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Paul Hollywood finds his inner boy racer: ‘Racing cars beats baking bread!’

Paul Hollywood cars
(Image credit: BBC/North One Television Limited)

Paul Hollywood on why driving fast cars is more fun than Bake Off, whizzing around Italy with Strictly’s Bruno and being dressed by Daniel Craig’s tailor

Paul Hollywood has a confession to make. TV Times has just asked if he prefers cars to baking and, judging by his broad grin and twinkling eyes, we’re not sure we want to hear the answer.

"Racing cars beats baking bread. It does, it does!" he chuckles, clearly amused by our mock-shocked expression.

Fans of Britain’s most famous baker needn’t worry though. Paul still adores baps and buns and will be back on our screens later this year hosting Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off, with new tent-mates Prue Leith, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

For now though, he’s indulging his childhood obsession with cars, bombing around Italy, Germany and France in a ridiculous amount of super-cars for the three-part BBC2 series, Paul Hollywood’s Big Continental Road Trip (premieres Sunday).

"It is my dream job," he smiled. "I’ve always watched car shows and thought, 'I’d love to do that'. Who wouldn’t? Apart from eating cake you want to drive cars! So it was an easy yes when this came along. I think it comes across on screen how happy I am…"

He can say that again. Over six days, 1000 miles, and with sexy cars and celebrity driving companions such as Bruno Tonioli thrown in, it’s pretty obvious Paul is having a blast as he tries to understand what makes each country tick when it comes to cars.

Here, the self-confessed car-junkie, 51, tells us about his bromance with Bruno, his Daniel Craig makeover and his brush with the Italian police….

Apart from giving you an excuse to drive insanely fast, what’s the idea behind Car Nation? "I started racing cars a couple of years ago so don’t need an excuse! Basically, in this, we want to get under the skin of each country and see how the cars they make and the way they drive reflects the character of the nation. By driving their fastest, finest – and worst – cars, experiencing people, places, food and culture on the way, we reveal their national identity. It’s fascinating stuff."

Did you choose the countries? "The producers and I had long chats about where to go. When you think of super-cars you naturally think of Italy with its Ferraris, Piganis and Lamborghinis, so that had to be in. For engineering it had to be Germany and France dominated rally sport for years so we had our three road trips."

There’s a lot of banter in the series, Paul… "Honestly, it was pure joy from start to finish. And that was because of the people that joined me. I had such a giggle with Strictly’s Bruno Tonioli, a mad fan of Italian sports cars – we had a real bromance going on. Comedian and Germanophile, Al Murray, was great fun too. I took him for a spin on The Nurburgring racing track – frightened the life out of him!"

Tell us about this week’s first episode which zooms off in Italy... "We start in Rome, which is beautiful, but also the most dangerous city in Europe for traffic accidents. The wise move would have been to hire a sensible guide to give us a tour of the city – we get Bruno Tonioli! He tries to teach me to drive like an Italian, but as we’re in a bright orange £200,000 Lamborghini that screams, 'Look at us', it ends up with Bruno telling me rules are for everybody else and we shouldn’t follow them!"

Do you have a brush with the law as a result? "We get pulled over on the Autostrada by quite possibly the coolest police car I’ve ever seen. It’s a hardtop version of the Lamborghini Huracan we’re driving and the policeman told me that with a top speed of 190mph it’s often used to transport organs to hospitals. We didn’t get into trouble luckily. Apparently, some Italians drivers deliberately speed so they can admire the police car when they’re pulled over!"

What’s your favourite Italian super-car? "There’s a great Frank Sinatra quote: 'You buy a Ferrari when you want to be somebody, you buy a Lamborghini when you are somebody'. I’m with Frank, my hands-down favourite out of the two Italian super-cars is the Lamborghini Miura I drove through the Alps. It’s not just a car it’s a work of art."

Talking of works of art, you scrub up well after a makeover! "I know, I couldn’t believe it! In Turin I met a lovely lady, a style guru called Eleonora, who let me drive her classy Fiat 500 whilst explaining why style is such a crucial part of the Italian identity. I told her I’d been voted the second worst dressed man in Britain and how elegance and Scouse bakers don’t go together. She took that as a challenge! I was whisked to a tailor who’d made Daniel Craig’s suits for James Bond premieres and he suited and booted me. I loved it, I became Paolo Hollywood! I couldn’t breathe out in the waistcoat though. The button would’ve pinged off and took someone’s eye out!"

Bet you’re ready for a break from the wheel now… "Never. I’m busy filming another baking show for Channel 4 and there’s Bake Off, but I’d love to do more road trips. There’s nothing more exciting than racing cars!"

David Hollingsworth

David is a Senior Digital Content Editor with over 15 years experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest soap spoilers and television news for Whatsontv.

Before working for Whatsontv, David spent many years on TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. David started out as a writer on TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards.

Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!