Jo Wheatley shot to fame on the hit TV show ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in 2011 and since winning, has published multiple books with her favourite recipes.
When her grown-up kids and grand-kids come to visit it keeps her busy and she’s loving passing her passion for baking down the generations. She’s also mum to two French Bulldogs, Otis and Olive, who have their own Instagram account. Jo kindly invited us into her home to meet them and share where her love of dogs comes from.
Hi Jo, thanks for chatting with us today.
I know you own two dogs, Otis and Olive. How did you come to own them?
Otis is five-years-old now and he was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law. I’d mentioned to my sister-in-law that I was thinking about getting a French Bulldog and then it was my birthday and Otis turned up and I always say that he’s my best gift ever (laughs).
And then a couple of years later we felt that Otis needed a friend so we bought Olive, it was nearly two years to the day after the birthday I got Otis so Olive’s three.
They are literally born two years and a day apart.
Have you always owned dogs?
I grew up with a Doberman and my husband grew up with dogs too. Over the years, as a family, we’ve had Bull Mastiffs and we had a Beagle as well when the boys were younger.
When I was thinking about getting another dog, I wanted a portable dog – more portable than a Bull Mastiff – because I was working more so I wanted a dog that I could take with me.
I have three big dogs, one of which is a Doberman cross Rottweiler, so I know what you mean, big dogs aren’t always portable (laughs).
No, I mean people always think some think they’re scary because of their size but our Doberman was very soppy, she was a real baby. So were the Mastiffs when the boys were young, they were really just big pussy cats.
It is sometimes just how they look as big dogs, isn’t it?
It is. I’m probably the worst for it now because Otis is quite territorial so if ever I see big dogs I put him straight on the lead but you know it’s probably no different than if it were a Jack Russell to a big breed.
I think you also get used to the size of dogs you have now and that becomes your new normal.
Tell us a bit about their personalities, I know they have their own Instagram account.
Olive is definitely the alpha female of the house, she just rules the roost. Otis is far more chilled, although he’s very protective over me, especially when we’re out walking. He doesn’t like anyone to come near me and he can be quite grumbly. He’d never bite but he does this sort of grumbly thing, whereas Olive loves everyone when we’re out.
Otis really dislikes the vet and has done since he was castrated so we have to muzzle him when he goes, which is ridiculous because he’s like a big pussy cat when he’s at home. Olive, in contrast, adores the vet and almost flirts with him.
They are both thoroughly spoilt (laughs). They sleep on our bed and they come on holiday with us. I also cook for them. They have salmon fillets, tender stem broccoli and butternut squash cooked daily.
Where we are is very rural so we go on lots of walks too. They live a blessed life really (laughs).
Olive has allergies, doesn’t she? Is that the main reason you cook for them?
She does. When she was about seven months she was allergy tested and they came back saying she was allergic to pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, red grass and feathers, the list was endless. So we had to buy all new bedding and had all of our sofas re-wrapped and we bought air purifiers because she’s also allergic to dust mites, so she has to have monthly jabs.
I do think French Bulldogs are high maintenance dogs. I’m a member of a French Bulldog charity’s group and it’s incredible the amount of French Bulldogs that have to be re-homed because people aren’t aware of the costs involved in maintaining them. Even with insurance, costs spiral.
After the first year, ours went up 75% and then it went up again and it’s not that I’m not an advocate of insurance, but we decided for us it was easier to put the money away and use it like that rather than paying spiralling costs because you just don’t know what it’ll go to next.
What was it that drew you to French Bulldogs, aside from their size?
Did you know about all of the things you’ve just mentioned? I knew that they were a high maintenance breed. Our vet always says Olive is really lucky that she got us because she’s white and I didn’t know that white dogs are apparently renowned for skin allergies and things. If she’d gone somewhere else, she might not have someone so concerned for keeping her allergies at bay.
Otis is a dark grey so has he managed to bypass similar allergies?
Otis hasn’t been too bad at all until recently.
We took them to France with us last year and we don’t know if it’s connected but the house we rented for the summer had a really bad mosquito infestation so we called the owner and they came and sprayed the garden with a repellent but when we got home Otis got really poorly and he had liver failure so he’s now on liver failure tablets, but up until then he’d always been relatively really sturdy and never needed to go to the vets, except when he had to be castrated. (Laughs)
I think when your children are older your dogs almost become surrogate babies, so yeah, they are like my babies really. I wouldn’t be without either of them.
You share a lot of rescue stories on your social media. Is that through the French Bulldog Saviours group, that you mentioned?
