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Alex Hollywood talks about making bread with the zeal of a recent convert.
She never knew how easy it could be before.
Or how therapeutic to channel all of life’s frustrations into some vigorous kneading.
So when did she start baking bread, properly? ‘Just over a year ago. I never really needed to before.’
So, let’s just clarify, she never made bread for her husband (her soon-to-be-ex being, of course, The Great British Bake Off’s Paul Hollywood, perhaps Britain’s most famous baker)? ‘No, never,’ she says. ‘But I make it now!’
Just over a year ago was when the Hollywood marriage fell apart for good.
It was one of the saddest splits in showbiz; particularly savage on Alex, who insists she had always been loyal to the man who wooed her with freshly baked croissants when he was a complete unknown.
Alex Hollywood, 54, spoke about the future of her career and home life following her divorce from TV Bake Off star Paul Hollywood whom she was married to for twenty years
There had been a very public hiccup in their 20-year marriage back in 2013, when ole blue eyes Paul had gone Stateside to film the US version of Bake Off, and promptly embarked on an affair with his pretty young co-judge, Marcela Valladolid, then aged 34.
Alex, 54, says she swallowed the hurt, then, because of their teenage son Josh, and because ‘it was the right thing to do’.
She rephrases that. ‘Because I believed I was doing the right thing. I did, absolutely.’
Paul was quick, that time, with the mea culpa.
Once his betrayal had hit the headlines, he apologised profusely, saying it was the biggest mistake of his life, and pointing out ‘actually, I still love my wife’.
Alex, although devastated – she said later ‘It was the one time in my life when I stopped eating and cooking’ – gave him another chance because, as she insists today, ‘I think everybody’s entitled to one mistake.’
Emphasis on the ‘one’.
His second affair, though, brought down the curtains on their marriage.
This one happened pretty much on the doorstep, which somehow made it worse.
This conquest was even younger too – aged 23 to his 52 years.
Paul struck up a liaison with barmaid Summer Monteys-Fullam at the local pub in Kent while arranging a birthday party for Alex.
Tongues were wagging locally before the gossip reached the national newspapers.
Within weeks, the pair would be snapped on holiday together with Summer making a rather ill-advised comment on social media that Paul had turned her ‘from a girl into a woman’.
It was hastily deleted. But imagine being the wife in this scenario. Perhaps it was inevitable that she could not forgive again.
‘That one was different,’ Alex concedes, of the second affair. ‘It happened again and it was a done deal, my marriage was over.
‘From the minute I knew, it was over.’
She stumbles over her tenses a little. ‘It is over. There is nothing.’
She says she could not forgive again, even though the consequences – pulling the rug from under her feet, pretty much – were so vast.
Today she speaks with a sense of disbelief.
‘It’s such a big thing to comprehend, to end a marriage. But I had to do the right thing, and to have self-respect as well.’
The sense of shock – and survival, interestingly enough – is still palpable today, as she clangs pots and pans around in the kitchen they once shared.
Alex (pictured with Paul in 2015 at the National Television Awards in London) chose to end her marriage after Paul’s second affair and said she did so for her self-respect
It’s a vast and well-appointed space, but homely too.
The kitchen is the heart of any home, particularly so theirs.
They met in more exotic climes – she was working as a scuba-diving instructor in a hotel in Cyprus; he was the resident baker.
She’s said to have helped get him his first role in television, when a production company approached a hotel she worked for looking for a good face to feature and she encouraged them to look at him.
Before fame crept in, they made a formidable team.
‘We did. A great team. He was excellent out in front and I was always very good behind the scenes.
‘At home he was the baker, but I was the cook.’
They both always said that food brought them together. She is a natural hostess.
She is making our lunch today and there’s French onion soup followed by a rather decadent white-chocolate bread and butter-type pudding, devised by her to use up all those baked goods her husband would bring home.
‘This one came about when Paul had lots of stale croissants. I hate anything going to waste.’
