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How to become a Great British Baker

Beca Lyne-Pirkis Image copyright Matthew Horwood
Image caption Beca Lyne-Pirkis says a bit of creativity and flair is the key to Bake Off success

The new series of The Great British Bake Off starts next week on BBC One, with 12 contestants poised to rise to the challenge - but how do you get on the show in the first place?

The producers choose to keep details of the selection process under wraps - but stars of previous shows have some tips for hopefuls keen to prove their worth among the dozen bakers to make it into the famous tent.

"Do your research, know your stuff," advises Beca Lyne-Pirkis, who reached the semi-final in 2013.

"You need to be able to do a bit of everything, with a bit of creativity and flair - different but not too different."

'Mishaps and successes'

The selection process starts with an online form.

"It's a long application form. I think it's designed to put some people off, essentially," says Beca.

"It asks you about everything you have done, good and bad. It's designed to get information about your character, stories, mishaps and successes."

Many contestants say they only filled in the form after pressure from friends and family.

"I entered the show almost as a way to quieten my friends and family around me who had told me I should apply for years before", writes 2014 contestant Jordan Cox on his Muffin Impossible blog.

Image caption Contestants vie to impress judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood

"If I applied and didn't hear anything back, well, at least I tried! Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call, not 24 hours after I had pressed send on the original email!"

The next part of the process is a long and detailed telephone interview.

"It came at about 7pm on a Tuesday and lasted for approximately an hour: we discussed my baking, hobbies, and work life. They even tested my baking skills, asking me to describe how to make a few baking staples off the top of my head," writes Jordan.

The telephone interview is a major hurdle - many do not make it through.

Applicant Jeanie Marsh-Dawson, who was rejected at this stage, believes it was an admission of weak pastry skills during the phone interview that let her down.

"That year pastry was the first thing up on the first show.

"I think they could have had me on for a laugh - it would have been very amusing."

Image caption What culinary trials await this year's Great British Bake Off hopefuls?

Christine Wallace from the 2013 series says she thought at every stage in the process that she would not get any further - but after the phone interview she was invited to audition after audition.

"On the first audition we had to take a sweet cake and a savoury bake.

"I did a very elaborate chocolate cake with a raspberry mousse heart and a chocolate ganache - and a quiche with smoked salmon and asparagus."

'Pulled it apart'

"I am not allowed to tell you much about the other auditions because the producers are worried if too much detail comes out it will stop it being a natural process in the future."

Glen Crosby, another contestant from 2013, explained: "We are honour bound to keep the details a secret but in one audition we had to cook a specific recipe, under timed conditions with people asking us questions about what we were doing."

He said the last round of the auditions was the most stressful: "It was taking my bread to be judged by Paul Hollywood. He pulled it apart and wasn't very nice about it.

Image copyright Christine Wallace
Image caption Christine Wallace nearly backed out when she was first offered her place on the show in 2013

The audition process challenges the would-be bakers' technical, organisational and broadcasting skills, says Beca Lyne-Pirkis.

At one point she was asked to write down one of her recipes to make sure she could describe the method.

Successful applicants also undergo psychological assessments to make sure they can cope with the pressure that comes with exposure on prime-time TV.

Nearly backed out

Perseverance is key. On her blog, last year's winner Nancy Birtwhistle says she had submitted an unsuccessful application the year before.

"Undeterred, I continued to read and learn and applied again for Series 5 and this time I was successful in 'The Tent' ahead of 16,000 other applicants."

She describes being on the programme as "the most difficult thing I have ever undertaken in my life, but equally the most enjoyable".

Christine Wallace says that when she was offered a place she nearly backed out - and only changed her mind after encouragement from her husband.

"He said: 'If you don't do it you will regret it for the rest of your life'.

"And in the end I got to the quarter finals. It was amazing."

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