Meet the fireman who’s making his passion for baking look as easy as pie

Belinda Raitt 3

Great British Bake Off star and fireman Mat Riley became a hot favourite with TV audiences, and lasted seven out of ten weeks under the ever-critical eyes of judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, in last year’s hugely successful series.

Ever since, the Tunbridge Wells resident has been steadily building a celebrity baker profile while still working as a fireman.

Impressively, when he arrived on The Pantiles bandstand stage to do his food demonstration at 2pm at Food Festival earlier this summer, the 37 year old had only just finished a shift at his East Greenwich fire station at 5.30am.

And he even managed to pre-bake some cranberry, pistachio and white chocolate biscotti for his appearance in between.

Chatting to the crowd, and festival host Anna Lambert, Mat said doing Bake Off had been huge fun, but also very stressful, and that he only entered for a laugh never thinking he would get on the show.

“I applied as a bit of a joke,” he revealed. “I was a really big fan of the show but had only been baking for a couple of years. I was watching it with the guys at the fire station and they suggested I applied so I did, but I never thought I’d get on there.

“In the Fire Service, anything you do you have to buy cakes. If it’s your birthday, if you are late, if you pass your fitness test, you buy cakes…

“So in the end I started making my own, which was a bit of a novelty really, and that’s where it all started.

“I had probably only baked about 20 things before I applied to the show, so I was very underprepared. But I kept getting through the rounds and finally ended up in the tent. So I thought I’d better learn how to bake properly!”

But newbie Mat found it hard to find time to hone his skills between shows. “I was learning all the time, and as much as you want to practice at home, we had a lot going on.

“My wife was pregnant and we were moving house in Tunbridge Wells so I didn’t get the chance to practice half as much as I would have liked to.

“Some of the things I did were only the second time I had made them.”

Despite the odd soggy bottom or two this didn’t dampen Mat’s enthusiasm. Far from it, as he has now launched his own YouTube Channel (MatRileyBakes) to showcase his best recipes.

“Luckily, I work four days off and four days on, so I get a good amount of time to bake, and doing the YouTube Channel was a way of getting my recipes across rather than writing a book.

“You can show textures, colours and consistency, and what something’s going to look like, and when I was learning to bake that was really important to me. My wife Alex films and edits it, so it’s like a cottage industry!”

Mat’s wife is Alex Beard, a former BBC South East Today presenter. Their son Reuben was born last year.

Despite their life becoming busier than ever due to their new arrival, Mat is still landing plenty of baking gigs in between fire shifts.

“I love doing TV,” he says. “It would be nice to do more. And I have done a couple of pop-up restaurants at the Old Fire Station in Tonbridge, which was good fun.”

Mat was also recently chosen to bake a cake for the London Fire Brigade’s 150th anniversary. “It was a real honour. It was for an open day in Soho, which is one of the biggest fire stations in Europe.”

Naturally it was a fire engine cake: “It had the siren and everything. It was a lemon Madeira and it was big. It went down very well.”

During his demo at The Pantiles Food Festival Mat revealed a few Bake Off insider secrets.

“You don’t really socialise with Paul and Mary, they just come in and judge. But you can’t get away from Mel and Sue – they are always there, which is brilliant because it is such a stressful environment.

“I know that sounds weird from somebody who does my job, but Mel and Sue really liven everything up and you have a good laugh.”

Matt told the Pantiles audience that he had just been reunited with the Bake Off team to film a special edition.

“It was great. I was back at the tent doing the Class of 2015, which is going out as part of this year’s series.”

Watch out for him when you tune in for the return of The Great British Bake Off next Wednesday, August 24, on BBC One.

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