinner party.’
4 Forget it’s a reality TV show: ‘The winner might not be the one who has stood out so far.’
5 Fail to prepare: ‘Contestants get six weeks to practise, so their timings should be tight, provided they plan really well.’