Yes, through them and another organisation called Wild At Heart.
Before we had these two, we’d always rescued. Our Bull Mastiffs were all rescues and Bertie our Beagle came from an animal testing place. He’d never even walked on grass when we got him.
I think if I were looking for another dog I’d rescue because there are so many dogs out there that need homes and so many loving dogs that need a forever sofa.
As well as K9 Magazine, we also run dogsblog.com, a dog adoption site. We work with over 600 animal rescues and have helped over 54,000 dogs to find new homes.
Oh, that’s amazing. You’ve given me goosebumps.
Through me just sharing stories on my social media Nicky, from the rescue said there have been quite a few dogs who’ve found new homes so that’s a really amazing thing, it’s a nice feeling to know that.
It’s so upsetting to see horror stories online but if awareness isn’t made then what chances do the dogs stand.
That’s true and I also think if people don’t share stories people don’t always know what kind of dogs are in rescue. For example, people might not even think French Bulldogs are in rescue looking for new homes because of how much they cost as puppies.
No that’s true. And I always think it’s important to raise awareness so people who have to give their dogs up go to a proper charity rather than advertising on Facebook, for example, where people get dogs for dog baiting and things. It’s important someone’s properly vetted through the right channels so a dog doesn’t fall into the wrong hands because it does happen.
Last year we went on a cruise around Asia and we went to Thailand and I found it heart wrenching to see the sorry state of some of the dogs just wandering on the streets. There was one dog and the image is in my mind still, he was a white Alsatian type dog and he had red skin, it looked like mange, and it broke my heart.
Wild At Heart have this amazing neutering project where they neuter street dogs to try and stem the numbers of stray dogs. I have endless amounts of admiration for them and the work they do.
Most of our readers will know you from ‘The Great British Bake Off’. What inspired you to first start baking and what’s the best baking tip you’ve ever been given?
My nan was the person who inspired me. I used to go hers at the weekend and we would bake together.
She was a really good pastry maker, even up until last year when she passed away her pastry was amazing and when I was a little girl she would give me the off-cuts and I would make jam tarts and she would make a pie or something.
I think with children they really love to have that one to one attention with adults, it makes them feel special and it doesn’t have to be something expensive, it’s your time they want. Presence rather than presents is what I find.
My grandchildren call me Nanny Cakes and the first thing they want to do when they come in is to do baking with me, especially the younger one now. He loves making cakes and always wants to know what we’re baking when he comes in.
I think that time spent with children is quite educational too because I get Buddy to weigh stuff. He’s only five and he knows how to weigh things and he cracks the eggs which is good for dexterity and motor skills, and it doesn’t matter if the egg goes on the floor, Otis and Olive are always standing below ready for things to fall. Otis loves raw eggs.
I also think if you can get children really familiar in the kitchen and used to cooking and just being involved in the process, they’ll be less fussy as well.
I have three boys, well three grown-up men, and they’re all good cooks. I think it’s a worthy thing to pass onto your kids, especially if they know a few good staples to cook when they go to University.
I know you cook for them daily but do you also bake for Otis and Olive?
I do. There’s a meatloaf birthday cake on my website that I made for Otis. I do also make pupcakes and biscuits for them.
I will have a look at those recipes. I am a hopeless baker, 90% of what I make goes wrong in some way shape or form, but the good thing about cooking for my dogs is that they don’t know what it was meant to look like anyway.
The new series of ‘Bake Off’ will kick off soon. What advice would you give to this year’s contestants?
Hold your nerve. Nerves were the biggest factor for me.
Our year was quite different to now because it was only the second series and the Bake Off tent moved around the country every week, whereas it doesn’t now.
I’d watched the first series but didn’t watch it every single week and in fact, Edd [Kimber, who won series one] hadn’t written his book by then so I went into it not knowing what was going to come from it.
I think all these years on people are now more aware of how they’ll be projected into the limelight and all of those things, but I think if you can just try and keep calm and keep a steady head, that’ll be the best thing for handling the tent.
I always say that these are probably questions you won’t have been asked before – and probably won’t be again – so we can have some fun. If you were to swap roles with either Otis or Olive for a day, who would you swap with and why?
I’d probably be Olive because she makes Otis’s life a misery and I’d want him to have a happier day (laughs).
She just rules the roost. If he has a toy, he drops it so she can have it. This morning I was taking my youngest son to the airport to go on holiday and I decided to give the dogs their breakfast when I got back. So I gave them a biscuit and went to put my shoes on, and by the time I came back in, she was eating his biscuit.
