The untold truth of Mary Berry

From writing to presenting, Mary Berry has done it all, bringing her culinary skills into the homes of people across the world for decades. The celebrated chef was a force to be reckoned with as early on as the '70s, when she was food editor of the British magazine, Ideal Home. She's since written bestselling cookbooks, hosted and judged television shows, and was even awarded a CBE by the Prince of Wales in 2012.

While she's enjoyed steady acclaim across the UK since she started her career, she rose to international stardom recently. She became a judge on BBC's competitive baking series, The Great British Bake Off, in 2010.

The series, which is called The Great British Baking Show in the US (because Pilsbury holds the trademark for the term "bake off"), become an instant hit. And, if you haven't seen it yet, hop on to Netflix, which has seven seasons on its streaming service for your binge-watching pleasure.

Berry's personal success matched that of the series as she began to cultivate a fan base in America. Thanks to her candidness on the show, viewers got an insight into her life, likes, dislikes and sartorial preferences.

And there's still so much more you can learn about the talented baker. Here's everything you didn't know about Mary Berry. 

Mary Berry had a life-threatening illness

If you've noticed that Mary Berry's left arm seems weak, don't assume it's because she suffers from arthritis — as she says many viewers do. It's actually the result of her battle with poliomyelitis, a life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus. It affects the spinal cord, and can even cause permanent paralysis.

When Mary Berry was 13, it was still 1948 and there was no vaccine, so the risk of contracting polio was high. Temporarily paralyzed with the virus, she was put in an isolation hospital, where, as she told The Guardian, she ate nothing but liquid food and could see her parents only from behind glass.

In Mary Berry: The Queen of British Baking — The Biography, she said, "When I came home I just had this weak left side and I had my arm in a brace that held it above the head. But I recovered remarkably [though] my left hand is a bit smaller and misshapen."

While that affects her to this day, it's wonderful that she made a full recovery otherwise.

Mary Berry once struggled to make ends meet

It's strange to think of Mary Berry struggling to make ends meet, but she wasn't always a well-to-do celebrity. She was trained in home economics, but when she moved to London at 21 years old to work at the Dutch Dairy Bureau, she was bitten by the professional cooking bug.

Not affluent enough to afford it herself, Berry managed to persuade her boss to sponsor a month-long course at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris when she was 25. Here, the first hurdle she had to overcome was language-related. While talking to students there in 2012, when she accepted an honorary diploma, she said they were lucky courses were now conducted in English. During her time in 1960, she had to speak French well enough to give an oral examination in the language.

She was also struggling financially. Even though her boss was sponsoring her tuition, she had other expenses to worry about. Paying for her own bed and board was beyond her means, but the resourceful celebrity-in-the-making survived by living in a youth hostel and eating nothing but baguettes for every meal (via the Express).

Her ability to stick it out paid off of course, as she's more than comfortable today.

Mary Berry has had to deal with personal tragedy

Having survived polio in her teens, Mary Berry is no stranger to suffering, but in 1989 she was struck by an even worse tragedy. Her son, 19 years old at the time, died in a car accident.

While she has not gone into too much detail about the event, she opened up about it in a BBC documentary in 2017. In The Mary Berry Story, she talks about the night before the accident, when she had a family meal with William, who was visiting from Bristol where he was at University at the time. Her daughter Annabelle, who had also been in the car, had escaped the accident without injury (via Hello!).

In BBC's 2019 Christmas special, A Berry Royal Christmas, which featured the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, she spoke about how Prince William lost his mother at a very vulnerable age, and she lost her son in a car accident as well. She said this made it so they both knew what it was like to be without someone special, especially at Christmas (via The Telegraph).

Mary Berry was not always confident in front of the camera

Can you imagine the intimidating judge, Mary Berry, being camera-shy? She is so confident in interviews, gives great acceptance speeches, commands attention when she's hosting shows, and doesn't bat an eye when in the presence of the royal family.

But, just like a lot of people, Berry learned on the job. Starting her career as a writer, it's no surprise that being a presenter did not come naturally. When she first began a career on television in the 1970s, she appeared on Afternoon Plus alongside acclaimed television presenter Judith Chalmers. In an interview with Metro in 2019, Chalmers said Berry was, in fact, quite nervous to begin with.

"Mary was a little nervous to begin with but she says I taught her to smile. I said, 'If you could just look up occasionally into the camera you'll invite the viewers in,'" Chalmers explained.

She details the uncomfortable experience in Mary Berry: The Queen of British Baking — The Biography, saying it was quite daunting for her at the beginning. But look at her now!

