Mary Berry talks of her faith recipe for life
Cuisine queen, and prolific cookery book writer, Mary Berry, will be cooking up a Christmas treat for umpteen diners as she celebrates the birth of her Saviour Jesus Christ. Sandie Shirley reports.
Co-judge of the hugely popular BBC TV’s ‘The Great British Bake Off’ has a quiet and steadfast Christian faith that has seen her through the joys, triumphs and sorrows including one of the deepest heartaches imaginable.
The 81 year-old, who has been hailed a national treasure, visited Norwich earlier this year to sign copies of her latest book: ‘Foolproof Cooking’. During her previous televised trip to the city, a few years ago, she learnt that her great-great grandfather was a Norwich baker, when she took part in the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ programme.
Mary’s adventurous life has been peppered with challenges and salted with kindness. As a young girl, she spent months in hospital – including time in isolation - recovering from polio. While planning a family, she endured a series of miscarriages and later suffered the tragic loss of her teenage son in a car accident.
She explains that William’s death has changed her life and deepened her faith. “When you have faith and tragedy hits you, you have reason to go on and be strong,” she told the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, while presenting the BBC’s Easter Feast programme this year.
The recipient of a host of awards, including the CBE, Mary has written more than 70 cookery books while her TV career has spanned four decades. She has cooked for VIPs; teamed up with various retailers to market her own products and fronted a host of TV specials while being guest of honour at glittering functions.
Yet her biggest break came in her mid-seventies when she became a judge for The Great British Bake Off which wooed more than 14 million viewers a few weeks ago as the BBC series ended. ’The Great British Bake Off’ is family entertainment. There are not many programmes where all ages can sit and watch from beginning to end,” she says.
Mary is a healthy eating and exercise advocate and her faith makes her mindful of others. “You have certainly got to keep active and the best way is walking if you possibly can and getting out in the fresh air and helping people – being part of your village or area and looking after your neighbours.”
Most Sundays she attends the early morning service at her village church with her husband, returning for breakfast and to check the slow roast lunch. Away, on holiday, the couple find alternative churches to continue their Sunday attendance.
She is a patron for Child Bereavement UK that helps train health professionals to better understand and meet the needs of grieving families. She is also President of the National Garden Scheme, having previously opened her garden to the public for over two decades. As a keen gardener, growing her own fruit and vegetables, and using them in many of her recipes, she is also an ambassador for the Royal Horticultural Society.
Her extraordinary life is detailed in her autobiography – Recipe for Success. Although she had no appetite for academic subjects at school she excelled at cookery which led to catering and institutional management at college. She later moved to France to study at the Cordon Bleu Cookery school while living in a Paris youth hostel. Back in Britain, after a series of exceptional breaks, she became cookery editor for a national home magazine. Widening horizons continued as Mary embraced new opportunities and success.
As she hung up her baker’s apron for the BBC’s final Bake Off she says: “What a privilege and honour it has been to be part of seven years of magic in a tent!”
Pictured above, Bake-Off favourite Mary Berry. Picture by Georgia Glynn Smith.