What a team indeed. And what a pickle she has now been left in. You see, Alex was a food writer, with a promising career.
She has brought out two cookbooks, although book number two, Cooking Tonight, came out with little fanfare in 2017.
She admits today that she did not promote it as much as she might have, because she knew that would invite more speculation.
In a nutshell, she parked her own cookery career to focus on their marriage.
‘There was a lot of attention on his first affair, so I thought maybe it was better if I focused more on getting us back together, back on the right road, I mean.
‘So yes, I probably did put the brakes on it [her food writing] a little.’
Today, with a career to rebuild as well as a home life, she is inching back into the public arena. What a tricky route for her to negotiate, though.
I think everybody’s entitled to one mistake
Her recipes – which we are featuring in Weekend today – are all about family and memory and shared experience.
She says, and genuinely means, things like, ‘Cooking, for me, has always been something you do for your family and people you love.’
Even if she wanted to erase her husband from the conversation – she doesn’t – it would be hard.
He has said himself the thing that really brought them together was a love of food.
‘You can still be a family after a divorce,’ she counters.
‘I like having a houseful. I love the hustle and bustle when friends and family get together. It was always like that.
‘I learned to cook watching my mother and grandmother do it, and then obviously being married to somebody who was very much involved in food added another dimension.
‘I had the understanding of how a proper kitchen works, and that thing of enjoying foods and discussing foods.
‘It’s what I’ve always done with my family.
‘It’s what I did during my marriage. Now, when my son and I go out to eat, we’ll discuss the food endlessly.’
Since the split, she has never cooked more.
‘For me, it’s quite therapeutic. I can think while I’m cooking.
Alex (pictured posing for her cookbook ‘Cooking Tonight’) revealed she learnt to cook by watching her mother and grandmother, before marrying Paul who was very much involved with food
‘Some people go and play tennis or go for a run. For me, I’ll put together some food and be thinking about flavours that work.
‘It’s comfort eating.
‘People think comfort eating is about stuffing your face with food that isn’t very good for you, but actually, you’re nourishing yourself with things that are going to make you feel nice, happy, bring back good memories.
‘For me, food is a positive thing. Making it offers a calm time. It’s a quiet time.’
There are changes to the menu, though.
‘Since Paul went I don’t cook as much red meat, so probably more fish and salads.’
She can’t win when it comes to publicly sharing her foodie expertise, though.
I put the brakes on my career to save my marriage
After news of her husband’s new relationship broke, she Tweeted a recipe called Summer Berry Tart, using the hash-tag #easy. You can imagine how that was interpreted.
She rolls her eyes. ‘It was a recipe. I didn’t actually say “easy Summer tart”.
‘People wanted it to be that, but it really wasn’t.’
It would have been quite clever, though.
‘Oh it would have been very funny, but what’s the point in mud-slinging? There’s a child involved – my son will always be my baby.
‘When something breaks down, there is hurt.’
Alex and Paul (pictured together earlier in their marriage) met while she was working as a scuba-diving instructor in a hotel in Cyprus where he was the resident baker
The public nature of that hurt is stinging, but in this case the gossip was local too. I ask if it is hard to read about your marriage in the tabloids.
She says it is as hard to know everyone in the village is talking about it, too.
‘Everybody knew. Everyone knows me. They all knew Paul.
‘It’s a small community. Everyone knows what went on.’
She is working on her next collection of recipes but after spending a few hours in her company, you can’t help wish Alex Hollywood would come up with another sort of book too – one where the recipes involve how to stay dignified when your husband runs off with a barmaid young enough to be his daughter.
This is a woman who manages to convey the shock of having her life come crashing down around her, while still staying very much in survivor mode.
When we retire to the sitting room to talk about where she goes from here, she is painfully honest about how her emotions still fluctuate wildly.
‘Well, it is a grieving process, isn’t it,’ she says.
‘It’s grieving for your marriage. It’s grieving for something that’s dead. Finished. Don’t forget, I was married for nearly 20 years – most of my adult life.
