At 69, Diana Beard is the Great British Bake-Off’s most senior contestant. She is a traditional baker who joined the Women’s Institute aged 15 and became a WI judge at just 20. NWN Media reporter Gill Broad catches up with her at her Shropshire home.
SHOWCASING her best baking skills on the new series of the Great British Bake Off will be Shropshire baker Diana Beard.
Chosen out of more than 16,000 applicants for the popular BBC prime time television series, Diana Beard has finally been able to reveal the secret she has been hiding from family and friends since March.
At 69, the Whitchurch woman maybe the Bake Off’s oldest contestant yet she says she is “not one to duck a challenge” and has completely embraced the experience which she describes as a “real rollercoaster”.
She said: “Baking is a lifelong passion - I can’t imagine not baking - but I never dreamed I would be chosen for the show.”
A self-taught cook, Diana gives credit to the Women’s Institute for her skills, as well as the tips she picked up from her mother and grandmother.
The daughter of a Shropshire dairy farmer, Diana describes herself as a traditional baker who joined the WI aged 15-years-old and went on to win her WI demonstrator’s badge and judge’s badge.
Diana continued: “My two neices-in-law, Annabel and Laura Fearnall, said at Christmas that they were entering me for the Great British Bake Off 2014.
“I went along with it, never thinking it would go any further.
“I got through the first round, then the second and thought there must be a lot of people who can bake better than I can.
“Then I got to the fourth round and we were left dangling for a while, then I heard I was in the last 12 and wondered what had let myself in for!”
Filming for the new series started in April and continued right through to the end of June.
She said: “All contestants have had to do a lot of recipe research and send in their own recipes for the whole 10 programmes. We have all had BBC home economists on the phone about the recipes, but I’ve tried to keep it traditional, though if you do this, it has to be good.”
But what does she make of the show’s judges?
She said: “Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were good fun, but it was quite stressful, especially with timing issues and having a camera on you, but I did get used to it.
“It was a real rollercoaster. I would make something that I knew I could do it better in my own kitchen, then the judges would come along and either like it or rubbish it.”
Diana has also been filmed at her Alkington Road, Whitchurch, home for part of the show.
Other contestants include a 17-year-old schoolgirl, a former Merchant Navy man, a barefoot runner and a part-time beekeeper.
Diana added: “What else could bring a 17-year old and a 69-year-old together in such a way? There was a lot of camaraderie, I was the granny of the group and there was a lot of 'ask Diana’.
“I will certainly be a bit nervous about watching myself on TV!”
The Great British Bake Off 2014 starts on Wednesday, August 6 on BBC1. Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have already called this year's crop of bakers the most professional to enter the Bake Off tent so far.