A GENUINE SHOWSTOPPER
Forget Rahul, Kim-Joy was the real star of last year’s Great British Bake Off. With her debut cookbook about to be released, she tells beyond about dealing with overnight fame, how baking gave her confidence and why lemon drizzle cake can solve most of life’s problems.
W hen the last series of The Great British Bake Off reached the final stages, it had once again delivered some golden TV moments. There was Rahul, the self-doubting research engineer, who was visibly overwhelmed when he became the recipient of the series’ first Hollywood handshake; there was committed carnivore John’s woeful attempts to engage with vegan week and then there was Terry’s gravity defying facial hair. Best of all though there was Kim-Joy.
The baking world’s equivalent of a tiny woodland creature, albeit one whose wardrobe consists entirely of primary colours, the 28 year old quietly emerged as the viewers’ favourite and when she narrowly missed out on being crowned the winner, the general consensus was she’d ‘been robbed’.
Being the runner up though is no bad thing – just ask One Direction and Olly Murs – and by the time Kim-Joy, whose debut cookbook is out this summer, was putting the finishing touches to her final showstopper her life had already changed beyond recognition.
“It was overwhelming how much I was recognised when Bake Off was on,” she says reflecting on the last eight months. “I didn’t go out much. At one point I dyed my hair pink because I thought less people would recognise me, but it didn’t change anything.
“Now it’s a little calmer and although I am still recognised lots, I’ve got used to it and I don’t mind because the people are always so lovely. I never say no to a selfie, even the time I’d just got out of the shower to go to the gym, but I still avoid the supermarket; my partner Nabil tends to go instead.”
Ah yes, the lovely Nabil who popped up several times during the show as Kim-Joy fed him yet another cake in the shape of a tiny cat. The pair met through a shared love of board games and the sudden press interest must have been hard for a couple who appeared to enjoy the quiet life.
“It has been a whirlwind, but of the best kind, I even got to go to Jonathan Ross’s Halloween party,” says Kim-Joy, who shares the presenter’s love of Japanese Manga comics. “The real highlight though is having my own book. With that and my weekly baking column for the Guardian it means I am now dedicated to baking and recipe writing full-time.”
Prior to introducing the world to perfectly iced space turtles and kitten biscuits, Kim-Joy, who lives in between Leeds and York, worked in mental health, helping people with anxiety and depression. Even before Bake Off opened other doors, she was becoming frustrated by a system which too often relies on inflexible diagnoses, but her desire to help others has not been dimmed.
“I would still like to combine baking with mental health, but I want it to be in a creative rather than clinical way. That’s why I have included motivational messages in the book and it’s why I also try to make sure that what I put on social media doesn’t always portray a perfect life. I don’t want people to get a false impression of my life.”
Kim-Joy has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter, 183,000 on Instagram and while much of her feed is dedicated to koala macarons, animal cupcake towers and miniature choux hedgehogs, there’s also a sprinkling of self-help mantras, such as ‘Giving someone a home-made bake, gives you just as much happiness as it gives them’.
Coming from anyone else it might seem like a cynical marketing stunt, but from Kim-Joy it’s heartfelt. Pretty much mute at school, she initially struggled to socialise at university and it was only when she began baking that she found a way to make friends.
“Baking helped my confidence; it was something I could channel my energy into and feel good about doing. When everyone is happy to receive your bakes it really boosts your confidence. It makes you feel useful and liked and that’s what I have always wanted.
“That’s what I wanted to share in the book. I wanted it to look beautiful, but I also wanted to appeal to people with a range of baking experience, so a lot of the recipes have step by step pictures. I want people to find it uplifting.”
Kim-Joy wasn’t born into a family of bakers and neither her English father nor her Malaysian mother had any obvious artistic talents. Quite then where her ability to turn a tiny biscuit into a work of art with just an icing bag came from then she is not sure.
“No one in my family has an artistic bent. My mum has a good eye for detail and she always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. I think if she’d had a different life, she might have ended up doing something creative.”
After a long week or when in need of comfort food, Kim-Joy’s go to cakes are refreshingly old school – a slice of lemon drizzle or a good Victoria sponge, she says, make most situations better. However, with a little practice she is convinced even baking novices can turn out something more complex.
“I would go with the pigfiteroles,” she says when asked which of the bakes from Baking with Kim-Joy she would recommend starting with. “They’re made from choux pastry but that’s pretty easy if you follow the steps.”
Filled with strawberry mousse and drizzled in dark chocolate, there’s little chance most people’s attempt will look at cute as hers. Still, if Kim-Joy taught us anything on Bake Off it was practice makes perfect.