Paul Hollywood, with his spiked hair and cold stare, has been called a shark and a silver fox. His blue eyes have been compared with the Night King himself (Game of Thrones fans, anyone?). As a judge in the popular reality show The Great British Baking Show (or The Great British Bake Off), Hollywood has come under fire for being thoughtless and brutal, but his judgments have never quite reached the level of Simon Cowell. After a decade of the show, we have learned that a "Hollywood handshake" isn’t just a formality (it means Hollywood likes your bread very much), and "soggy bottom" isn’t just a funny innuendo (it’s how Hollywood says your tart is uncooked).
Hollywood was born into a working-class family in Merseyside, England, and grew up in a house — right above his dad’s bakery — that always smelt of bread. Paul’s childhood and pre-teen years revolved around baking, per Paul Hollywood – The Biography. He started off his career managing one of his dad’s bakeries, and then went on to work at high-end hotels like Chester Grosvenor, The Dorchester, and Cliveden Hotel.
Though Bake Off is his most popular show, Hollywood has done other series such as Paul Hollywood Eats Japan, Paul Hollywood’s Bread, Paul Hollywood City Bakes, and Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip that explores the automotive history of different places. Yes, Hollywood likes his cakes and his cars. It’s an obsession, really. Here’s what the star baker is like outside the Bake Off tent.
Paul Hollywood’s first career choice was to become a sculptor
The blue-eyed baker was set out to become the next Michelangelo in his teens. Following in the footsteps of his mom, who was a graphic artist, he had joined Wallasey Art School, and taken a liking to sculpture, according to A Baker’s Life. Well, it’s not hard to imagine Hollywood as a sculptor. Replace the dough scraper with a chisel, and there you have it.
Though Hollywood spent his school holidays helping out his dad, a professional baker, he never dreamt of pursuing it as a career. When his father asked him if he wanted to become a baker, Hollywood initially said no. Then, his dad offered to pay him £500 (that’s close to $600) if he cut his long hair and joined the industry. "That put things in a different light for a seventeen-year-old!" he wrote in A Baker’s Life. Overnight, he shaved his chest-length hair.
Once the decision was made, Hollywood started working in the family bakeries. By his early 20s, he was managing a whole bakery all by himself. While his friends went out clubbing and stopped at the bakery in the morning, Hollywood went to bed early and woke up in the wee hours of morning to make fresh loaves. "It upset me a but to miss out on partying, but baking was what I wanted to do," he told Daily Mail via Paul Hollywood – The Biography.
Though born in the UK, Paul Hollywood has a deep connection with Cyprus
After apprenticing at his dad’s bakeries, Paul Hollywood had moved on to working with reputed hotels like Chester Grosvenor and later, the Dorchester. But instead of settling into the cushy life, Hollywood bid goodbye to it. In 1996, he packed his bags and traveled 2,000 miles away to start a new life in the historic town of Paphos, Cyprus. "My time in Paphos was an experience that changed my life. When I came here when I was 28, it was a real cultural shock for me," he said in an episode of Paul Hollywood City Bakes.
In fact, until then, Hollywood had never traveled much away from home. His mom, he says in the episode, expected him to come back in less than six months, but Hollywood ended up staying in Cyprus for six years. He took up the head baker’s position at a five-star seafront hotel called Annabelle and soaked in the culture, made new friends, and baked his best breads. And it was here that he met his first wife, Alexandra, a scuba diving instructor, and bagged his first television gig. The Mediterranean country also exposed him to traditional Cyproit breads such as Laganes and Lavroche, recipes of which are included in his bestseller, 100 Great Breads.
Paul Hollywood’s wife was instrumental in getting him his first gig
Love might be blind, but it sure has foresight. Alexandra — whom Paul Hollywood fell in love with and married — besides being his scuba diving instructor, was also the guest relations manager at the hotel he worked at in Paphos. Though they are separated now (they ended their 19-year-old marriage in 2018), if not for Alexandra Hollywood, his career path would have looked a lot different. She told The Daily Mail that when the duo was in Cyprus, a British TV production crew had come to the hotel to film a show about Cyproit cuisine, and had asked her to connect them with a local expert. She had convinced them to give Hollywood a shot though he was relatively new in town.
"’I said: "No, no, no. The person you need to see is Paul," Alexandra Hollywood said. "Because Paul is so gregarious, he knows everything. If there’s a good place to eat, he will know it," Alexandra said in the 2013 interview. She set up a meeting for Hollywood with the TV company, and they were impressed by him. It was a sharp turning point in Hollywood’s life. He headed back to the UK, got an agent, and started shooting for television programs — his first gig being Taste’s Use Your Loaf, alongside chef James Martin.
