The Stunning Transformation Of GBBO Co-Host Alison Hammond

Alison Hammond looking happy
Alison Hammond looking happy - Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Alison Hammond's journey over the past two decades has been nothing short of incredible. Born and raised in Birmingham, her natural warmth and charisma transformed her from "Big Brother" contestant to one of the U.K.'s best-known TV presenters seemingly overnight. In 2023, Hammond's status as one of the silver screen's most joyous personalities went global after she secured one of the most coveted roles in the business: co-host of "The Great British Bake Off" (or, as it's better known in the U.S., "The Great British Baking Show").

Now that she's a familiar face to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, there are more eyes on Hammond than ever. What plenty of people don't know, however, is that her journey has had its fair share of ups and downs. Like a lot of entertainment icons, she spent years hustling as everything from a cinema usher to a British Gas worker before finally finding herself in the spotlight in the early 2000s.

But how exactly did Hammond go from a struggling actress to hyping up amateur bakers in a dither over their chocolate tortes? Let's rewind to the beginning and break down Hammond's extraordinary transformation.

Read more: What The Cameras Don't Show You On MasterChef

Alison Hammond Started Performing At Her Mother's Encouragement

Alison Hammond hands on hips
Alison Hammond hands on hips - alisonhammond55 / Instagram

Alison Hammond was performing long before she made it to the silver screen. When she was 11 years old, her mother Maria decided to sign her up for the Television Workshop -- a performing arts club for British youths. Maria had already encouraged her to act as an extra in a movie called "Art in Society" when she was eight, in an effort to make sure Hammond stayed off the streets.

Unsurprisingly, Hammond proved to be a natural, rapidly racking up credits on TV shows such as "Palace Hill," "Chalkface," and "The Locksmith." While the obvious next step was drama school, Hammond sadly had to turn down her place for financial reasons. Instead, she went on to star as an extra in the likes of the BBC medical drama "Angels" and the TV movie "Marjorie and the Preacherman." Since, she has said that she struggled to find work as a Black actress and was instead forced to take jobs such as working as a holiday rep in Tunisia to get by.

She Made Her Name On Reality TV

Alison Hammond with Big Brother contestants
Alison Hammond with Big Brother contestants - Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

Alison Hammond's first major TV moment came in 2002 on the British version of "Big Brother," where her infectious cheer and distinctive laugh made quite the impression. Any roundup of the show's best moments isn't complete without the time Hammond was reprimanded for standing on (and subsequently breaking) a garden table to try and catch the attention of the house's security guards. After making her confession in the Diary Room, Hammond memorably suggested that she could probably fix it. (She never did.)

Sadly, Hammond didn't reach the final and was the second to be evicted with just 1,000 votes between her and fellow contestant Alex Sibley. Still, it was enough to propel her into a spotlight she hasn't left since. From what Hammond has since said about her time on "Big Brother," this big break couldn't have come soon enough.

Hammond was struggling financially at the time and auditioned at the recommendation of a friend. "Everyone kept saying: 'You should go into 'Big Brother,'" she recalled during an appearance on the talk show "Lorraine" in 2023. "At the time, I was £4,000 [around 5,000 USD] in debt. I went into an internet café to apply online." She may not have won the prize money, but the show propelled her onto even greater success.

After Big Brother, Alison Hammond's Presenting Career Snowballed

Holly Willoughby, Philip Schofield, and Alison Hammond
Holly Willoughby, Philip Schofield, and Alison Hammond - Tim Roney/Getty Images

Just weeks after being evicted, Alison Hammond received an offer to present for the popular British daytime show "This Morning." Her time on the show has been wild, to say the least. During her tenure, she accidentally hit George Clooney in the head with a microphone in her first ever celebrity interview, unwittingly pushed a model into Liverpool's Royal Albert Dock, got "married" to Dwayne Johnson, and managed the impossible by making the notoriously grumpy Harrison Ford crack up alongside Ryan Gosling on camera (a feat so rare that it's been watched over 18 million times on YouTube).

