From Cakes to Cambridge: Interview with Freya Watson

The girl that knows GBBO and GDBO all too well

10 year old me could just about make herself pasta; maybe even some fairy cupcakes if she tried. But at this age Freya Watson, now a third-year student at Murray Edwards, was baking up a storm in the kitchen. So much so that she even managed to impress  Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. In 2011, Freya Watson became the first-ever winner of Junior Bake Off. Ten years later, she’s somewhat put down the mixing bowl and is now studying Economics. I spoke to her over Zoom.

“I was ten at the time … I’d just watched a bit of Blue Peter and then the next advert came on. It asked ‘Are you a keen baker? Are you interested in being on a TV show? Then you should apply for Junior Bake Off’.” That was all it took to get Freya interested in applying and to be fair, I think most of us relished in the idea of fame when we were 10.

After going to the BBC website, filling out a form, attaching “a little picture” and sending it off in the post (wow, these really were the olden days!), Freya was, pardon the pun, in the mix of contestants. Maybe even an early believer of manifestation, Freya said she “literally remembers that evening dreaming that I [she] won [Bake Off]”.

The way Freya found out that she’d made it to the next round of the application may be even more dramatic than the show itself. “This receptionist came into my class and said ‘Freya, your mum’s on the phone.’ … I was like ‘Oh my God! What’s happened?’. Turns out they wanted me to do a telephone interview!”

Freya with her best concentration face on (Image Credit: Freya Watson)

Freya aced that round and made it to the final round– a taste and screen test in London. She brought along some bakes for some experts, who weren’t Paul and Mary, to try as well as taking the screen test “to check you weren’t really awkward or shy on TV”. And that was it, Freya was going to be on the telly.

I asked Freya to compare her Bake Off interviews to her Cambridge ones. She replied, “I think going into Bake Off, I was young and I hadn’t really prepared. I didn’t really know what to expect so I think I was less nervous.” In contrast, she had to “hype” herself up a lot more for the Cambridge interview. However, she did feel that “being on Bake Off and having to deal with that amount of stress as a 10-year-old probably did do me [her] quite well to get through the Cambridge interview and keep my [her] cool”.

She also admitted that she cried quite a few times in Bake Off, as well as after her first interview. I’m sure lots of us can relate to the latter, and maybe have had a few tears or angry moments while whipping up our favourite meals or bakes.

Next, Freya compared the time pressure and stresses of Cambridge and Bake Off. She said, “ I think time wise on Bake Off when you’re trying to finish a challenge it’s really stressful, especially when the cameras are all there and you’re doing it under different conditions than you would at home. Whereas at Cambridge, I always miss deadlines because you kind of know it’s okay to go over [the deadline]”.  I’m not sure if her supervisors would agree with that one…

After taking exams, either online or in person, we know the pressure that comes from the time constraint. Yet, my first-year papers seem just a little less scary than what Freya faced on Junior Bake Off. “On the first show I was in, I was way too ambitious,” Freya began, “I made these Halloween cookies and didn’t decorate them in time. Then there’s the bit on the show when the presenter’s like ‘Time’s up!’ and I’m still like ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God’ trying to decorate them and then they say ‘that means you [Freya] too!’”.

This looks like some contraption that the engineers would make… (Image Credit: Freya Watson)

After hearing this experience of Freya’s, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask if the baking is really as time-pressured as they make it seem on the show. Letting us in on some more insider secrets, Freya admitted that “In my semi-final, I was a lot better with timing, but they made it seem like in the show that I was working right up to the last minute”. If only the same dramatic editing could be done with my exams, instead of the last-minute stress being a reality…

As Freya is a student at Medwards, she is lucky enough to have ovens and hobs, which means she does a lot of cooking for herself. However, she opts for baking over cooking time-intensive meals. The day before our interview she’d made a cake that didn’t go quite to plan.

“It was my friend Hannah’s birthday so I made a carrot cake. Everyone took the piss out of me because I was really, really not pleased with the icing. It was lumpy! … Sometimes I’m like ‘This is not reflective of my abilities!’”. I’ve definitely made that excuse when my essay comes back with some gut-wrenching feedback.

Unfortunately, Freya’s Bake Off success didn’t stay secret at Medwards for long. “I knew someone at College from when I was younger. She told my College mum [about Bake Off], who literally told the whole year group and by the time I got here I was kind of known as Bake Off girl.” I would argue that there are far worse names to be called, but I’m glad there are no achievements from my past that have raised people’s expectations of me!

Probably the biggest thing I achieved at primary school was getting my 50m swimming badge… I’m also glad not to be in the firing line when someone says “Fine if you were on TV as a child”– something that Freya experienced a lot during swaps in her first year.

Freya now :O (Image Credit: Freya Watson)

At this stage, I know what you’re thinking– “What should I bring to Cambridge if I’m a keen baker?” Well, Freya suggests (if you have an oven): a set of sandwich tins, a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon, a spatula and weighing scales.

She reckons you can even do without the hand whisk, as long as you’re well equipped with baking powder so you don’t have to “whip the living daylights out of the cake mixture!” Freya and I can agree that there is at least one perk of being at a Hill College – most have ovens, which is great if you are an avid baker.

Freya’s clearly still got good taste (Image Credit: Freya Watson)

Despite being champion of the baking tent, Freya is not so much of a chef. When asked what her go-to student meal is to cook, she replied “If I’m feeling peckish, I’ll have potato waffles [cooked] in the toaster.” I think this proves that frankly, all students are pretty lazy with their cooking! Other than that little snack, she doesn’t actually cook that much and tries to make the easiest things possible.

She said her speciality might be “chilli con carne with rice, spinach cheese, avocado, and maybe some yoghurt.” In fact, she rates her cooking ability so lowly that if she were to have a Masterchef competition against the girls in her household she reckons she would rank third out of six. But don’t worry, she still thinks she’d win household Bake Off.

Quite frankly, I think Freya’s got some great successes under her belt. She’s met Mary Berry, won a very famous competition, got into the UK’s best university (objectively xx) and, most importantly, been interviewed by The Tab.

Feature Image Credits: Freya Watson