Royal wedding baker Fiona Cairns reveals she ‘had sleepless nights making Kate and Wills’ wedding cake’

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Fiona Cairns went from baking small treats at her kitchen table to creating one of the most iconic cakes in recent history, and now boasts a royal and rock star clientele.

Here, Fiona tells OK! how she came to be the official baker for Prince William and Kate Middleton's stunning wedding…

My mother always baked.

I didn’t think baking was very glamorous. I thought it was glamorous to go to a friend’s house and eat Mr Kipling fondant fancies or frozen eclairs. I can remember going home and asking my mother why we couldn’t have them. I thought they were magical. But my mother would make cakes and said I should feel lucky. Well, I didn’t. But somehow, cakes have changed my whole life.

I had no interest in baking. Fast-forward to my wedding day at the age of 27, and I still couldn’t cook or bake. I was living in London, doing freelance illustration work, but I’d lost my passion for it.

Then I found out about a cookery course and somehow I knew I had to try it. It was at the time of nouvelle cuisine in the 1980s. Everything was very highly decorated and I fell in love with pâtisserie.

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Eventually, I found a job assisting the pastry chefs at a Michelin-starred restaurant and learnt about the discipline of working in a kitchen, which is completely different from sitting on your own with a paint brush.

What I’d learnt at art college – colour, design, shape – I was putting onto plates.

The dishes were very ornate. We’d use fresh, edible flowers from the garden. Sometimes we’d do birthday or wedding cakes at really short notice. So I learnt about pressure, too.

I also began making cakes at home for my friends and family. Some have kept the sugar flowers I made for years. I was experimenting.

It was my husband who had the vision all those years ago. He saw what I was doing at the kitchen table and suggested I make it into a business. It snowballed, fast. We now sell to Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason. I was still baking from my kitchen counter before I set up a little bakery with a small team.

Then the big break came – the royals.

My husband knows James Middleton and they heard about our cake business.

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I couldn’t believe it when I was asked to make the wedding cake for Kate and William. It’s difficult to explain the pressure I felt.

I don’t know if I could go through that again! It’s a big deal to make a wedding cake for the future king of England. It was a huge secret. We couldn’t tell anybody in the bakery at first. We pretended we were baking something else. But word spread and eventually we had to deal with the worldwide press.

We had a brief on the exact type of fruit cake Kate and William wanted, and we met with Kate, who gave me lots of guidance, which helped hugely as she’s a very creative person. It was quite traditional, but Kate wanted natural, softer icing rather than the traditional hard-edged cake. A fruit cake must be baked months in advance, so when I was commissioned on 18 February, with the wedding being 29 April, we baked all the cakes at the beginning of March, so they had two months to mature. I made so much of it so I could taste it myself and make sure it was perfect.

I knew I’d have wonderful memories but, at the time, I had sleepless nights and an awful lot of stress. Can I do this? Is it going to fall over? I had all those thoughts and not that much time. Then I started to worry about someone breaking in and stealing it!

None of us had ever made anything like it before and constructing the cake was a real architectural project. It was over a metre tall and weighed close to 100kg. We made over 900 sugar flowers. A team of seven took the cake to Buckingham Palace and we were given a room above the kitchens to put the different layers together. It took three days. But we got it there in one piece!

Fruit cake is traditional in the royal family. Harry and Meghan’s cake was lemon and elderflower, which I thought was seasonal and very appropriate. In America, a fruit cake is not revered – perhaps they haven’t tried my delicious one! I can remember an American journalist telling me I’d have to sell Kate and William’s cake to the viewers because fruit cake can be the butt of jokes in that country. But the royals can’t get enough of the stuff.

Since the success of William and Kate’s wedding cake, I’ve made a cake for Prince Charles’ 70th birthday and presented it to him. Fruit cake was what he wanted, of course.

I baked Pippa Middleton’s wedding cake, too.

I’ve also become the baker of choice for some big rock stars. I’ve made Paul McCartney’s Christmas cake every year for 20 years. It was quite a challenge. It wasn’t just a regular Christmas cake, it was three-tiered. It used to take me about a week. There were different themes. One was snowmen playing guitars. Paul held the Guinness World Record for playing to the largest audience, in a stadium in Rio de Janeiro. I made a cake in the shape of the stadium. That was quite difficult.

I made Keith Richards’ daughter’s wedding cake, too. I had to go to the wedding to set it up. I’ll never forget that, ever. It was amazing. We’ve also made cakes for Pink Floyd, Simply Red and Sinéad O’Connor, all completely different and always a challenge.

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I still make plenty of wedding cakes. The fashion has changed now and anything goes. People like a theme. I’ve made one cake that looked like a mountain, and another with frogs all over it. But it’s very exciting making such a special cake. It’s more than just flour and sugar – you’re making memories for people.

These days, I have a large team and I’m not as hands-on as I was in the early days. But if it’s an important cake, or Prince Charles has asked, I’ll certainly get my hands dirty.

Nowadays, most of the baking I do is for family – they put in their requests for special occasions, and there’s nothing I love more than making a batch of shortbread to give as gifts.

Anyone can bake a cake. Follow a recipe and watch the magic happen. Make sure you stir in the love and, if something doesn’t work, do something else, then come back to it. The process of giving and receiving is what makes baking so special, and decorating is a great way to get creative. What are you waiting for?

Visit fionacairns.com.

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