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Interview: Martha Collison, Bake Off contestant, anti-child-trafficking activist

14 November 2014

'I wanted to pick up something new, and fill the cake-gap in our lives'

I'm in Year 13 at school; so I'm studying for my A levels; but around that I'm doing lots of different events: interviews, primary-school visits, and working with Tearfund on their No Child Taken campaign. 

The thing I enjoy most with the No Child Taken work is having so many opportunities to meet new and interesting people, visiting different places and speaking about things I care about. 

Now people know my face, I get recognised when I'm out and about. I'm aware I need to be the best version of myself all the time. It's not a bad thing, but can be quite tiring.

When I was about ten, I read a biography of Corrie ten Boom, The Watchmaker's Daughter, by Jean Watson. I found it inspiring how someone so young was so brave. It made me want to do something with my life, not just be ordinary. 

I definitely like to be busy. Even before I appeared on The Great British Bake Off, I was doing lots with church and other things. It's fortunate I like to be busy, though, and I drink quite a bit of coffee. I've certainly learnt about time management and prioritising this year. 

It is still hard balancing events and commitments with friends and church and family. Most 18-year-olds probably just go with the flow and do what they want, but I'm booked up well in advance. But I'm really glad to have these opportunities: it means lot to me, and I want to make the most of it.

Most people are surprised to hear my family don't bake much, but I wanted to pick up something new, and fill the cake-gap in our lives. 

I've always been adventurous, and I've always liked to experiment, and baking was the perfect way to do that. I'm lucky my parents were happy to let an eight-year-old experiment in their kitchen.

I entered The Great British Bake Off because my friends told me last year I'd be good and should do it. I had nothing to lose; so I went for it. 

Because the baking and the publicity happen at different times, it's OK. When you're in the tent and baking, there's no reaction: it's not televised yet; so it doesn't feel like a TV show. And the publicity isn't happening yet.

As soon as it went on TV, it exploded. Suddenly everyone had an insight into my world for the past six months. But it was great - a fantastic experience. 

I found out about child-trafficking when I was 14 years old. It's such a huge injustice in the world that I wanted to be part of ending it. 

This summer I was at the Big Church Day Out in Sussex. Ihad been praying about how I could use baking for God, and about my exams, and doing the Bake Off, and wondering if I was doing the right thing with it all. 

One of the Fabulous Baker Brothers, Tom Herbert, talked about going to Laos to teach girls there to bake, so they could support themselves and stay out of the hands of child-traffickers. When I saw that Tearfund's No Child Taken campaign was launching the Big Bake when I was filming the The Great British Bake Off, I knew it'd be a great opportunity to speak about something I'm passionate about. 

The Big Bake tournament is a Tearfund initiative to get people baking to raise money and raise awareness, and running bake sales to raise money and awareness.

With Tom Herbert, and Will Torrent, the chocolatier, I can use the platform I've been given to encourage people to get behind the campaign, and help protect children around the world from trafficking, disease, and disaster.

One child is trafficked every 30 seconds. It's a horrendous crime, which goes on all over the world, though so many people are unaware of it.

You know, there are more slaves today than ever before in human history, but people just can't get their heads around that, because of all the anti-slavery laws we have. Children are the worst-affected, because they are taken from villages when very young. Their parents aren't educated, and don't realise what they are doing when they sell their children. The traffickers tell them that their children will be educated and have a better life and come home again.

I've applied to university to study food science, but I've deferred my entry for a year so I can really make the most of these opportunities I have at the moment. I would love to keep working with Tearfund, and at some point I hope to go overseas - perhaps to Cambodia early next year - to see their work, and hopefully make myself useful there, too.

My family's been a great support to me over the past year, and, in fact, the whole time I've been baking. My 14-year-old sister's probably a bit fed up by now, though, as people often think she's me. 

I grew up in a Christian family, and God's always been a big part of our lives. When I was seven, I was at a local church event, and I made a commitment to God when I became aware of what he'd done for me. 

I do pray: for my friends and family, and just when it feels right to pray - for lots of different people and different contexts. It's another part of who I am.

In my non-existent spare time? I love to go rock-climbing with my sister, and, as a family, just going out to walk the dog is fun and really relaxing. Other than that, I like just hanging out with my friends - the usual teenage stuff. 

My family have been to Austria a couple of times, which is beautiful in the winter, and I love to ski when I get the opportunity.

I'd love to have my own cookery book at some point. A lot of people expect me to want to write a stu-dent cookery book, but I'm think-ing of something that will give my favourite delicious recipes - and how to fix them if something goes wrong, without throwing it all away, 

A bonfire or a campfire in the autumn is my favourite sound. 

I'm learning to drive at the moment; so learning to parallel park can be quite frustrating at times. . . I'll get there in the end. 

I'm happiest on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing after a big, tasty Sunday lunch with the family. 

Normally it's my job to help with the Christmas dinner - getting my hands under the turkey skin to butter it, and doing the puddings. I'm not normally a great fan of the whole mince-pie thing - my family aren't massive raisin fans. So I like to use the traditional Christ- mas spices and make things like cranberry-and-white-chocolate cake, or cinnamon buns. I do a Christmas pudding, but we usually have a chocolate Mars-bar pudding next to it.

Mary Berry has been quite inspirational for me, the way she's gone about her work and her life, and meeting her was really special. A lot of different people have influenced my life: family, friends teachers. It's hard to pick one. 

This might be cheating, but our church meets at Ascot Racecourse; so, if we had the run of the place ,then maybe I'd choose to meet someone like Frankie Dettori. We could go out on the gallops, and see it from a rather different angle.

Martha Collison was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.



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