‘It helps me de-stress’: Paula Bennett reveals that she’s quite the baker at home

The politician and keen baker is living the sweet life.
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Clad in a bubblegum pink jumpsuit, paired with fabulous pastel-hued heels and a lick of fuchsia lippy, Paula Bennett is a candy-coloured vision as she warmly welcomes the Weekly onto her photoshoot set.

Camera-ready even before our make-up artist has a chance to pick up her brushes, Paula’s in the mood for celebrating.

She’s just bought a new house (in west Auckland, naturally), is about to make her reality television debut (more on that in a minute) and has dubbed this one of her best years yet.

And, of course, she’s undertaken an incredible weight-loss journey in the most public of forums after having a gastric band fitted two years ago, and is now happily at her goal weight.

Indeed, so much has changed for National’s deputy leader it’s hard to know where to start – although, as she regales with a laugh, a few members of Generation Z recently gave it a go.

“Apparently, I’ve had a ‘glow-up’,” she chuckles.

“I had no idea what it meant, but it’s when you transform yourself. But I can’t say I feel particularly glowy today, I’m actually blimmin’ tired. I searched the house for a Berocca, but because we’ve moved I can’t find any. But anyway, here I am!”

It’s been a big 12 months for Paula, who celebrated her 50th birthday in style, with not one but three parties, because, why not?

“It’s been a great year, actually,” she nods.

“Both personally and professionally. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot. And it’s going to be a good one next year.”

Ah yes, election year. Paula’s certainly gearing up for a battle. As she chats to the Weekly, tradies are at her new house, plumbing in her fridge and installing what she likes to call “the war room”, otherwise known as her home office.

“It’s where I’m going to win the election from,” she says with a huge grin.

“If the war room’s up and running and the wine’s cold, it’s all on! Action stations!”

Give a woman a cold, buttery Chardonnay and she can do anything?

“Absolutely!” she laughs.

New Zealand will soon find out if that’s true, with Paula gamely appearing on our screens in a one-off celebrity version of The Great Kiwi Bake Off.

Competing alongside Toni Street, Art Green, Bree Tomasel, Dave Fane and Jackie van Beek, Paula admits she took the bake-off, which was in aid of the contestants’ individual charities, very seriously.

“Am I competitive… um, yes!” laughs Paula, who participated in aid of Dress for Success, a charity that provides professional clothing for women attending job interviews.

“I’m totally competitive. And as a consequence, to be quite blunt, I overthought it and I tried to be too clever.”

Almost as well known for her colourful wardrobe as she is for her politics, Paula holds Dress for Success close to her heart – it’s where the bulk of her old outfits were donated after she lost 50kg.

Even before her weight loss, Paula’s bold and bright outfits, including her famed leopard-print blazer, were the buzz of the Beehive.

These days, pink is her colour of choice – although she did delight at being dubbed a “little purple bolt of moral certainty” by an opinion writer a few weeks ago.

“I thought that was quite good,” she laughs.

Competitive Paula says she was blown away by the talented cast of Celebrity Bake Off – especially Toni’s treat!

Paula says she didn’t hesitate when asked to appear on Bake Off, as she rated herself a decent baker.

“Well, I did before I did the show!” she laughs.

“It was a straight-up yes. I’ve been asked to do all sorts of weird and wonderful shows, from Dancing with the Stars to Celebrity Treasure Island, and I have to say I haven’t hesitated to say no to them. Although, I’d have the politics side of Treasure Island down!

“But I’ve always loved baking, right from my teenage years, so I was thrilled to do it.”

The experience in the baking tent was intense, nods Paula, who usually relies on more of a “chuck stuff in a bowl and hope for the best” baking philosophy.

“I realised I’m probably not the best baker because I go by feel and a bit of attitude,” she laughs.

“I didn’t realise how much technical expertise you need – at home, it doesn’t matter, you just hide everything with a bit of custard.”

Not one to be unprepared, Paula devised a real “show-stopper” for one of the challenges – only to discover the contestants were required to adhere to certain criteria.

“It was on the Sunday before Monday filming that I read the instructions,” she laments.

“But I’d nailed it – I planned on making a four-storeyed lemon meringue in the shape of the Beehive, with a little Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern at the top made out of fondant.”

As for her biggest competition?

“Oh, definitely Toni Street,” says Paula.

“She’s almost doubly irritating because she’s absolutely lovely, she’s good at everything – and she’s irritating because she’s not irritating! She made something…well, I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice to say it’s visually spectacular. And trust me, there’s a surprise twist ending!”

Paula’s love of baking goes way back to her grandmother, who taught her the basics.

“I remember being too short for the bench, so I was on a stool with her, watching her do everything by hand. She was old school,” she recalls.

“And then I continued baking as I got older. When I’m in the kitchen, it’s my time to de-stress – well, when I’m not on a baking show! When I used to have a little more time, my flatmates would come home and say, ‘Yay! You’ve had a bad day!’ because there’d be a roast going, a pie, more baking, desserts. They almost hung out for me to have a bad day, I think, because they knew it would mean a couple of hours in the kitchen.”

She sometimes bakes for her workmates.

“Although it never makes it all the way to Wellington,” she admits.

She has an oven at work too, where she’s been known to whip up a roast, or her signature bake, lemon yoghurt cake.

She does still enjoy the odd spot of baking following her gastric band surgery – indeed, between popping a mini lamington in her mouth and taste-testing the icing on a pretty pink cupcake, Paula says she’s hit her goal weight.

“I have a two-kilogram rule,” she says.

“I don’t let myself go over or below it. I mean, I’ve gone over it twice, and I’ve never been under it! But it’s a good way to keep an eye on it.”

And she’s always determined to have a good time.

As we chat, she’s also organising the National Party’s Christmas shindig, which this year has a “Christmas fiesta” theme.

She laughs, “I may or may not own my own watercooler that I’ll fill with tequila sunrise!”

Celebrity Bake Off airs on TVNZ 2, Monday, December 23 at 7pm.

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