Television screens across the country are on course for something of a Shetland flavour in the coming weeks as local lad James Morton vies to win a national baking competition.
Morton, a 21-year-old medical student from Hillswick, has been busy filming this year under a cloud of secrecy for BBC2’s popular reality programme The Great British Bake Off.
The series tasks 12 amateur bakers with a host of cooking challenges, all under the watchful eye of esteemed judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.
The Bake Off, which is presented by effervescent duo Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, is due to launch its third series on Tuesday and Morton was plucked from thousands of hopefuls to take part in the show.
Baking isn’t a recent endeavour for Morton however, with the Glasgow University student having been creating cakes and bread in his spare time for years. He said: “I’ve been baking since I was tiny wee. My gran is definitely the inspiration behind all my baking. I used to go to hers pretty much every day after school and she would teach me and let me join in where appropriate. I would say applying for the Bake Off wasn’t really my decision though – all my friends kind of pushed me into it. I guess they thought I had a lot of unique selling points, being from Shetland and being a medical student too.”
Morton’s mouth is gagged by television red tape and as such he can’t comment on future episodes in the series, or whether or not he indeed is victorious in the competition, but he did open up on one baking challenge – the first episode’s cunning rum baba cake, which he says made for some “dramatic” moments among the contestants.
It seems the amateur baker won’t be immune to some on screen “moments” himself, admitting that being faced with a camera on set initially led to some overactive babble being spouted from his mouth. He said: “There are some really embarrassing moments to come. They thrust the camera in your face and they ask you these questions – and you speak, and you speak and speak and speak. And they have so much that they can edit it to make you as stupid or as smart or as evil as they want to. It’s true what they say though – you do get used to having a camera in your face. At first you just think ‘These people are manipulating what I’m saying, they’re asking these horrible leading questions’, but eventually you learn to deal with it and play along with it. I don’t feel like they manipulated me, but I feel I was playing this specific character that I created. I feel like I wasn’t myself during the show, and that feels a bit weird. I feel like I’m a bit lackadaisical on the series.”
Morton specialises in bread and describes his baking style as somewhat experimental, with one of his first cake attempts on the series pirouetting on a peculiar cocktail of parsnip, pear and pecan. He was flown from Glasgow to Bristol at the weekends for filming, with university work taking up the rest of his time – however, recording took place around May and June, in the middle of his exams.
Morton, who is working at Lerwick’s Peerie Shop Cafe during the summer before returning to university, admits that while baking could potentially offer a lucrative future, his mind is set on becoming a doctor. He said: “There’s a lot of money in baking. Anyone on the show who gets past a certain point could easily drive a career in the media or baking. No question about it. I’m going back to uni though and will be a doctor, if I pass my exams.”
One thing Morton took away from The Great British Bake Off however was the unfortunate pitfall of being surrounded by an unrepentant conveyor belt of cake and bread – a bulging waistline. “The crew was great, and it was a good laugh,” he said. “I gained two stone over the series though. As soon as it all finished, I went with my girlfriend on a tandem bike to France to cycle for two weeks.”
To see if Morton rises to the top of the country’s baking scene, watch the first episode of The Great British Bake Off’s third series on 14th August on BBC2.