‘I never expected it would end. Who does?’
She talks in terms of milestones reached, painful anniversaries survived.
‘The first year was a big thing – all those firsts. The first summer, winter, birthdays, all that sort of thing. You do get stronger. You realise that actually you can get through it.’
She doesn’t rage about her ex, or about what is lost, but that makes it all the more affecting.
‘I think it’s so hard to stay married these days, because everything is so moveable, so transient.
‘People don’t take things… well, they think of marriage in a different way than they did in my parents’ time.
‘I just think it’s sad, because there’s an awful lot more to marriage than just two people hooking up because they like each other.
Paul had a fling with Marcela Valladolid (pictured together) who he met while starring in the US version of Bake Off back in 2013, his co-judge was age 34 at the time
‘It’s about friendship. And so you’ve got to think it’s about the end of a friendship as well, and I find that really sad.
‘When you’re married for so long you build up a background, don’t you? You have a history, you have a common goal.
‘There’s an endgame, and all the time you never think that somewhere along the line, it’s going to… go.’
When such a long marriage ends, there can be a loss of identity involved.
Presumably this is heightened if you are Mrs Paul Hollywood? She says she doesn’t want to get into the subject of whether her husband’s fame went to his head.
From her perspective, she always tried to stay ‘ordinary’.
‘Well, I don’t know if it is much different, because I didn’t embrace that side. I didn’t do many red carpet things.
‘I was quite ordinary. But many women go through this.
‘A lot of my friends have, and you do wonder, “How am I going to get through this?” As much as you want to sit there and pull the covers over your head, you’ve got to get up, get on with it.
‘You’ve got to. You can only go forward, not back.’
It is obviously utterly disorientating, though.
‘You have this book of your life, and you think you know, roughly, how it will go, then it all gets tossed in the air and you’re left with just a blank A4 sheet.’
She insists she didn’t wallow, and she didn’t drive herself mad with the ‘what ifs’.
‘I don’t want to be the victim here,’ she says.
In a perverse way, the first affair – and her calm outward handling of it, even in the midst of deep hurt – made her convinced she had done her utmost to save her marriage.
That one always sounded like the classic case of the middle-aged man, suddenly famous, losing his marbles for a while.
Alex (pictured in Weekend magazine) revealed she doesn’t regret her marriage to Paul as she has a wonderful son and had the opportunity to visit wonderful places
He was reportedly smitten with his US co-judge Marcela – described as a ‘sexy senorita’ by fans.
The feeling was mutual, with her referring to him as a ‘handsome devil’.
The fling was just that, though, and when he went back to his wife he was full of remorse. Or so it seemed.
Then came affair number two. Alex says she wasn’t prepared for it.
‘It was a shock, yes. I think everyone was shocked. Our friends were so pleased that we were trying again, after the last time.’
Did she do the classic wife thing of blaming herself? She says not.
‘Look, I did everything I felt I could do. You can say, “What if, what if? What if I’d done that? What if I was younger, older, fatter, thinner, cooked more, cooked less” – whatever. It is what it is. There is just no point.
‘What you’ve got to hold onto is the reality, which is that the affair is not about the person who is not having the affair – it’s about the one who is.
‘So it’s not about me. I have got my head around that.’
She refuses to go into any detail on the nitty gritty of what happened, when and why.
There are many questions she can’t, or simply won’t answer, either out of respect for her son’s feelings or because there are divorce proceedings underway.
Anything about the terms of the divorce settlement (which will see the pair battle over a rumoured £10 million fortune) are batted back with a brisk ‘I can’t go there’.
Nor does she want to talk about Summer, or the home she is reportedly moving into with Paul.
Indeed, not once does she refer to her by name.
‘I don’t see that there’s any point in discussing her at all.’
Some questions are not fully answered, and still hover in the air.
At one point I ask if there were other affairs she was aware of in the marriage, before the two reported ones.
‘I can’t answer that,’ she says, sharply.
In the interests of fairness, I ask if she was faithful.