The only thing that she knows is off limits is his teddy bear, which is falling apart but he’s had Ted since day one and she knows that that’s his and she can’t take it away from him.
My oldest dog rules the roost. She’s the smallest and bossiest, everyone else falls in line in much the same way (laughs).
The thing we can’t understand is that Otis has always been much bigger than her and obviously he’s older too.
Sometimes they’ll walk into the bedroom and she’ll jump on the bed and just look at him and he’ll walk off, so I have to go and pick him up so he knows it’s okay to get on too.
They’ve never had a bad fight, it’s usually just a bit of noise but he almost holds her shoulders when she starts. I do blame her allergies for making her cranky, I’m that mum, but really she’s just spoilt (laughs).
We always say she couldn’t be without him but we do think that secretly he might quite enjoy a little bit of time on his own.
How do you think she would enjoy being you?
Oh, she’d love it. She’d just go around eating everything out of the fridge if she had some hands (laughs). It wouldn’t matter that everything would make her sore and itchy.
It’s a bit like me with cakes and sweets, everything that’s not good for me I love (laughs).
We ask all of our celebrities this question, it’s all in the name of fun.
Based on personalities alone, which breeds of dog do you think the following celebrities would be and why?
Sue Perkins (former GBBO host) – She’d be a Springer Spaniel, always on the move wanting to make you laugh.
Gino D’Acampo – He’d definitely be an Afghan because they quite love themselves. Yeah he’s a lover isn’t he, Gino.
And what about you, what breed of dog would you be and why?
I would probably be a Labrador. Old, faithful, wanting to please.
Moving onto our quick-fire questions, are you ready?
What baking item are you never without at home?
My favourite piece of kit at the moment is a bit of a show-off one, it’s my Thermomix. It’s a food processor but does so much, I use it every day. It’s an incredible piece of machinery. My husband bought it for me and it’s the best piece of kit I’ve ever had.
Can you share with us what Olive and Otis last did to make you really laugh out loud?
They are like clown dogs, they make me laugh all the time. When I feed the plants, they’ll jump in plant pots. While I’m in the middle of clearing the table after we’ve eaten, they jump on the table to hoover up the crumbs before I have a chance to clean it.
If Olive is holding a toy, Otis will pull her around using the toy from one end of the room to the other. A little while ago Olive was just scooting on her bum around the lounge and she just looked so funny. They’re just really funny dogs. Another funny story is that Otis has an obsession with toilet roll and we came in one day and he’d been in the en-suite, stolen the toilet roll and it was wrapped all over him.
My friend has a Springer Spaniel and when Otis was quite small we were doing one of our epic walks and Otis ran and couldn’t stop and landed straight in a reservoir and Cruise, my friend’s dog, jumped in and flipped him out using his nose to push Otis’s back legs up. It’s incredible really that he knew what to do because Frenchies aren’t great swimmers so Cruise saved him and it just makes me think how clever dogs are really.
Last year when we were in France I bought Otis and Olive life-jackets for the pool and Otis hates wearing jackets so because he wouldn’t wear his life-jacket, he wouldn’t go near the pool because he knew if he got close to it, he’d have to wear it. Whereas Olive loved it, she would sit in the pool on a lilo chewing a bone all day if she could.
Had you travelled abroad with them before last year?
No, last year was our first time and it was amazing. We stopped off in Lyon on our way there and the gorgeous hotel we stayed in and all the restaurants we visited allowed dogs. We were there in August so we bought a doggy pushchair so they could avoid walking on hot pavements and a fan for the back of their pushchair and cooling neckties and things like that to keep them safe.
From there we went to Cannes and stayed there for five weeks and my son drove out with his Cockapoo as well. We used to go to one of the beaches early in the morning or late at night. The dogs loved the seaside.
What do you think is the most important life lesson we can learn from dogs?
Their humanity and loyalty. They are kind and always pleased to see you, and I also think there’s no such thing as a bad dog, it’s just bad owners. Dogs just want love and attention and they repay you with their loyalty.
Finish the following sentence, my dogs are…
…amazing, incredible, wonderful, the best (laughs).
This is always a tough question so you might need some time to think about it, but if you could ask your dogs one question and one question only, what would you ask and what do you think they’d say?
I’d ask Otis if he was happy and I think he’d say yes, he always seems very happy, although I think Olive drives him to distraction sometimes. And I’d ask Olive why she’s such a little minx and I think she’d say it’s because she’s the boss. She thinks she’s a lion (laughs).
Many thanks, Jo!
(Article source: K9)