What Bristol means to me: GBBO’s Briony May Williams

Great British Bake Off semi-finalist and Bristol fave Briony May Williams chats to us about her journey to TV stardom, her favourite place to eat in the city and reveals if Paul Hollywood is scary in real life as he is on the telly.

I taught French and Spanish at a boy’s school and then became a stay-at-home mum before I went on Bake Off. I applied for the show in 2017 and never in a million years thought I’d get on it. When the producers called me to deliver the news, I was in the car with my mum, and we both just screamed. They immediately started sending through recipe requests and then I had a solid month of practicing. From then on, life completely changed.

There’s a period of about six months during filming where you have to keep the fact you’re a Bake Off contestant a complete secret. It’s a pretty cool secret to have, but it was a bit difficult because for 10 weekends when I was off filming my friends would be like, erm, where are you? I had a two-year-old at the time, too. Thank god for my wonderful mum and husband, that’s all I can say.

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The Bake Off tent is like this weird, alternate universe where you can have practiced something 1,000 times and it could still fall through. I had some pretty awful weeks. My favourite bake by far was the Alice and Wonderland themed game pie. That was when I felt I hit a turning point.

Is Paul Hollywood as scary in real life as he is on TV? Absolutely. You’ll never see that persona drop, either. Pru is an expert, knows what she’s talking about, and tell it like it is - but is a little more gentle with her feedback. My favourite person on the show was Noel Fielding. He is such a gentleman, a kind and lovely person. He sat happily chatting to my nan for ages.

Briony May Williams.

I’m very much aware that online abuse is a thing. I was lucky in that there was no proper nastiness aimed at me when I was on Bake Off, but I also made the decision not to go looking for it. My husband would pull up the nice tweets and I’d just look at those.

After Bake Off people told me I could do other stuff on TV and I didn’t believe them, but I got an agent anyway. It was a bit of a whirlwind. I went on Blue Peter and got slimed on Saturday morning TV. My current agent has been a blessing, as he is a huge advocate for disability (Briony was born with a limb difference which she calls her ‘little hand’). He was key in helping me build my profile and suddenly I got the gig on Food Unwrapped. I kept thinking, why did you pick me?! I had a lot of imposter syndrome.

I’ve also filmed an episode of Loose Women and Would I Lie to You? I do get nervous but I just embrace it. I’d like to be on TV for as long as possible as I really enjoy it but you never know when the work will stop. When it does, I might go back into teaching, which I also absolutely love.

Am I watching the 2021 Bake Off? Of course! I’m rooting for Giuseppe, who lives in Bristol - you’ve got to back your own, haven’t you? But he’s also an incredible baker. Like all true Bake Off fans, I know you have to have something sweet to eat when you watch it. It’s the law, end of.

I was born and bred in Bristol, and grew up Henbury/Westbury way. This city has such a special place in my heart and I couldn’t be prouder of it. When I went away to University I thought, perhaps I should move away from Bristol for good. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? But when I searched within myself, I realise that I just really didn’t want to. This is my home.

The support I had on Bake Off was amazing and it’s still very much there. I was walking through Westbury not so long ago and a builder shouted ‘oi!’ at me from some scaffolding. As I turned around I thought, oh god, what’s he going to say to me? But then he yelled down, “I bloody loved you on Bake Off”. The people here are so warm and love cheering on other Bristolians.

I went to Colston’s Girls’ School where I was Head Girl, and was later part of the campaign to get the named changed. When I was there, they told us about all the ‘good’ things Edward Colston had done for Bristol but nothing about his involvement in the slave trade. They left that out. I am so happy that the campaign was successful and the school is now called Montpelier Grammar School.

My favourite place to eat in Bristol is Seven Lucky Gods, a Japanese restaurant on Wapping Road. Their chicken katsu is a game-changer. I also love Bravas, which does Spanish small plates, on Cotham Hill. The best pub in Bristol? For me, it has to be The Old Gloucester Spot. Their food is great and they’re very dog friendly, a must for us (Briony is the proud owner of a Cockapoo). They even screened all the Bake Off episodes when I was on the show so me and my family could all watch it in the pub. How nice is that?