‘Absolutely. I took my marriage very seriously.
‘But it’s not just about people saying, “Oh, were you a good wife?” Any marriage is about respect and loyalty and friendship.
‘Also self-respect, and I respect myself.’
Given the way things panned out, does she now regret giving Paul that second chance? She insists not.
‘There were people who said I shouldn’t have taken him back in the first place, but for me it was the right decision. I had to do everything I could to keep my family together.
‘I truly believe at the end of the day, when you are there brushing your teeth in the mirror, you need to be able to look at yourself and say, “Have I done my best?” And if you can, then you are OK.’
The bottom line was clearly that she wanted to protect her son for as long as was possible.
‘If you have children, especially as a woman, you think of a unit. You lose the ability to be selfish once you have children.
‘You start thinking as a collective, and nine times out of ten what is right for you is right for the collective, because you’re the linchpin.’
Josh, she says, is the reason she can’t regret her marriage.
‘How can I regret it? I have the most wonderful son and I’ve been to the most wonderful places, and done the most wonderful things.
‘There are a lot of positives out there. So no, I don’t regret it, and I don’t think you should regret things.
‘On top of that, I have lost friends to cancer and that sort of thing makes you think, “Well, I’m lucky. I’m here.”
‘Women of our age, we go through things and you think, “OK, God. I’m healthy. I’m fit, I can go and do all these things I want to do now.
‘You could sit at home and look out of the window and think, “I’m sad,” or you can get out there and live your life.
‘A lot of people go through divorce and it’s horrible.
‘Splitting up is awful. But you can survive it, you can get through.
‘You can start saying, “I’m still here. I’m me. I have a life. I’m 54. Life’s not over yet.”’
Her husband has clearly moved on, and she’s trying to do so too – just at a different pace.
The subject of becoming romantically involved again is raised.
‘I think I have to be at ease with this situation first, and just enjoy being me, but eventually, yes of course it would be nice.
‘I don’t know about being married again, but definitely I’d like to start dating. But not yet.’
What about trusting another man? ‘I can’t think that far ahead. Going through this is quite consuming and just being able to get out the other side would be good.’
She says herself she is getting there.
At times she sounds quite excited about the possibilities ahead.
She half-jokes about taking up scuba diving again.
‘Sometimes it seems quite scary to be in this position but there’s a little part of me that thinks, “Do you know, this might be quite interesting.” And it could be.’
She says she is ‘naturally a glass-half-full person’, predisposed to seizing the positive.
It’s particularly tragic then that, shortly after our interview, she received the devastating news that her older brother Simon had been killed in a plane crash in Spain.
Father-of-two Simon Moores, 62, ran an aircraft banner business in Kent, and had appeared as an aviation expert on the BBC and Sky News.
He and his co-pilot, David Hockings, died when their aircraft went down in thick fog near the town of Errezil, after reportedly having asked air traffic control for a change of route.
At the time of writing, Alex had been plunged into funeral arrangements.
When I ask if she’d like to talk about the tragedy, she says it’s just too soon.
Professionally, her cookery writing is now her focus, though, and she’s only too aware that her recent domestic troubles make her a very real role model.
‘I was – still am, just about – married to someone who is very famous, who is on TV, but at the end of the day my life was about the normality.
‘In terms of writing cookery books, normal is OK. There is room for that.
‘At one end of the spectrum you have food writers who go for the extravagant recipes.
‘At the other, you have someone like the amazing Jack Monroe, the Bootstrap Cook [known for her recipes done on a tight budget]. I’m somewhere in the middle.
‘I’m a mum first and foremost and I’ve also gone through a bit of ****.’
(Ever the mum, she finishes this sentence by saying, ‘You can’t use that word.’)
The shared surname, of course, will mean that any future cookery books will be placed next to her ex’s in the bookshops.
Has she considered ditching the name along with the husband?
‘It’s my son’s name, and I don’t want to have a different name to my son.
‘And I’ve been Alex Hollywood for 20 years, so no.’
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