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Bake Off architect Tom speaks to the AJ: 'The office just thought I had a lot of site visits'

Gbbo8 baker tom at work 030
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Architect and former Great British Bake Off contestant Tom Hetherington talks about how he won’t be giving up architecture for baking and how he kept his stint on the show secret from his practice Richard Murphy Architects

Who encouraged you to fill out the application form to be on the Great British Bake Off?
My partner David had been trying to convince me for years to apply but I really didn’t want to be on TV. I was off ill from work and was watching reruns of Bake Off, and thought: ‘I wonder if Bake Off applications are still open?’ When I checked, it was the last day they were open and I thought: that must be a sign … What have I got to lose? One of those serendipitous moments.

Are there any similarities between baking and designing a building?
When you consider both on an elemental basis, there are definitely similarities. You take a recipe (or a set of construction drawings) a number of ingredients (or components) and bring these together to create a new offering – be that in baked or built form.

The biggest difference would lie in how many people are involved in the process. While baking is generally a solo affair, architecture is usually more successful if you collaborate. 

Had I not chosen to go into architecture, I was considering dentistry

What inspired you to become an architect? Was it a close run thing with becoming a baker?
I became interested in architecture in my mid-teens. I had always been a creative child – we were lucky to have parents who were keen for us to try our hands at anything and everything – so I knew I wanted to drive my career into a design-based profession. My natural tendency towards problem-solving probably helped my decision. Baking hadn’t even entered my head. In fact, had it not been architecture, I was considering dentistry.

What buildings have you tried to copy in cake?
Well as part of the interview process for Great British Bake Off I had to make a set of biscuits that were decorated to reflect my life. So I made a terrace of Georgian townhouses from Edinburgh out of shortbread. Not necessarily cake orientated, but still a bake.

Tom hetherington at the great british bake off

Tom hetherington at the great british bake off

Can you see yourself leaving the architectural profession to bake full time?
I can’t see that happening, but honestly, who knows. I love architecture, despite its stresses. I think it would be quite a rarity for an architect to cut architecture, or design, out of their life completely. If I did ever leave the profession I imagine I would still work on a slow basis: one or two projects a year.

So will you carry on baking, having left the show in Week 4, and what are your hopes and ambitions after Bake Off?
Of course I’ll keep on baking! When it all wrapped up I said I’d take some time off to ‘recover’ and lasted three days before I made two different kinds of jam! I don’t know what will happen after Bake Off. I am really lucky to have a great career and I never entered with an objective in terms of career outcomes following the show. I like to consider myself the sort of person who takes every opportunity that comes their way, and I always like an adventure. I’m open to whatever might come my way. Saying that, to have my own recipe book would be a dream come true!

How understanding have work been about your filming commitments?
Work have been really great. I only told two people in the office. I think the rest just thought I had a lot of [site] visits. Luckily I am working on projects across the UK and Ireland so it wouldn’t be that hard to believe.

Has being on the show affected your relationships with clients and planners?
I actually haven’t had much interaction with planners since it aired. My clients have been great. I’ve had a few odd cracks by contractors, but all lighthearted. One of my clients has asked me to host a baking class to raise money for charity, which should be fun. Another client is the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre (pictured below), for which I am project architect on an extension and refurbishment. I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to do to, but I hope to help raise money towards reaching our construction budget. Possibly another marathon. Probably cake.

Planning render final

Planning render final

Would you bake us something for our Christmas special?
Of course! What do you want? What about a Ronchamp out of cake, or a shortbread Fallingwater?

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Readers' comments (1)

  • What about baking some 'fallen heroes' - starting with the Firestone Building, or Murphy's unbuilt competition winner at Inverewe? (but not the 'garden bridge', please)

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