The American Baking Competition rocked Paul Hollywood’s marriage
Alexandra and Paul Hollywood’s marriage hit a rocky road in 2013 when The Great British Baking Show got its American version, The American Baking Competition. The shooting for the CBS show lasted four and a half weeks, during the span of which Hollywood had an affair with his co-judge, American chef Marcela Valladolid. The news was a hard blow to Hollywood and his wife’s otherwise rumor-free marriage. The couple, however, patched up after Hollywood allegedly called the affair his biggest mistake, and Alexandra Hollywood gave their marriage a second chance, per Hello Magazine.
Just when their lives were getting back on track, there came another blow — an alleged affair between Hollywood and Summer Monteys-Fullam, a barmaid whom Hollywood had met when organizing a birthday party for his wide. After their decision to split, Hollywood and Monteys-Fullam got together — a relationship that lasted two years. Monteys-Fullam bid goodbye to Hollywood’s million-dollar home, horses, and cars that he had showered on her after she claimed that Hollywood allegedly asked her to sign a gagging order that prevented her from talking about their relationship to anyone. Yes, even her mom, per Mirror.
While Hollywood nursed this breakup (the second in two years), he met Melissa Spalding, his local pub landlady, whom he has been reportedly dating since October 2019, according to The Sun.
Paul Hollywood has had little luck selling his bread
For a man who preaches bread baking, one would imagine that selling a loaf would be a piece of cake. But Paul Hollywood has had it rough. His first company — Hollywood Bread — which he launched in London in 1999 had to be liquidated in 2003 and dissolved by 2005 after it brought him a loss of over $300,000. Hollywood did not give up hope. In 2007, he set up Paul Hollywood Artisan Bread, "inspired by the baking techniques he discovered on his travels to Cyprus, Egypt, and Jordan," Telegraph reports. By then, Hollywood had become a dad and moved to Kent with his expanded family.
Paul Hollywood Artisan Bread supplied bread to Harrods and Waitrose — popular supermarkets in London. Meanwhile, his career in television was ramping up, and his first book 100 Great Breads was out in the market. In 2010, The Great British Baking Show had begun to air on BBC. Because of his television commitments, Paul hardly had time to nurture his bread company. Paul Hollywood Artisan Bread had to be shut down in 2014, with debts of close to $70,000. It was a "huge headache and a massive problem" for the celebrity bread-maker.
Three years later, in 2017, Hollywood opened Knead Bakery and Coffee at Central London station which, as fate would have it, was demolished to make space for a new entrance to the station.
Paul Hollywood created UK’s most expensive bread
Paul Hollywood turned a loaf of bread into a luxe item right before the 2008 Christmas season. Here, it would be appropriate to note that it was a year of recession as well. Those passing by the bread aisle at Harrods, London, might have been in for a shock to come across a loaf that cost 10 times the normal rate. At $19 a loaf, The National Association of Master Bakers had named it the most expensive loaf in Britain then. Hollywood told Telegraph that it was the best bread he had made until that time. He said: "If you think of the ordinary loaf of bread it’s quite plain and often lacking in excitement. If you were to compare it to a car it might be a Ford Fiesta for example. But this is the Rolls-Royce of loaves."
But what bread would cost that much? An almond and Roquefort sourdough, apparently. The bread was made with Roquefort cheese (a blue cheese made out of sheep’s milk) purchased from a producer in rural France; and Grade A flour ("no additives, emulsifiers, E numbers or artificial flavorings") sourced from a miller in Wiltshire, England. "All the constituents of the bread are the finest money can buy. I have searched all over the country and Europe to make sure the ingredients are the very best available," Hollywood said.
Paul Hollywood is a competitive motor racer
When a checkered flag is around, Paul Hollywood whips up a new personality. One that favors speed over soufflé. Hollywood made his debut as a motor car racer in 2015 and has gone on to drive on prestigious circuits such as Le Mans. He said in an interview that he took to motor racing after he was approached by Aston Martin to try out one of their race cars. He is lucky and he knows it. "I can go from eating cream cakes, straight into an Aston Martin and race it. It’s a good life," he told The Sunday Times.
Hollywood has been crazy about cars from the time he can remember. He used to play with an Aston Martin DB5 Toy car — the one that features in the James Bond film Goldfinger, as a child. As a millionaire baker, he has treated himself to Aston Martin DB9, Aston Martin DBS coupé, and Jaguar F-type V8 coupé. Besides the love for cars, his yearning for a bit of anonymity is what pushed him into taking up motor car racing as a passion. "When I come here with a helmet on with a mirrored visor, no one knows who I am. My name’s on the car but that flashes by. For the first time I can be me, doing things I want to do for me, not for everybody else," he told The Sunday Times.
Ginger biscuits and rolls were Paul Hollywood’s first bakes
Paul Hollywood grew up in a family where both his mom and dad baked well. Even outside his house, at the church, he saw "a lot of cakes, bread and predominantly, tray bakes" he recounts in his book A Baker’s Life. On Saturdays, his mom would make fruit pie with freshly-picked apples, rhubarb or pears; his dad would bake bread rolls. Hollywood helped out at his dad’s bakery, filling doughnuts with jam, and making tea.
