A show where the scariest thing that happens is someone knocks a pineapple upside-down cake on the floor might explain why the Great British Bake Off became the nation’s safe space in 2020.
But sadly, for finalist Laura Adlington, it has become quite the opposite in recent weeks. She was trolled for ‘surviving’ when Lottie Bedlow left in week seven, and she then beat fan-favourite Hermine to the final. The semi-final trolling was so bad that both Hermine and judge Paul Hollywood made statements to try and stop the hate.
‘I knew it was going to be bad but I didn’t quite anticipate it was going to be as prolific as it was,’ says Laura from her home in Gravesend, days after the nation watched Peter Sawkins win the final last week. ‘It was really sad – GBBO is all about kindness and it’s such a wholesome show. I don’t make the decisions; if I’d had a choice I would’ve said to Hermine, “Take my spot.” I genuinely mean that.’ So much so, Laura admits, that she wished for a few days she’d purposefully sabotaged herself so Hermine could go through – she was, she says, suffering from terrible homesickness away from her husband and family anyway. ‘I felt so guilty going into the final. I have this fear of not being liked and, although I appreciate I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, it was that anger towards me that really did upset me.’
Laura says it was a tough week for her mental health, having previously suffered with anxiety and self-esteem issues. That, she says, is why she volunteers for The Samaritans. ‘I’ve always struggled with my mental health and I’m lucky to say I’m in a good place now and that’s thanks to support, a loving husband and family... and medication. But there have been times I’ve been very low and questioning life.’
Following the semi-final backlash, she tweeted: ‘I am a real person with feelings.’ She says, ‘A lot of people said, “Ignore it,” but I was bullied badly at school and I thought, “No, why should I let you get away with this? I’ve done nothing wrong”. I wanted to write, “Fuck off, you fucking wankers, leave me alone,” but I did it nicely from the heart. Throughout Bake Off I’ve been really proud of being true to myself and I thought, “I’m not going to take it lying down.”’
Before the trolling, the nation had taken Laura to their hearts for exactly that kind of honesty and sense of fun. They particularly loved her friendship with Lottie. ‘When I first met her, I was quite intimidated and was like, “Oh she’s the hot cool kid in the playground,”’ says Laura. ‘But I realised she’s so lovely, very self-deprecating and sarcastic.’
Laura says she was pleasantly surprised by the warmth towards her, as she’d fretted she’d be attacked for her size. ‘But it’s a small minority,’ she says. ‘I’ve had other messages saying it’s so nice to have plus-size representation on telly and someone bigger embracing and loving food.’
As well as working on a comfort-food book, Laura’s interested in continuing her involvement in the mental health sphere. She’s also thinking about stepping into the plus-size fashion world – people, she says, have asked where she gets her signature dresses. And there are gaps she’d like to address. ‘If I went on a shopping website and saw someone who is size 24 like me, and what that dress looked like on, I’d be more inclined to buy it; it’s something that frustrates me,’ she says. Perhaps, then, a career in fashion beckons too.