Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite explains why and how he'll be supporting Mind's Happy Monday campaign.
Baking has always been a big part of my life. I started baking with my mum when I was very little and it has helped me through some difficult times. My parents divorced when I was seven and baking was something that helped me to take my mind off things. Leaving home for university was tough and I had a deep period of depression – again baking was something I did to escape and settle.
Baking was my therapy. The whole process is very positive. When you have this destructive energy – which is how depression feels to me – you can either go further into that downward spiral or you can channel that energy into something constructive. That’s why I go into the kitchen. It’s about organisation and control, and when you’re feeling whirly and whizzy, it enables you to operate in a sort of slow-burning way. Baking enables you to step into control.
Baking is also a lot of fun and has allowed me to follow my dreams. Appearing on The Great British Bake Off was an incredible experience which taught me a lot. I learned not to take things too seriously and accept that things go wrong. You’ve just got to go with these things and learn from them.
Bake Off opened lots of doors for me and has enabled me to publish two books, which I could never have dreamed of. I’m also in a position to be able to open up about my own experience. A few people have messaged me to say they’ve suffered really severely or they’ve lost someone so I can see how important it is that people in the public eye speak out.
Mind’s new fundraising initiative, Happy Monday, is all about having fun on March 10th. Monday has a bad reputation and through Happy Monday we’re saying, “reclaim the day”! Do something different, have fun – and raise money so that Mind, the mental health charity I support, can continue to help the 1 in 4 people who experience mental health problems every year.
You don’t have to be an events expert to hold a fundraiser. You can do anything – a collection at work or a dress down day. Of course I’m going to say that you can hold a bake sale! Whatever you do, have fun with it and get your friends, family and colleagues involved.
Baking can be amazing. The basic act of making something delicious with your own hands feels so rewarding - and it can be sociable as well. Just the simple act of having a cup of tea and a big piece of cake with a friend, or taking a yummy tin of biscuits into work, brings people together. In turn this helps combat some of the feelings of isolation that can be so overwhelming when you’re having a bad day.
As part of this campaign, Mind asked me to choose my favourite recipe, but I can’t! They say love doesn’t divide, it multiplies, and that’s how I feel about recipes. The ones that can bring real comfort to me are often simple though: melting chocolate over simmering water, making brownies or scones. Those recipes don’t take much thought: it’s hypnotic.
I still have the odd day when I feel low. But the thing that works for me is to have a plan for the next day. If I give in to my demons, it gets worse. But if I make a plan, which always involves baking, I feel revived.
I still cook with my family when I can. We get very competitive though – my big sister in particular. We have our own impromptu family bake-offs. And the situation I’m in now, is bliss. I love it. I bake every day. Every single day.
John’s new cookbook, John Whaite Bakes At Home, is published by Headline in March. His first book, John Whaite Bakes: Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood, is available now.