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Why Great British Bake Off’s Henry Bird will celebrate Christmas in an organ loft

Earlier this month, student and Bake Off star, Henry Bird was interviewed by The Times. With Henry’s kind permission, we can share this with you.

And so it begins. Frantic phone calls from relatives asking what you want for Christmas, questionable arrangements of carols ringing out in shops, and the irrational impulse to walk around wearing a jumper bearing the image of a smiling polar bear. Please don’t think I’m being cynical — I just walked back to my student house carrying a Christmas tree and a bag full of chestnuts for a Christmas beef wellington, and stopped on the way to listen to a brass band in the square.

It’s also the time of year when organists such as myself are busiest as carols and Christmas services consume the schedules of churches up and down the country. If you watched this year’s Great British Bake Off, the only hint you may have got that I am an organist was when I tried my best to replicate the majesty and intricacies of an organ in biscuit form.

I was instead told that it was “disappointing” and “not quite the size that was expected”. Cue double entendres. I was left slightly deflated, but convinced that organs should remain built of wood and metal, and not transmogrified into gingerbread.

I was incredibly grateful when I was offered the chance to get behind the organ in Durham Cathedral, my university town, this month. This was the instrument that greeted me upon matriculation and is widely considered one of the best cathedral organs in the country. Facing four manual keyboards, pedals, almost 6,000 pipes and a veritable buffet of more than 100 stops to choose from, the temptation to endear myself to metaphor lore and pull out all the stops was terrifying.

However, then I remembered the number of times I have sat in Durham Cathedral and just enjoyed the gentle psalm-singing of evensong, or the sound of someone practising quietly at the organ, and been grateful for the contemplative space.

You can read the full article, including a playlist of Henry’s favourite organ tunes, published in The Times on 5 December here.

An earlier article Henry wrote for The Times here.

Henry Bird

Most famously a star of The Great British Bake Off 2019, but also English student and member of Collingwood College.
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