For viewers of this year’s Great British Bake Off, Stacey Hart was the contestant who covered all her cakes in pink icing and left the show in tears after being eliminated in the semi-final.
What the viewers didn’t see was the long months of back-to-basics baking the Radlett mother-of-three put herself through after being initially rejected by GBBO’s producers. “The first time I applied — for the 2016 competition — I didn’t get in” reveals the 42-year-old former teacher.
“I nearly didn’t re-apply, but my friend said to me: ‘It’s a bit like taking an exam, Stace, you need to practise first’.”
“I wanted a challenge, so I spent the next year working solidly on every area of my baking. Every week I’d pick something different. I bought all the books and learned all about pastry; I learned bread-making in a year and did loads of croissants.”
She has loved to bake ever since her student days at Warwick University. “I’m self-taught and bake when I’m happy and when I’m sad — it’s cathartic. When a friend was going through a particularly hard time, I felt powerless, so I took her endless cakes.”
She is in her apron when we meet over tea in her kitchen, piping icing roses onto chocolate cupcakes.
“They’re for a charity bake sale at my son’s school — he asked me to do red roses. It is red, isn’t it?” They look suspiciously pink, but doused in glitter that hardly matters as they look stunning.
Each week was spent endlessly practising. “I baked daily from 8am until 6pm and sometimes into the evening” she recalls. “I didn’t leave the house until I felt confident I had a chance.”
She became known for her flamboyant style. “My favourite was my tropical terrine. It was Wham!-inspired and very ’80s. The judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, loved it. After that I went totally OTT. I don’t bake like that at home. I do use pink and glitter but not nearly as much.”
She says she had to be ambitious with her creations as she had no idea what the other bakers were going to produce, but regrets trying to do too much at times. “If I could go back, I’d not be so clever and I’d keep it simple. The choux buns were my worst bake in the semi-final and I probably shouldn’t have done them. I just loved the name ‘chouxnicorn’ and couldn’t stop myself.”
Those and her pink flamingos won her many young fans. “Little girls loved them. I was getting video messages of support from lots of children.”
Social media was less supportive, especially the Twitter trolls who launched personal attacks on her. She is clearly hurt by the criticism. “I didn’t go on GBBO for people to tell me what they thought of me. I find it unbelievable people can do that. When I went on the Bake Off Extra Slice after I’d left, Sandi [Toksvig, GBBO co-presenter] came on to support me. She wasn’t meant to be on it but she knew how hard I was finding things. She was lovely. She had a collection of gnomes outside her trailer and I bought her a little baking gnome.”
She says Toksvig still texts her and other competitors, and that Fielding and Leith were both supportive. “Prue would come and sit with us on the grass outside the Bake Off tent. She’s a bit like the Queen though — when she’s finished talking to you she’d just walk off.”
The public have been kinder face-to-face. “I’ve had a lot of love. People come up to me and get very excited when they see me, which is lovely.”
Filming during the summer took her away from home from Friday to Monday each weekend for weeks and was not easy on her family. “My husband James was completely supportive,and was pleased for me each time I got through, but it did mean he would be alone with the boys all weekend and we couldn’t enlist help from friends as it was a secret.”
She is still in touch with many of the contestants. “We had such fun. It was genuinely as supportive as it looks but towards the end there was a competitive edge. People would whisper when they talked on camera about what they were doing in the technical rounds so others didn’t hear. I said to one of them ‘what’s all that about?’ I’m not a threat to you!’”
So does a baking career beckon now? “I’ve had quite a few offers” she says, “but I want to wait for the right thing. This week I start filming on my own YouTube channel — StaceyDee’s Kitchen — teaching people to make my favourites bakes. ”
Looking back, she is “super proud” of what she achieved. “I said I was going to do something and I did it. It’s a message I want to give my children.”