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Exclusive: Prue Leith details family's holiday traditions, falling in love and Paul Hollywood friendship

Prue is our Thanksgiving digital issue cover star

Prue Leith is the star of new Roku Channel series The Great American Baking Show along with close friend Paul Hollywood, and with two new books out - a revised autobiography and cookbook Bliss On Toast - as well as recently wrapping her one-woman show Nothing In Moderation, the 82-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down.

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The world famous baker was therefore the perfect choice to be HELLO!'s special cover star for this Thanksgiving digital issue; a celebration for looking back over the past year, gratitude for your community and pumpkin pie. "I'm curious. I always want to do the next thing. I find it very difficult to say no to anything," Prue said, grateful for her "optimistic nature".

Speaking to HELLO!, Prue revealed she loves talking about her romance with husband John Playfair, whom she married in 2016, "because people think it's sort of miraculous to find love late in life, but why wouldn't you fall in .love just because you're old?"

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Prue has courted controversy in the past after she admitted she is a self-proclaimed "bad mother and grandmother" - something that the Covid pandemic didn't improve but she gushed she "adores them all". Now reflecting, she has opened up about how she celebrates the holidays with her adopted daughter and what she is eternally grateful for.

The Great British Bake Off judge also praised her friendship with Paul, whom she has said "teases her rotten" but for whom she will always be grateful...

Prue is the star of HELLO!'s Thanksgiving digital issue

(Frames: Specs by Prue, Necklace: Samuel Coraux, Bracelet: Ballsmania, Jacket: Kettlewell Colors, Top; Boden)

Why did you sign up to judge The Great American Baking Show on The Roku Channel?

I've always been a bit jealous of Paul Hollywood because he did it years ago before Covid lockdown, and I always wondered, 'Why didn't they ask me to do it?' But they had always wanted one American judge with Paul.

Now it is with Roku and I think they wanted to stick as closely as they could to the Great British Bake Off which suited me fine because then they said they wanted two British judges.

What is the difference between the two countries when it comes to these shows and baking?

The one thing that troubled me was I had seen a lot of American competition shows and it seemed to me that the contestants were always so focused on winning that $64,000, or whatever, that it had a rather desperate edge to it. The contestants would be quite unkind to each other and trying to undermine each other.

I thought, 'Oh, my God, Americans just do competition in a very hard way and they're never going to like Bake Off, because the only prize is a cake plate! And it's also very cooperative and friendly and nobody is horrible to their fellow bakers.'

But of course there's something about the magic of the tent; the Americans were friendly and had concern for each other and it was great.

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The 82-year-old is judging a new series of The Great American Baking Show

(Frames: Specs by Prue, Scarf: Beatrice von Tresckow, Dress & Trousers: Pleats Please Issey Miyake, Shoes: Calla Shoes, Necklace and Bracelet: Ballsmania)

On The Great American Baking Show: Holiday Special, Paul joked the celebrity bakers are better than the British which are strong words, do you agree?

He'll get into trouble! The celebrities are all doing it for a laugh and of course they don't put quite the months and months of effort into it because they're doing it for charity, they're doing it for fun, and they just like being part of the team.

You and Paul get on so well on screen but what is your friendship like off screen? Is there something surprising about him that would shock people?

I think the thing that would really surprise fans is what an absolute softie he really is, because he looks so stern with that terrifying blue stare. But he is the one who, very often, you see with his arm around the baker who's upset because she's done something terrible.

He's really friendly and he teases me rotten. He has two running jokes. One is that I'm a drunk and I can't live without alcohol and I do like a bit of booze! Honestly, there's hardly any cake that won't be improved with a bit of alcohol. But the other thing is that he carries on as if I'm his great, great grandmother. He'll say things like, 'Do you want a cup of tea, dearie?' I'm in my 80s, so he could only maybe be my grandson, but he treats me as if I were a very frail old lady! But I love his concern for me.

'There's hardly any cake that won't be improved with a bit of alcohol'

What sort of traditions does your family have during the holidays, and have you incorporated Cambodian traditions into your holiday season after adopting your daughter?

There are a few little elephants and things hanging on our Christmas tree, and Li-Da has always loved spicy food so she will normally cook something for us to recover from all the turkey and booze, something like a salad with pomegranates and mango.

Everybody is extremely conscious of the cultural heritage of those children now and they always try very hard to make sure that the children know their heritage, but I never thought about that at all because this was 47 years ago so she was brought up like a little English girl. It was also the time of the Khmer Rouge, which is what she had escaped, and everything I could find about Cambodia was about the killing fields.

Something we always do and I don't know any other family who does it and I don't know how I invented it - but we have a sweetie tree, which is a very tall silver branch with lots of little twigs on it and it's silver.

Then we put Quality Street, which is a box of flavored toffees and chocolates wrapped up in really bright gold and shiny paper, on the branches by tying cotton strings on them and hang them all over the sweetie tree and it looks amazing and it's really pretty.

Prue adopted her daughter Li-Da from Cambodia, and she is also mom to her son

You once called yourself a 'bad mother and grandmother', did the pandemic change that and bring your family closer?

No because during the pandemic, we couldn't see our children at all as they were in London and so I didn't see my grandchildren. But Li-Da now has two adopted children; she has continued the tradition of adoption so I'm very pleased about that, and my son has three of homemade variety and I absolutely adore them.

Do you have a particular Thanksgiving recipe that you really love?

I do make a South African tart, which is a little bit like a treacle tart but it has a lot of cinnamon. I think of cinnamon and pumpkin as real Thanksgiving flavors; I like pumpkin pie but I don't think I've eaten a very good pumpkin pie yet.

But I do love a Yule log, and the way I make it is to use a recipe for chocolate roulade, and then you bake it and turn it over which you have to do by putting a piece of paper on the top and flipping it onto a tray.

It means that the crackly bit is on the bottom and then you fill it with whipped cream and roll it up. The crackly bit becomes the bark and you just shake a bit of snow - which is icing sugar - on the top. It makes a really delicious yule log and it's so easy to do; stick a bit of holly in, it looks fantastic.

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'I don't think I've eaten a very good pumpkin pie yet'

Can you talk about your experience of finding love a second time in your seventies?

I like talking about this because people think it's sort of miraculous to find love late in life, but why wouldn't you fall in love just because you're old? John had been divorced for ten years and he was absolutely surrounded by women who adored him and he didn't seem to fall in love with any of them.

I met him about 12 years after my husband died. One day I was at a dinner party, and the host said to us single women, 'If you could choose a man, describe what sort of man would make you marry again.' Well, we didn't want anybody because we like being on our own and not having any crumbs in the bed and not having to ring someone to say, 'We're running late,' or having to share the television remote. But I said, 'I'd like somebody who is in his seventies, Jewish, a musician and gay!'

In my experience, Jewish guys are much more interested in art and food and wine. They're not really interested in sport or cars. I also know nothing about classical music and I'd like a private tuto  and then if he's in his seventies he will think I am quite young, and then they asked, 'Why gay?' And I said, 'Well, because I'm through with all that, you know!'

I went to bed and forgot about it. Months later, I stayed with an old friend who had divorced his wife and all his friends said he was really lonely and miserable. He lived in Lanzarote and I said, 'Well, that's nice, I'll go for a nice sunny weekend and try and cheer him up.' Then I fell in love with him and I thought, 'This is very odd.' I thought it was odd because he was he was a musician, in his seventies, and one eighth Jewish - and I was very, very glad he wasn't gay.

The TV star looked amazing in her colorful kimono

(Frames: Specs by Prue, Necklace: Samuel Coraux, Kimono: Alice + Olivia, Jumper: Joules)

What would you say to your younger self now?

When you get a damehood, you have the right to a coat of arms, so we went along to see the coat of arms people called Heralds and they asked me what I'd like for a motto. I said I would like 'JFDI'. An acronym for 'just [expletive] do it'. But they said they didn't think the F-word could go into a coat of arms, not even the letters!

So we ended up with, 'Nothing in moderation,' and so I would say to my younger self 'just [expletive] do it'. If I had to give myself some actual advice which might have helped me, I might say something like, 'Listen more and talk less.'

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Where do you find your energy and what keeps you motivated? 

Prue: "I think I'm just naturally motivated. I'm curious. I always want to do the next thing. I find it very difficult to say no to anything.

I remember once being asked if I would go on Dancing on Ice in the United Kingdom, and I thought, 'Oh, that'll be great,' because I'll get to learn to skate and I'll get really fit. Then I was talking to the girls in my office and my husband, they just all said with one voice, 'No!'

I also sleep very well. I eat very well. And I'm extremely happy, I've got an optimistic nature.

Prue has a great sense of vibrant style

(Frames: Specs by Prue, Earrings: BassylovesBetsy, Necklace: Zsiska, Shirt dress: Beatrice von Tresckow, Bracelet: Samuel Coraux)

You were famously in the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations and the car broke down, how did that feel at the time?

They decided that what should be in the classic Jaguar cars were Dames, the typical Dames and Jags, and Joan Collins was one of us - and she named this Hags and Jags!

All these cars had been restored and the one that drove me belonged to a farmer and his wife who had restored the outside of the whole car absolutely beautifully, but he hadn't really got around to the engine. So off we went and of course what happened was that the battery was flat and we stopped in the middle of the Mall, about a quarter of a mile from the Palace, and we sat there for about 10 minutes.

Then these security guard chaps - who are all volunteers dressed up in their yellow safety jackets who had spent the morning standing in front of Green Park and having a really boring time - were thrilled as they came to push me and John. They loved it then because they were actually part of the parade. They were waving to the crowd, pushing and waving.

In my one woman show, we have this backdrop of clips from my life and it ends with this clip of me broken down in the middle of the Mall and intercut with photographs of the royal family in the royal box laughing their heads off, the then-future King of England cracking up!

She is well loved for her role as a judge on Bake Off

(Frames: Specs by Prue, Earrings and Bracelet: Samuel Coraux, Jumper: Boden, Beret and Scarf: Kettlewell Colors)

What were the Queen and Prince Philip really like when you met them?

The best meeting I ever had with the Queen was when I went to lunch at Buckingham Palace and I had been told that the official protocol when you meet the royals is that you don't initiate the conversation, they initiate, so we were all assembled and the Queen came in surrounded by lots of little dogs.

I forgot about the rule, and said, 'Oh Your Majesty, these are your famous corgis.' And she said, 'They're not corgis, they're dorgis.' The dogs she had crossbred with Princess Margaret's daschunds, and she was very delighted because she told me the Kennel Club had finally agreed that this breed of dogs could be a recognized breed.

So we had a proper conversation, which was wonderful and I loved learning a lot about the dorgis.

However Prince Philip I knew much better because he was the president of the Royal Society of Arts when I was chairperson. Prince Philip was always intelligent and always good company but he could be really rude. We would go to schools and he would never, ever be rude to the children but he would give the headteachers a bad time with his questioning, and he could be terribly intimidating. But I did also admire him hugely.

Photographer: Margot Judge

Makeup Artist: The Artist Red

Hair: David Roberts

Styling: Jane Galpin and Ian Jeffries

With thanks to Target and Roku Channel

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