Everybody knows that Mary Berry makes a delicious Devonshire Scone, but her love affair with the area actually goes back way before she was the nation’s TV chef sweetheart, encouraging us all to get back into the kitchen and get our bake on.

As presenter of The Great British Bake-Off, the 78-year-old has helped an entire country fall back in love with the noble art of baking, and has even become a style icon in the process. Yet unlike her scones, Berry has a soft spot for Devon that goes right back to her school days in the 1940s.

“When I was young, I used to go to Devon on holiday with my family,” she says. “It was during the war and we couldn’t go anywhere until we had saved up out petrol tokens, as petrol was still scarce at that time. They were simple holidays by today’s standards but I loved them; messing about on the beach, enjoying the water. They were happy times.”

Much has happened to Berry since then: from food magazine editor to daytime TV personality through to a hugely successful (to the tune of £70million sales) cookery book series, she is now, of course, one-half of The Great British Bake-Off judging team alongside Paul Hollywood; a show which has made the Bath-born baker not just a household name, but a national treasure.

Nevertheless, the dizzying heights of Berry’s career success have not overshadowed her love of Devonshire. Her children own a home in Salcombe, a place with which Berry is well acquainted.

“It’s a holiday house, but I go there a couple of times a year – whenever I get the chance. There is so much I love about it, when the sun is shining it is like you are on the south of France. We used to holiday there when the kids were young, and they are still my favourite holidays. We all loved playing on the beach and crabbing and finding mussels. Now, there are so many great pubs and restaurants to eat at and lovely views across the estuary.”

When pushed to pick a favourite place to eat, her answer is quietly emphatic. “There are quite a few that we like to go to but I think I would go for the South Sands Hotel. It has the most wonderful fish menu that was created by Mitch Tonks and the views are amazing. It has big, long windows that go all the way down to the floor, overlooking the sea. It is spectacular.”

As for cooking in the county, Berry says that “they use lots of locally sourced ingredients in Devon, they don’t just pay lip-service to the idea of local produce, which I admire greatly,” but admits she personally can’t resist going back to her old favourite. “I love making Devonshire scones, they are a favourite of mine. They taste lovely with afternoon tea!”

Given her age, Berry’s dynamism is something to marvel at: even now, she is taking on extra responsibility with the BBC Good Food liveshows with Hollywood and with her new role as a Royal Horticultural Society ambassador, championing home grown food. “I am very keen on gardening,” she explains. “I think it is an excellent thing, it makes your life more interesting to garden and it’s very rewarding to get flowers or vegetables at the end of it, so I’m encouraging people to get out there”.

Such zest for life makes you wonder where on earth she gets her energy from. “I eat well. I have a balanced diet but eating well means that my body is full of the things I need. I don’t add sugar into any food. I love to be on the go, so it is something that I am conscious of. I play some tennis, too, which helps keep me fit. I know that I am lucky to be so fit and healthy at my age, many of my friends and peers are not so fortunate so I appreciate the fact that I am in good shape. Good genes are a big part of that, I think.”

But when life is going so well, why wouldn’t Berry want to make the most of it? As modest as she is discerning, she is revelling in her well-deserved late-career flourish.

“I am enjoying where I am right now. I think this has to be the highlight of my career. The Great British Bake-Off has been so amazing for me personally, it has given me a whole new lease of life. Getting my autobiography written was also a huge achievement for me. So it has to be now, I am loving my life and to have this opportunity at this stage of my career is wonderful. I am so lucky”.

Mary Berry will be appearing at The BBC Good Food Show Winter, NEC Birmingham, 27 -30 November 2014 http://www.bbcgoodfoodshowwinter.com/

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