Martha Collison: Bake Off, faith and the future

Twitter / @ChartersSchool17-year-old Martha is the youngest of this year's GBBO contestants.

Martha Collison has taken the UK by storm. At just 17 years old she's the youngest contestant on the BBC's Great British Bake Off, and has made it through to tonight's week five where she'll be tackling European cakes.

But her talents don't stop at a good moist sponge. As well as being handy in the kitchen, she's also a Christian, sings in her church worship band and has been working with Tearfund to help promote their No Child Taken campaign. We caught up with the young protégée to find out more.

How did you get involved in GBBO, what convinced you to apply?

It was my friends who told me in the first place I should apply. We used to watch it together and they egged me on and said, "You could do those things, give it a go!" But I never in a million years expected to get on the show, because it doesn't happen to most people!

So are you known as the baker among your friends?

I've always been the one with the cake – I joke it's the only reason I've got any friends but hopefully that's not true! They love it, it's good to have a friend who bakes, I think.

You tackle a lot of complex recipes on the show. What's your favourite thing to bake at home?

I mostly bake cakes because you can make them quickly, and I usually bake when I'm hungry and I want to eat as quickly as possible! Carrot cake is my favourite – I know it's a bit weird having vegetables in a cake but I like it because it's not as sweet – but I'm also a big chocolate cake fan.

How does it feel knowing you are the youngest competitor ever?

It's a little bit scary – we first met at a hotel reception where we had a drink and I was looking around thinking, are more people coming?! We went round saying our ages, and the next youngest person to me was 31. Normally they at least have a few uni students or something, so it was really emphasised that I'm very young! It was a bit daunting to start with and I was nervous about being the youngest – particularly as with school and stuff I didn't have much time to practice. But now it's week five and I'm still there! The other contestants are all really lovely people and it was nice to make friends with some people who are a little bit older.

How did you balance school and Bake Off at the same time?

I'm doing Maths, Chemistry and Food Tech A Levels, and in the middle of filming I was finding it a little stressful. It was so full on – I'd have three exams in the middle of the week, and then have two filming days at the end, and two at the beginning. And then the next week I'd have more exams! And it was weird because none of my friends at school really knew what I'd been doing, so they'd say "Oh I've been revising for months!" and I'd be like "Oh no! I haven't even covered half the topics." So it was quite challenging, but worked out fine in the end, and maybe it was good for me to learn more time management.

There are a lot of people rooting for you as the favourite to win – how does that make you feel?

It's been so lovely getting so much support from everyone; I'm completely overwhelmed by people saying they want me to win. It's so lovely, though at school people in younger years have been calling out my name as I walk around like I'm some kind of celebrity, it's really strange.

How are you coping with the attention – you've got loads of Twitter followers now. Is that strange?

It's really odd, I can't believe my life is interesting enough that so many people care about it! It's so funny, but it's such a good show – people love it, which is why they like me – but it's definitely really strange.

What's been your favourite moment so far on the show?

My favourite thing to bake was the biscuit mountain scene, which was a really fun one, but my favourite moment was definitely seeing the tent for the first time. Nothing will rival that feeling. It became real all of a sudden. I applied in January and found out I'd be on the show in February but we didn't film until the end of April, so I'd had a couple of months to get excited. When we saw the tent it was like, "Oh my goodness!"

What have you loved most about the experience as a whole?

It's been fantastic, exciting and quite overwhelming. The sheer amount of people who love the show, I just had no idea, so it was hard to prepare for the attention. They try to prepare you in some ways through press meetings and things, but it's been phenomenal overall.

Will you be watching tonight? How do you feel before each episode?

I will – definitely. I always feel a bit apprehensive because you've got no idea which bits they're going to show. You hope they'll edit it in the way it happened – for example in tonight's episode I don't feel well in the middle of one of the bakes and I have to leave the tent, and I'm a bit worried they might not show that! So it's always a bit nerve-wracking but I'm mainly excited. It's strange because it's like reliving my past, while for everyone else it's like it's happening now.

What's it like having to keep the winner a secret?

I've become a lot better at keeping secrets which is probably a good thing! I had to keep it quiet for so long at school and it's been difficult to keep the secret of who wins and where I come, but it's a great secret to have to keep.

You've been really open about your faith – when did you become a Christian?

My parents are both Christians, and my dad is an elder at our church so I grew up in a Christian family. When I was about seven I made the decision for myself that that was the route I wanted to take.

What does your faith mean to you?

It means a lot to me, I think that being a Christian is one of the main things that defines me as a person. The church is a lovely place to grow up as it's so supportive, and full of friends and family. Having God to rely on when things are a bit crazy and manic and stressful is the most amazing thing.

Were there any moments during filming when you felt God was with you?

Yes – there were a lot of moments when I was just really grateful for all the opportunities I've been given. To me, every stage was just amazing. It was incredible and I'm so thankful, and even though it was sometimes stressful I got through it and had an amazing time.

Are you especially conscious now about being open about your faith?

I think there's nothing to be ashamed of in having a faith, and especially being a Christian – it's such good news – so I don't think it would be right to keep it a secret. It's such a big part of my life that I couldn't hide it and I wouldn't want to. I'd rather be open about it.

Are you involved in church at home?

I go to Ascot Life Church. I'm a kids group helper and I sing in the worship band sometimes. More recently I've got involved with Tearfund, which is holding a campaign called the Big Bake to raise money for No Child Taken which works to end trafficking. I'll be doing that next, and I've done some videos for them so that's exciting.

What does the future hold? Might you pursue baking as a full-time career?

I think I'd quite like to go to uni, but I don't know – I'll wait to see what's offered to me when this is over. I'll be working with Tearfund for the next year and I'd like to take a gap year with a charity to do some stuff in other countries. I'll make the most of having the spotlight on me now, because I'm not sure how long this will last! I'll just finish school this year, and then take a gap year to make the most of it.

The Great British Bake Off continues tonight at 8pm on BBC1.

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