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TravelGuides – Giuseppe Dell’Anno: ‘I thought Bake Off was going to be a nightmare’ | The Great British Bake Off

TravelGuides – Giuseppe Dell’Anno: ‘I thought Bake Off was going to be a nightmare’ | The Great British Bake Off

It was a grand slam for Italy – winners of Eurovision and Euro 2020 – this week, as Giuseppe Dell’Anno triumphed in The Great British Bake Off. The 45-year-old engineer – with his precise, impeccable English; his Bristolian life; wife and three sons; and his unbelievably tidy workstation – never thought of himself as a showman. “Whenever I do a Myers-Briggs [personality] test,” he tells me the morning after the final airs, “I come out as a massive introvert. Nothing gives me more energy than locking myself in a room and working on my own. When I got into Bake Off, I thought: ‘This is going to be a nightmare.’”

But cameras, audiences and – most importantly – the judges loved him. Twice awarded star baker – once for some milk bread that looked like vegetables, again for a German cake that looked like an alien invasion on the brink of victory – to the uninitiated, his creations may have seemed as elaborate as those of any Bake Off winner. “But one of the comments that Paul often gave me,” he recalls, of those moments before a Hollywood Handshake, “was that my bakes were ‘rather simple but very effective’. That is the way I work. I would rather spend time doing something small, and doing it very well, than venture into something complicated.”

Giuseppe Dell’Anno is a lovely man, but why are they always so lovely, the cast of Bake Off, series after series? Is the genius in the casting: a nationwide manhunt for the 12 nicest people in the land? Or is there something about being creative and engrossed that brings out the best in everybody? It’s all about losing yourself, he says. “On Bake Off, the focus is on the bakes. You’re just the medium through which the bake comes to life. So that’s probably why there’s no bickering. That makes it very sweet, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

This sweetness is what makes the show, and it appears to be very genuine indeed. Dell’Anno is full of affection for Chigs Parmar, the frontrunner. “While we were doing practice bakes, Crystelle [Pereira] was always first to arrive in the tent, I was second or third. Chigs would show up at 11am, play in the kitchen for two hours tops, and nail it the next day.” Despite speaking on the phone, I could almost hear him close his eyes as he rapturously described Pereira’s talents. “I couldn’t believe how good she was at combining flavours. When she made that focaccia: how do you put together grapes, fennel and goat’s cheese with vinegar and make that work? It was to die for.” And then there was Jürgen Krauss, knocked out in the semi-finals, to the blank astonishment of an audience who thought, reasonably enough, that anyone who could make a windmill out of biscuit that thin had surely made a pact with the devil. “The sheer baking knowledge he’s managed to shove into his head is phenomenal,” says Dell’Anno.

Mr Precise ... Giuseppe in the Great British Bake Off final.
Mr Precise … Giuseppe in the Great British Bake Off final. Photograph: Channel 4

It was a Covid-restricted set, with contestants living in a bubble and many going long stretches without seeing their families, so it is no wonder that they became close. But what is a wonder is how they got these long absences past their loved ones to begin with, particularly Dell’Anno, who has three sons, aged five, seven and nine. He hadn’t even told his wife, Laura, that he had entered Bake Off until he got the call to say he was on the show. “She said: ‘This is one of the many bonkers things you’ve done,’ but there was never any friction, only incredulity. I’ve always had a phenomenal respect for my wife – especially after seeing childbirth – but when I realised how selflessly she was supporting me, I had the realisation that I’m the luckiest man on Earth.”

While his performance on the show was impressive, it wasn’t all plain sailing. On the night of the final, everything went wrong. He lost 15 minutes when his oven door wasn’t properly closed, plus the other two looked exceedingly strong and had started assembling their showstoppers while he was still baking toadstools. And yet, he made it through. After nine rounds, he was accustomed to moments of being thwarted – his signature gesture was putting his head in his hands – and says that life as an engineer had prepared him (“I’m used to very difficult customers and stressful situations”). What he had anticipated finding hardest in the tent wasn’t the challenges but the hubbub – scores of people around, constant human stimuli, topped off with Noel Fielding in your grill asking you to kiss a spatula. And OK, maybe Noel was a bit distracting, but not in the way he had set out to be. “Noel and Matt are very considerate: their job is to be an ‘entertaining nuisance’ but they never intentionally bother you,” he says. “But in the early weeks, there was a part of my brain that kept telling me: that’s Noel Fielding right there, talking to you. It took me a while to adjust to having celebrities around me.”

‘It took a while to adjust to having celebrities around me’ ... Giuseppe with Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas.
‘It took a while to adjust to having celebrities around me’ … Giuseppe with Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas. Photograph: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions

However, the rest of the frenzy was a revelation to Dell’Anno. “It was all so pleasurable and natural,” he says. “It made me realise that I can show my true self on national television without any fear or trepidation. People usually leave the tent with more confidence in baking – I’ve left the tent with more confidence in being my true self in every single aspect of life. It’s a very big thing to say about a baking show, but that’s the truth.”

His plans for the future are perhaps atypical for a Bake Off winner, at least in so far as he doesn’t want to change jobs (he has just accepted a job in Milan, in fact, where he is originally from, and is commuting between the UK and Italy). In the end, this has been “a validation exercise on a spectacular scale”, but he is “a very conscious person … I’ve got a mortgage to pay and three kids to feed, and also it took me a long time and a lot of effort to build up an engineering career,” he says. “I’m not ready to give that up.”

Yet there is one Bake Off-adjacent project he does want to do, which is to publish a book of family recipes. (“Give them to posterity, if you like, mostly for the legacy that I took from my dad.”) He dedicated his win to his father, and says that it took him years to realise that the cakes he had made every Sunday were “effectively his vocabulary, his way of being close to people. When you have that sort of epiphany, you realise how lovely it has been.”

Brexit hovers at the edge of the conversation: its practical implications for Dell’Anno, and why it feels so peculiarly right – and so totally Bake Off – to see an Italian win, a salve to our thwarted Europhilia. While Dell’Anno loves his home town in Italy, he says he misses the UK when he is there, and vice versa. “I have to learn to live with this, because once you’ve left your home country, it’s bittersweet. You’ll never be at home anywhere, but your horizons expand. It’s so rich.”

TravelGuides – Giuseppe Dell’Anno: ‘I thought Bake Off was going to be a nightmare’ | The Great British Bake Off