Mary Berry is not a fan of Gordon Ramsay's shows

Just because they're in the same business, doesn't mean they get along. Mary Berry may have had great camaraderie with her Bake Off co-judge, Paul Hollywood, but she doesn't get along with all TV chefs.

She and Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and host of BBC's The Naked Chef, now seem to be on good terms. She's gone so far as to say he makes cooking fun. However, there was a time when she found him "irritating, bumptious and over-the-top" (via RadioTimes).

The celebrity chef she really doesn't get along with, however, is Gordon Ramsay, who is most famous for his crude language. On shows like Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, he's become especially famous for his quick-temper and use of expletives. All of this doesn't seem to sit well with Mary, who is picky about what she watches.

Not only does she call most television "ghastly," she says many shows on television are too "violent, cruel and noisy" for her taste. As for Gordon Ramsay's, she says, "I hate Gordon Ramsay's programs: I don't know if he's been told it makes good television." (via The Guardian)

It's no wonder that she signed up for The Great British Bake Off, which according to her, is great family entertainment.

Mary Berry has been known to fat-shame

She's beloved the world over, but Mary Berry has not been without fault. She's made some pretty controversial statements over the years that have sparked ire from several of her viewers.

In 2018, she was accused of fat-shaming a Michelin-starred chef who appeared on her show, Classic Mary Berry. She made the remarks after chef Nathan Outlaw revealed he loved wind-surfing. Apart from talking about how much weight there would be on the board, she also suggested his large size meant he would be good at crushing garlic, comments that some of her viewers were not in the least bit amused by (via The Telegraph).

One viewer tweeted, "Mary Berry has gone down in my estimations. Just casually fat shamed a chef twice, like just because you're Mary Berry you don't get to be rude?!"

It's not the only time she has been accused of being somewhat insensitive, as she has been quoted by the Sunday Times food magazine (via The Independent) saying she watched what she ate because she didn't want to be a large person on a food show. She went on to say that large people shouldn't be judging cakes on food shows because it's not what people want.

"Or else people will say, 'Look what happens when you eat cake,'" she explained.

She is in her 80s but Mary Berry has never ever done this popular thing

She's 85 years old as of March 2020, and she's had a career full of exciting food experiences, but there's one thing Mary Berry has never done — and she doesn't intend to in the future.

It's surprising to think there's a type of food that a chef hasn't tried, but in 2017, on her show, Mary Berry Everyday, she revealed that she's never, ever had takeaway pizza (via Evening Standard). Yup — and it's not only because she doesn't approve, or because she can whip up more delicious meals in a hurry. She's just never thought to try it.

For anyone wondering whether she changed her mind since shooting that episode, she reiterated the point in a conversation with My Weekly Magazine in 2020 (via LifeStyle). Actually, she clarified that not only had she never had takeaway pizza... she hadn't had any takeaway food. In the interview, she said she has never felt the need to.

She also explained that her way of cheating in the kitchen is by buying ready ingredients, instead of ready food, saying, "There are many things that you can buy to help you if you are busy and which don't cost that much extra, like grated cheese. If you are in a hurry you can pay a little bit more for it and get food on the table quicker."

Mary Berry is a style icon in her own way

Mary Berry is slim and stylish well into her '80s, even though she doesn't believe in going to the gym. She does believe it's important to stay in shape, so her enviable figure is not that much of a surprise. With her celebrity status added to the mix, it's not shocking that what she wears is a hot topic.

What is surprising is what a fashion icon she has become — especially since she told Lumity in 2019 that she doesn't believe in fashion, and instead, simply dresses to suit her figure.

Nevertheless, her style on The Great British Bake Off became the subject of much discussion, with viewers raving about her floral jackets. People were soon mimicking her signature style to such an extent that in 2012, Zara was all sold-out of the silk floral bomber jacket that began the craze.

Since then, she's worn a number of statement jackets from Oasis, Damart and Ted Baker (via The Guardian) that have all become incredibly popular, cementing her status as a trendsetter.

Forget expiration dates, Mary Berry relies on this to see if food is okay

Most people make the bulk of their food safety decisions by reading expiration dates. Not Mary Berry, though.

In 2017, she told the Cheltenham Literature Festival (via Yorkshire Post) that she had picked up several tips from her mother when she was growing up, and since there were no freezers at the time, this was one of them.

She doesn't bother checking whether her food has gone off by looking at the dates. Instead, she does what most people are more familiar with doing with flowers — she smells them. She's said, "I don't do sell-by dates but I have to confess if there is a pot of cream I just lift the lid and smell it. If it's all right, I have it."

