Black Country Bake Off contestant Terry creates huge gingerbread Hogwarts
"I absolutely loved Bake Off – I'm still in contact with a lot of people from the tent. It really was a very special time in my life."
Terry Hartill from Dudley touched the hearts of the nation when he first appeared as a contestant on the Great British Bake Off in 2018.
After losing his wife Joanne to cancer just the previous year, he said baking and the Channel 4 show had "filled a void" and helped him get through an especially difficult time in his life.
And now, more than two years on, the 58-year-old father is still baking. He shows off one of his latest, impressive creations to the Express & Star – a huge gingerbread Hogwarts castle.
Terry, who lives in Wordsley with his 11-year-old miniature schnauzer Megan, said: "I started to make this castle but now the event has been cancelled as Covid means they can't have the amount of people they want.
"I spent three weeks making the moulds, and then about 50 to 60 hours creating it – it's all made out of gingerbread and icing.
"I'm not a Harry Potter fan as such so I wasn't aware how big Hogwarts Castle actually is. I got a bit of a shock when I saw what it actually looked like – and I think the event organisers got a shock when they saw how accurate I had made it.
"But it has to be right if I'm going to do it. I do extreme baking."
The Hogwarts castle, famous in the Harry Potter books as the school for witches and wizards, stands at half a metre tall and is 1.5m long and 1m wide.
Terry said he was prevented from sharing who the client was that requested the mega bake – but now he said it would most likely end up "in the bin" as the event was cancelled.
"I could eat it but it's massive," he joked. "I've eaten all the offcuts, I'm sick of it, the whole house stinks of gingerbread.
"Under Covid rules I can't give it away otherwise I would. I'm sure I could give some to my neighbours but it would be up to them if they wanted some."
Since Bake Off Terry has been busy with food festivals, talks and private commissions – but he admits 2020 has been quieter with the pandemic.
He has two daughters – 28-year-old Lucy who works for Avon and Somerset Police in Bristol and 26-year-old Amy who works for the RAF up in Scotland. And he's overjoyed they'll both be coming back home for Christmas this year, as the coronavirus crisis means he hasn't seen Amy since February.
He added: "It was Amy who applied for Bake Off for me. I felt obliged to go along with it but it was completely out of character for me. It was a complete distraction though, from everything, and gave me something to do for a summer.
"I have no regrets whatsoever. I was unsure about it when I was doing it but then after, people started recognising me in the street.
"My family and I visit New York every Christmas – although not this year – and it was amazing when people there stopped and said 'oh hello Terry!'"
Terry left the competition in week five, 'spice week', and had viewers in tears when he opened up during his exit interview how much the show had helped him cope with the death of his wife.
He added: "On Bake Off I was sort of dumbing down my work so I would be able to do it in time in the tent. The Eiffel Tower [chocolate collar] I made was actually a really tricky one to do in four hours.
"It was more of a challenge than doing complicated cakes. Anything in the tent was not what I would normally do. I knew when I first went in that I wouldn't make it that far as the equipment was not what I expected. I had planned what I would make until the final but half of what I had planned had to be changed.
"Because you've practised and practised before you go into the tent, you then have to alter what you're doing. But it was such a fantastic experience.
"I loved Bake Off. I'm still in contact with a lot of people from the tent, all my fellow bakers. I recently made them a nice bronze casting, a little memento which shows 12 bakers and says 'one of the 12 2018'.
"I keep in touch with Love Productions too and still speak to Prue [one of the Bake Off judges] regularly.
"It really was a very special time in my life. It's a really nice programme – everyone on the programme is really invested. Right from the interview stage you're looked after, you're really a part of it. It''s quite special."
Terry is a retired air steward but also runs his own micro-brewery and foundry.
He classes himself as retired now, and also has a studio and factory in Kidderminster which his team run.
"I considered myself retired when my wife was diagnosed and I haven't found myself wanting to go back yet. Too many hobbies!
"I do feel very lucky, with the position I'm in.
"My wife was not a baker, she enjoyed the product of baking but wasn't a baker – she was everything else but! She was a headteacher for Mount Pleasant Primary School in Quarry Bank.
"The worst thing that ever happened was when I lost my wife. I've never had a problem until then.
"I think she would have been amazed I went on Bake Off – as it was very out of character for me."
Follow more of Terry's incredible bakes on his Instagram page @terrythetash