Mary Berry’s childhood – from snuggling pigs to her ‘funny left hand’

Baking mastermind Mary Berry is known for her role on the Great British Bake Off, however, she left the show in 2016 to embark on new career opportunities.

Since her time of judging soggy bottoms in the Bake Off tent, Mary has gone on to host a range of TV shows giving not only an insight into her baking skills but also into her life.

The now 87-year-old will star in her latest show, Mary Berry – Cook and Share, tonight on BBC Two to celebrate what drives her lifelong passion of cooking – the joy of sharing her food, her knowledge and her love of company.

But where did her love for baking start and what was her childhood like?

Here's everything you need to know.

Mary Berry's childhood

Mary was born on May 12, 1953 in Somerset to her parents, Margaret and Alleyne Berry.

She has previously stated that her family home, which she shared with her parents and three siblings, contributed to her love of cooking as they had a huge and well-equipped kitchen.

Mary's great-great-grandfather on her father's side was also a master baker in the 1860s who provided bread for a local workhouse in Norwich, which explains Mary's love for baking.

She grew up on a small holding with her family and had a close bond with the animals they kept, including their pigs.

As a child, Mary would cuddle up in bed with the odd pig – but clarified she would only cuddle "the runt" of the litter.

"I was known to swaddle one and take it to bed with me," she revealed to the Radio Times.

"Only the runt, the little one that we had to feed from a bottle."

Mary went on to marry her long-term partner Paul Hunnings in 1966 and they share three children together.

Did Mary Berry have a childhood illness?

When Mary was just 13 years old, she contracted polio and had to spend three months in hospital.

The illness resulted in her having a twisted spine, a weaker left hand and thinner left arm.

During her hospital stay, Mary just wanted her parents by her side but they were forced to be separated behind a glass partition.

"During their visits, I was in floods of tears," wrote Mary in her 2013 autobiography, Recipe For Life.

"I just couldn’t understand why Mum wasn’t coming in to give me a cuddle, to talk to me and comfort me. It must have been terribly upsetting for them."

Eventually she was moved to another hospital on a ward with children being treated for tuberculosis.

While it was a traumatic ordeal, the TV chef said the forced period of isolation "toughened her up" and taught her to make the most out of every opportunity given to her.

The illness also gave Mary a renewed interest in domestic science classes and she quickly started experimenting in the kitchen – which paid off and turned into a career spanning decades.

Did the illness cause Mary complications later in life?

Mary's battle with polio only affected the left side of her body, causing issues with her left hand which is often mistaken for arthritis by television viewers.

In an interview with the Radio Times back in 2021, Mary spoke about her diagnosis and how she would urge everyone to take the vaccine to protect themselves against polio.

She said: "I had polio, but now almost the whole world is vaccinated against it.

"If you’re in a hospital like I was, with people in callipers, people in pain, people who weren’t going to get better – I think everyone should take the vaccine, not query it, and think of others."

She added: "I was immensely fortunate. I only had it on my left side, and I’ve got a funny left hand.

"Everybody thinks I’ve got arthritis. I look a bit funny when I’m rolling pastry, but I have no other difficulties whatsoever."

Mary Berry- Cook and Share will air tonight at 8pm on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer.

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