She does emphasize, however, that you have to be extra careful with meat, which is one thing she does consider keeping within the dates.

Mary Berry actually left the Great British Bake Off because she's really loyal

Viewers were crushed when in 2016, news outlets like BBC announced that Mary Berry would not return to The Great British Bake Off. Many saw it as a betrayal and wondered how the show could go on without her.

Of course, it did, switching her out for another celebrity chef, Prue Leith. However, few people know that the real reason Mary Berry decided to leave had to do with loyalty and not betrayal.

The Great British Bake Off began on the BBC, which Berry told RadioTimes she has been watching since she was a child. When it decided to move to Channel 4, she stayed loyal to the BBC and along with co-hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, decided not to move with the show. They replaced Sue and Mel with goth comedian Noel Fielding and quiz show host, Sandi Toksvig, though Paul Hollywood stayed with the show.

Fans could still see Berry on the US adaptation, The Great American Baking Show, she left series after 2019 to focus on other projects.

Mary Berry may be most famous for her baking, but that's not her only skill

She's an almost unrivaled doyenne of the baking world, in fact, she's called the queen of baking and is known for her delicious Victoria Sponge recipe. However, that's not all Mary Berry can do.

She's written more than 75 cook books over the course of her career, not all baking related. One of her longest-standing passions is using an AGA, a heavy-duty stove and cooker made of cast iron, which was invented by Swedish physicist, Dr. Gustaf Dalén. In fact, she is such a big fan, she has held workshops and written The Complete AGA Cookbook to help people use the kitchen appliance better.

Her versatility doesn't end there. While Mary Berry's Baking Bible is undoubtedly one of her most popular books, she has expertise in several other schools, culinary and beyond.

From fresh, light food in a jiffy in Real Food Fast and classic family recipes in At Home, to prepare ahead meals in Cook Now Eat Later and even one on running the household called Mary's Household Tips and Tricks, she's got a book for almost everything.

Mary Berry is also a food entrepreneur

From struggling to make ends meet to becoming a renaissance woman, Mary Berry has come a long way since culinary school. While her stints on television are well-known and her cookbooks are bestsellers, did you know she also has her own brand of food products?

As a food entrepreneur, she introduced her own line of salad dressings and sauces. This was initially an idea suggested by her husband, Paul Hunnings, and encouraged by her daughter, Annabelle who loved the sauces Berry made at home for the family. In 1994, she and Annabelle launched a few dressings under the brand Mary Berry & Daughter.

The range has since expanded and become incredibly popular, although, in 2018, it had a slight setback. The Telegraph reported one of the batches was being recalled, and The Food Standards Agency (via iNews) said it was because of undeclared egg, an allergy-causing food for some, in the ingredients.

Now called Mary Berry's Recipe's to Inspire, the range has since been revamped. It's been repackaged and presumably re-labeled to include everything that goes into the products.

Mary Berry is a surprising fan of this sport

Mary Berry is quite a formidable lady and it's easy to imagine the British chef in a garden somewhere, sipping tea and nibbling on a scone. Imagining her at a cricket match, or cheering on her favorite players at Wimbledon is pretty easy too.

But you'll never guess what sport she is actually a big fan of. It's not soccer, although she does have quite an affection for English football, telling her co-host Paul Hollywood on The Great British Bake Off in 2016 that she's a fan of the Liverpool-based Premier League team, Everton (via Liverpool Echo).

However, more surprising than that is her real love of rugby. That's right, she's a fan of the English contact-sport, even going so far as to attend the games in person to support England during the World Cup in 2015.

She's such a big fan, she also supports local teams, even hosting an Afternoon Tea event in 2015 for her home team — Bath Rugby.

A CBD product used quotes and images from Mary Berry without her permission

She's used to being on television, in advertisements, on the covers of cookbooks, and in the public eye in general, but if there's one thing Mary Berry won't stand for, it's using her image without her permission.

In February 2020, she posted a statement on Facebook telling fans not to be taken in by her images and quotes appearing on advertisements for CBD oil, as well as face cream from a company that appeared to be scamming people.

The post said she had been "appalled to learn of unaffiliated companies using her image to advertise products."

The Independent reported later that same month that Berry's images were not the only ones used without permission. A similar product had also been using fake endorsements from celebrities such as Tom Hanks, who also condemned it. It also reported that the Food Standards Agency was threatening to pull the products off shelves unless they began to label them correctly.