We feel very honoured to have connected with some truly inspiring women through The Mother Hub and our #IAmAnEssexGirl campaign... and Jo Wheatley is no exception! Winner of the Great British Bake Off 2011, Jo has gone on to publish two best-selling cookery books and now runs her own successful cookery school at her home near Harlow in Essex. In our interview, Jo tells us about how her passion for baking turned into a thriving business, and shares the lessons she learnt along the way.
Tell us a little bit about your background. When did your passion for baking start?
It all started for me when I was about 3 years of age in my maternal grandmother's kitchen. I would stay with her every weekend and she would make pastry with me. I believe that bonding period made such a huge impact on my life and I have always associated baking and cooking with happy memories. I feel baking is one of the most positive activities you can do with children, as you are not only giving them a life skill but more importantly your time.
After winning the Great British Bake Off in 2011, your career gained incredible momentum. How did you juggle being a busy mum of three alongside building your own business?
Initially it was a little hairy. I was fortunate that my boys didn’t need so much hand holding as they were at an age where they were quite self sufficient, although they still expected mums cafe, taxi and laundry services. I love a list and so started writing myself a schedule each evening for the next day which was a big help and also I had lots of help from very good friends.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
There have been so many but I think when a national newspaper printed that my book sales have been the highest of all Bake Off contestants to date.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I think possibly trying to overcome my nerves and finding some self-belief. For the first 3 years of my new career, before one of my classes or a demo at a Food Show I wouldn’t sleep the night before, plagued by nerves. This still happens now but thankfully not as frequently.
What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
Jay Hunt (C4 boss) told me I must go in elbows first as you never get anywhere sitting back politely waiting for things to come to you. It’s a piece of advice I always keep at the front of my mind, even though I still struggle putting it into practice.
We really appreciate your support for the Essex Girl campaign. Why do you think it's important for Essex to reclaim 'Essex girl' and finally lose the stereotype?
It has really saddened and angered me to have such a derogatory label attached to such a huge group of females. I feel that this is totally unjust. I feel that for my nieces, goddaughters and hopefully future granddaughters who live in Essex it's so important to get this definition changed. I find it devastating and sad that even if ‘we’ manage to have this removed from any future print runs there will be books remaining with this unfair and insulting definition.
One of the goals of our campaign is to inspire the next generation of young girls growing up in Essex. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?
If I could go back in time I would tell my younger self to make the most of every opportunity, to always try my best, to have belief in myself and not be to hung up on what others are thinking and are doing.
Love baking? Check out Jo's best-selling books: