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Exclusive: Prue Leith on GBBO friendships, her inspiring husband John & controversial food opinions

The Bake Off star sheds some insight into her colourful world

There's a palpable warmth about Dame Prue Leith. Perhaps it's the renowned celebrity baker's association with beloved TV show The Great British Bake Off, or the heartening manner in which she discusses blackberry picking, colourful gifts from her husband and even her close friendship with former co-host Sandi Toksvig.

READ: See The Great British Bake Off presenters at the start of their careers

Yet, the 82-year-old star is fabulously savvy and unafraid to discuss the grittier subjects. From the trials of ageing to opening up about personal relationships, Prue tackles the meatier questions with unequivocal honesty. 

HELLO! spoke to Prue about her new campaign with Avast, unconventional tastes and of course, baking – revealing her seemingly unquenchable zest for life both in and outside of the kitchen.

As a baking guru, what's your number one hack for the perfect bake?

It's a rather old rule that everybody would have heard before but most cooks, if they are an ordinary cook, not a baker, are used to adapting things and making it up as you go along. You can do that up to a point in baking, but to make a perfect cake you have to measure and weigh everything.

You can cheat a bit, you know like a heaped tablespoon of flour will be an ounce or something, but basically you need a really good set of scales – and that makes the difference between an OK cake and a beautiful one. Really do what the recipe says. Follow the order. Don’t think: "Oh well, they're all going to be put together in the end so why don't I just chuck everything in and mix it up in the machine." The cake will be OK, but it won't be beautiful.

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Prue says that perfect measurements are the key to a beautiful bake 

What is your ultimate comfort food?

It would be savoury. I'm much more of a savoury cook than a baker. If I had to make a sweet thing it would be The River Café's lemon and polenta cake which is amazing. It's gluten-free and has almond and polenta with no flour – with lots of lemon. Or what I like which takes a bit longer and I hardly ever do is cinnamon buns or whirls. I love that.

If I'm just making something for comfort food, I would make something like spaghetti with wild garlic pesto, because at this time of year who can find wild garlic leaves. Around us, there are woods that are full of wild garlic. I pick a huge amount and I make pesto. I also dry it off in a warming draw and mix it with sea salt to make wild garlic salt, which is really nice to dip hard-boiled eggs in or just to flavour things. It's lovely to get things for free. If you're walking in the woods, you can pick wild garlic. It's like blackberrying. It's lovely to come back with nature's bounty - you get to be outside and it will cost you nothing.

MORE: Great British Bake Off: meet the partners of the judges and hosts

Who are your dream dinner party guests?

I think I'd just like to have all the people I really admire. Sandi Toksvig for example. She's wonderful to work for and to work with. She's always polite to cameramen or taxi drivers. She's just a very principled, lovely woman.

If I can't have the Queen to dinner, I'll go for David Attenborough, Sandi Toksvig, John Lloyd (the man behind QI, Red Nose Day and much else), Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, and Dame Judi Dench.

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Prue said co-star Sandi Toksvig would be invited to her dream dinner party 

With The Queen's Jubilee approaching, could you recommend a suitable recipe for the occasion?

The Queen loves all things Scottish so my recipe for a Jubilee party or barbecue would be 'Skirlie' a traditional risotto-like hot dish made with oatmeal and onions: you can add sausage or chicken or roasted vegetables to turn it into a main course. This recipe is from Scottish Cookery by Lady Clare McDonald. It would also be nice to have some amazing cake.

MORE: Great British Bake Off stars' breathtaking homes are so different – inside

Your fashion sense is very colourful – how do you express yourself through clothing?

I've always liked colour. As a child and indeed as a young woman, I wasn't at all interested in fashion. I would just put on whatever was at the top of the pile. I didn't care at all. As I got older, I became more interested in how I looked. When I met my husband, I wanted to impress him as he was taking me out for dinner. I thought, well I better be really cool. So, I dressed - which some women can really pull off, when they wear muted cashmere, pale beige and grey and gold jewellery, it's very sophisticated - in a cream silk white shirt. I had gold necklaces and a beige cardi etc.

He said: "Why are you wearing all of this 'greige?' When I saw you first which was on stage doing a talk, you were wearing a wonderful bright orange. Why are you wearing all this stuff?" I thought, OK that lets me loose. He's been very encouraging and he's very good with colour. And he loves shopping, which I don't. He is the one who comes back with all the necklaces and very often will buy me stuff, often off the internet and not expensive at all. Because his job was owning a fashion company and factories that designed clothes for women, he is very knowledgeable. That's helpful for me because he will give me more confidence.

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Prue loves to wear bright, cheery colours 

Today, the thing is colour. Magazines are full of colour, décor is full of colour. Colour is the thing! It's true, I've been wearing bright colour for twenty years. I was, if you like, ahead of the curve. But even now, with all that emphasis on colour in the media, if you look at people getting off the train, every one of them, with maybe one woman in red, all of the rest will be in black. Every single coat will be black. Why? In winter you need cheering up. My winter coats are yellow, orange and red. I think that's when you need to be cheered up.

People wear black and white and look fantastic on a beach in hot summer, but you can afford to wear black in the summer. But not in the winter. I have a couple of dresses that are black, but I never wear them without a huge coloured necklace or a big starburst-coloured fabric brooch or a scarf. I am obsessed with colour - no question.

SEE: Prue Leith reveals The Great British Bake Off return date - and it's so soon!

Why have you teamed up with Avast to educate the nation on digital cookies?

I suppose the obvious answer is that I'm a typical oldie who never understands a thing about computers. I mean, this morning I couldn't even make my emails even work on my laptop. I've always been irritated by cookies and not knowing what they are and just always press 'accept all.' I always felt anxious about, why give me an option if there isn't a danger? So, when Avast said I'd like to champion their campaign, I thought it's naturally a very good thing.

It's wonderful to be connected online - I use the internet to stay in touch with my family and especially my grandchildren - but it's also extremely important that everyone using the internet feels safe doing so. People of my generation can be confused about certain aspects of the internet, especially cookies. Over a third of people don’t know what digital cookies are - and I used to be one of them! I wanted to partner with Avast because it's important people of all generations know what digital cookies are and how they work.

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Prue wants to educate the older generations about internet cookies

How did your relationship with technology and social media change during the pandemic?

First of all, I got to grips with Zoom like the rest of us. At the beginning I was so upset when somebody asked me to be on their podcast and I wouldn't be able to work it, so I wouldn't be able to get onto the call. It would be a live podcast and I'd be the special guest and there was I, in an absolute frenzy of stressing and misery – sometimes in tears because I knew I was letting down the podcaster and the people who were there to ask me questions.

So, at the beginning I absolutely hated it and I was so stressed, but then I finally got to grips with it. Then I realised that people don't mind, it's much more informal and I think it's made a huge difference to the way broadcasting goes because you can expect the odd glitch or problem. They don't mind if the cat walks in and jumps on your computer in the middle of a call. You see people's dogs and houses and cats. You see children pop up – I like it. I think it's much more real than it used to be, which was much more staged.

MORE: James McAvoy makes surprising revelation about Great Celebrity Bake Off win

The last two years have shown us more than ever how important it is to be connected online, and I would regularly use the internet to keep in touch with my family during the pandemic. Because of this, I felt it more important than ever to be educated on all aspects of the internet - including cookies, and I now feel much safer when surfing the web, understanding what digital cookies are and how they work.

We are totally dependent on our phones. It's sort of worrying as we all feel anxious when we don't know where our phones are, like if we don't know where our children are. It's sort of scary that we always talk on our phones and not to each other directly. I think it's really worrying.

Quick Fire Questions from the HELLO! Team:

Pineapple on pizza – yes or no?

No.

Scones - jam or cream first?

I don't mind as long as there is lots of both.

Best hangover cure?

I'm sorry to say but it's another glass of wine.

Is cereal for supper ever acceptable?

Absolutely, why not? I don't think it matters when you eat thing.

Jaffa cakes – biscuits or cakes?

I don't care about Jaffa Cakes, I think they're disgusting either way!

Prue Leith is working with cyber security experts Avast to help Brits understand digital cookies and has created a limited run of her chocolate chip cookies (complete with tips and tricks on how to navigate the digital kind) which are free for people to order from https://blog.avast.com/acceptallcookies

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