Reports from London indicate that South African-born cooking guru Prue Leith is set to take over from the much-loved Mary Berry on the Great British Bake Off.
We were all shocked to hear that Mary Berry, along with hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, would be leaving the Great British Bake Off (on BBC South Africa) after six years on the hit show earlier this year.
When Love Productions, the company behind the baking show, sold the production rights to Channel 4 over the BBC, where the Bake Off has aired since it began in 2010, Mary announced she wouldn’t follow the show to its new home.
As yet, Channel 4 have been relatively tight lipped about the new version of the show. All we knew was that it was pencilled to return to screens this summer, and that Paul Hollywood would return to his judging duties.
The South African judge who will take over from Mary Berry
There has been much speculation about who will step in to fill the rather big boots of Mary, as well as inimitable hosts Mel and Sue. But now, according to reports, we have an answer to the former question at least: South African-born restaurateur and food writer Prue Leith, is tipped to take Mary’s spot on the judging panel.
The Sun reports that Prue, who has been in a similar role judging the Great British Menu (on BBC South Africa) for the last 11 years, will be taking on judging duties on GBBO as it moves to Channel 4 this summer.
The paper cites sources claiming that the Bake Off bosses see Prue as a “like for like” replacement for Mary Berry due to the pair’s similarities.
Prue, 77, who is the patron of the Prue Leith Chefs Academy in Centurion, Gauteng, is considered to be “practically royalty” in cookery circles, according to The Sun’s sources.
It’s said that the Bake Off bosses hope viewers will love Prue as much as they did Mary Berry due to their similar backgrounds and cooking credentials.
The source added: “Following in Mary’s footsteps is a big challenge. But the producers are confident that Prue has all the attributes.”
Prue Leith’s South African roots
The daughter of once-famous South African actress Margaret Inglis, Prue attended St Mary’s School in Waverly, Johannesburg until the age of 17, when she went to UCT to study a BA. She soon flunked out and convinced her parents to let her go to France to study French at the Sorbonne.
While in France her love affair with cooking began. “My inspiration was the woman I worked for as an au pair: she went to three bakeries each morning – one for the croissants, one for the baguettes and one for the gateau,” she writes on her website www.prue-leith.com
Prue then went to London to study at the renowned cookery school, Le Cordon Bleu.
Prue’s business career
In 1960, she started a catering business and opened her Michelin-starred restaurant in 1969. In 1975 she founded Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London.
Leith was married for 38 years to South African author Rayne Kruger, who died in 2002. They had two children, a Cambodian adoptee, Li-Da and a son, Daniel.
At the age of 76, Leith got remarried to her long-time friend, John Playfair, who is six years her junior. The couple live together in the Cotswolds.
A prolific author, Prue has written several books, including her memoir, Relish – My Life on a Plate (Exclusive Books, R247). Her latest novel, The Prodigal Daughter (Exclusive Books, R318), is a love story about a young girl who moves to Paris to learn about French food.
Prue credits her success to her South African roots
In an interview with The Telegraph in London, Prue credited her country of birth as one of the keys to her success in the very class-conscious UK.
“It was hugely helpful to me, being South African,” she says, “I have never felt uncomfortable in posh society because I don’t see what it is that I’m meant to be bowing the knee about.”
She went on to say that in her early days running her businesses she would always employ South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders because they’re so hard working.
Mary remains loyal to the BBC
Love Productions, the company behind The Great British Bake Off, announced the shows departure from the BBC after it reportedly failed to pay the £25 million a year to keep it. Shortly later it was announced that the production company had signed a three-year deal with Channel 4.
Announcing her departure from the show, Mary Berry said a “farewell to soggy bottoms,” and added: “I am just sad for the audience who may not be ready for change, I hope they understand my decision.”