Among his earliest memories of baking with his family is making ginger biscuits with his mom and rolls with his dad. He told NPR: "I must’ve been six, possibly seven years old, and my mum used to make them [ginger biscuits] quite a lot, actually, mainly over the weekend." Hollywood describes them as cookie-like and delicious. "They really were the first time I ever baked. … And that, with a cup of tea, is difficult to beat," he said.
Hollywood also has a vivid memory of making rolls with his dad, when he was just 10 years old. He told What’s On TV, "It was a Saturday afternoon and we had Dickie Davies on. I still remember the taste and smell as they came out of the oven. It was one of the best rolls I’ve ever had."
Paul Hollywood earns nine times more than his Bake Off co-stars
Money is always a touchy topic. When you realize your colleague makes more than you, it’s worse. So when The Sun reported that Paul Hollywood earned nine times more than his The Great British Baking Show co-stars, one can only imagine the discomfort inside the Bake-Off tent. But it’s fair to note that Hollywood is the only one in the team who has been with the show since its inception. Prue Leith, Hollywood’s fellow judge, and hosts Sandi Toksvig (Matt Lucas replaced Toksvig in 2020) and Noel Fielding came in much later. The report stated that Hollywood’s main company HJP Media LLP was valued at about $9 million last year while his other firm Paul Hollywood Limited made a profit of nearly $2.3 million, meaning he’s currently worth over $11 million. This is significantly large compared to Fielding’s earnings of about $1 million and Toksvig’s roughly $226,000.
Hollywood used to earn about $128,000 a year, for his appearance as a co-judge on The Great British Baking Off, when it aired on BBC. In 2016, when the series moved to Channel 4, Hollywood’s colleagues quit as a sign of loyalty towards BBC. Not Hollywood. One could say, his loyalties lay where the pastry was. He was, however, criticized for following the money. His salary increased to about $500,000 a year after the show moved to Channel 4.
Paul Hollywood has written a series of best-selling books
Paul Hollywood has earned a lot of dough by printing books about kneading dough. And this was even before he was riding on the success of The Great British Baking Show. His first book, 100 Great Breads, came out in 2005 and was termed the "Top Bread and Pastry Book" by The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. It was published in 10 countries in seven languages, via Paul Hollywood’s official website.
After The Great British Baking Show was launched in 2010, Hollywood made nearly $8 million in book sales in the first five years. During this period, he wrote four books, which sold 593,000 copies. His book, How to Bake, which came out in 2012 alone made close to $3 million in sales, per Daily Mail.
Paul Hollywood quite strategically released books that rode on the coattails of his successful series. Paul Hollywood’s British Baking came out in 2014, coinciding with his appearance on TV. Paul Hollywood’s Bread coincided with his series Bread on BBC, and Pies and Puds came out when his series Pies and Puds was airing on BBC in 2013, according to PaulHollywood.com.
Paul Hollywood never wanted to be on television
Paul Hollywood always worked behind the scenes, crafting the best scone within the four walls of the kitchen, until a television opportunity came banging on the door. One television show led to another, and before he knew it, there were features about his hair and handshakes. But did Hollywood want any of this? As it turns out, no.
He described himself as a shy person to Daily Express. "The guy on TV is the guy I hide behind. I do get stage fright. I am shaking till I walk out and then this twin takes over. Obviously, you are there to teach but you can’t just stand there spouting instructions. You’ve got to entertain people and it’s hard work. I am exhausted at the end."
When BBC lost the contract for The Great British Baking Show, Hollywood stayed while his colleagues quit in a show of loyalty. Because of this, Hollywood told Radio Times in 2017: "I became the most hated man in the country! It’s not fun for someone that doesn’t like being in the limelight. I didn’t set out to be on the telly, I set out to be a good baker. And I didn’t want this."
Paul Hollywood is a fan of historic properties
Paul Hollywood is an old soul. He is fascinated by things that come with a baggage of history. Like ancient bread-baking techniques of Cyprus, Egypt and, Jordan; a 12th-century church — a UNESCO World Heritage site — in Paphos, Cyprus, where he got married; or a two-decade-old F1 racing car that he restored after spending several thousands of dollars.
Home is where the heart is, they say. And since his heart is stuck in medieval times, his first property was a 13th-century house, in Canterbury, Kent. The four-bed property, with its 600-year-old lead windows, terracotta flooring in the kitchen, and a medieval front door, was one of the oldest private homes in the United Kingdom, according to Ideal Home.
In the UK, houses that are of historic value are given a particular grade (Grade 1 or 2) depending on when they were built and if they are of special interest. Grade 1 are the buildings of the highest significance and include those such as The Buckingham Palace. Hollywood’s Kent home was a Grade 1 property as well.
He had bought it for over $1 million in 2004 and put it up for sale after 12 years, before moving to a Grade 2 listed building. Hollywood shelled out over $1.85 million to buy the 16th-century five-bedroom house, which came with a private orchard and vegetable garden, per Scottish Daily.