Lillian Wigglesworth's road from tragedy to The Great Kiwi Bake Off

Bake Off’s smart cookie doesn’t want brownie points because of her disability

By Donna Fleming
Five years ago, Canterbury's Lillian Wrigglesworth would never have dreamed of entering a reality TV show like The Great Kiwi Bake Off.
"I'd never have done it," she says. "It just wasn't me."
But just over a year ago, while making a quiche, she found herself filling in an application for the cooking programme.
"I don't know why I did it – it was totally random," admits Lillian, one of 10 contestants on the TVNZ 1 show. "But that's the new me – doing things I wouldn't have done before. After what's happened, I've realised you have to go out and try new stuff, and make every day count because you never know what's around the corner."
Lillian was still learning to walk on her new limb when she went on Bake Off.
What happened to Lillian, 57, was a terrible freak accident that led to her losing her leg. At the end of 2019, she slipped on wet tiles while leaving a restaurant, suffering multiple injuries to her left leg, including a shattered kneecap.
"When I went to hospital, they didn't realise the femoral artery behind my knee was crushed," explains Lillian. "There's only a six-hour window to repair it and it took too long. None of my bone injuries healed because I only had a thin vein of blood running down my leg. I was also left with lots of blood clots behind my knee."
Unfortunately, surgery was out of the question. "They couldn't fix my artery without fixing the bone and they couldn't fix the bone without fixing the artery. And they couldn't do both surgeries at once because it would have put too much pressure on my heart, not that I have a heart problem."
Eighteen months later, her leg was amputated above the knee. "I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it. I was in a lot of pain. At the time, my husband Craig and I had a pub and I was doing all the cooking, and that's what killed my leg in the end. It kept dislocating on me."
It was a relief in a way to be rid of the limb, says Lillian. "At the end of the day, it's just a leg."
Her disability has changed her attitude, making her determined to try different experiences. And it didn't put her and Craig, 58, a project manager, off buying 4.8 hectares of land in North Canterbury, where they've built a new home and raise animals, including goats and lambs.
Lillian admits that once she was chosen for the show, she worried about how she'd cope with spending up to 12 hours a day in a kitchen. When filming started, the mum-of-two had undergone an osseointegration procedure – in which a rod was implanted in her femur – a few weeks earlier and she was still getting used to her artificial limb.
"I was still learning to walk, so I was pretty nervous. I did end up in quite a bit of pain, but you just have to get on with it."
Lillian had concerns she'd only been selected because of her disability.
"I thought maybe it was because I was the only amputee who applied. I mentioned that when I did the psych interview that they get you to do – you're in a kitchen with a lot of knives, they want to make sure no one's going to start throwing them around if things don't go well! I was told I'd obviously been picked for my personality and what they thought I could do."
Bake Off co-hosts Pax Assadi and Hayley Sproull.
Lillian, a keen all-round cook, has been baking since she was a child. Her parents, Joan and Dave, were caterers, and she landed the job of filling the orders for scones because the ones she made were always perfect.
Since the accident, Lillian, who has worked as a prison officer and a youth justice worker, has adapted the way she does things in all aspects of her life, including in the kitchen. "You have to figure out what works for you. I'm pretty good at being organised and thinking outside the box."
She says Bake Off was an amazing experience and the other contestants were incredible. "We're such a diverse group, but we all got on and I'm sure we will be life-long friends."
Lillian laughs as she shares the best piece of advice she was given before the show.
"I was making a pie before I went on and after I went to check on it, my husband said, 'You need to work on your expressions before you go on TV – you look like a bulldog chewing wasps. You can't do that face every time you check the oven.'
"I was so conscious of that the whole time I was filming. I hope I've managed not to do it!"
The Great Kiwi Bake Off screens Thursdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 1.

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