Over two decades later, Hammond's still on "This Morning" and became a main presenter alongside Dermot O'Leary in 2020. She was never supposed to be a mainstay on the show; her original contract saw her hosting slots for a series called "Diet Camp." She was soon asked to stay for six months, then a year, and so on.

While Hammond has branched out with the likes of "Alison Hammond: For the Love of Dogs" and "Alison Hammond in at the Rich End: The Riviera" over the years, she doesn't see her "This Morning" tenure coming to an end any time soon. As she told The Guardian in 2020, "I haven't left. I'm going to be using a Zimmer frame still working for 'This Morning,' aren't I?"

Her Marriage And Engagement Both Ended In Heartbreak

Alison Hammond in dressy attire
Alison Hammond in dressy attire - Dave Benett/Getty Images

While Alison Hammond's career has flourished, she hasn't been quite so lucky in love. She was previously engaged to Manchester cab driver Noureddine Boufaied, though she insists she didn't actually marry him, despite media reports stating otherwise. The two had a son named Aiden in 2005 (on Hammond's birthday, nonetheless). Her pregnancy was well documented, and Hammond even broadcast the scan in which she found out she was expecting a boy on live television.

Sadly, Hammond and Noureddine went their separate ways after feeling like they weren't ready to tie the knot. She later got engaged for a second time to security guard Jamie Savage, but the pair also split after three years, with Hammond admitting that the experience had turned her off love for a while. Other short-lived romances include Ben Kusi, who Hammond met during her time on the dating show "Celebs Go Dating," and gardener Ben Hawkins. While Hammond may not have found the one just yet, she has also emphasized how happy she is being independent. "I absolutely love being on my own," she previously told "Rosebud" host Gyles Brandreth. "I'm OK with it. I've never felt lonely. I think as soon as I hear the word marriage I get cold feet. I think I'm just one of those people."

A Brummie Born And Raised, Hammond Has Vowed Never To Leave Birmingham

Alison Hammond at event
Alison Hammond at event - Dave Benett/Getty Images

When celebrities hit the big time in the U.S., they often pack their bags and move to Los Angeles for good. Celebrities do the same in the U.K., except they typically rush to the cobbled streets of London. Alison Hammond is an exception. A Brummie through and through, Hammond still lives in Birmingham -- a city in the West Midlands nearly three-hours drive away from London -- and is one of its most vocal supporters. Born and raised in the Kingstanding area, she rarely misses an opportunity to support local businesses and has even partnered with brands to encourage others to do the same. "It's the independents that make Birmingham a great city," she told Birmingham Living. "These days, with all the competition, it's more important than ever that Brummies get behind and support small businesses and shop local."

Holding onto her roots hasn't always been easy. After applying to a London drama school, Hammond was told that she would need to change her accent from the distinctive Brummie twang to the more neutral RP (Received Pronunciation), also known as the Queen's English or BBC English. Considering her loyalty to her hometown, it should come as no surprise that Hammond refused. "I just thought, I am not doing that, I'm not modifying my voice, I love my voice," she said during an appearance on the "Rosebud" podcast. "I think my Birmingham accent is quite nice."

Hammond Had A Difficult Relationship With Her Father

Alison Hammond in kitchen wearing apron
Alison Hammond in kitchen wearing apron - Alison Hammond/X

Alison Hammond has detailed her close relationship with her mother Maria, who raised her as a single parent in Birmingham, but the situation is a little bit more complicated when it comes to her father, Clifford. As Hammond revealed in her memoir "You've Got to Laugh," Clifford dropped a pretty big bombshell while Maria was pregnant: He was actually already married with children.

Clifford was a sporadic presence in Hammond's childhood after that, only visiting every year or two. In an appearance on the podcast "Wylde Moon," Hammond recalled that when he did visit, he would act like "the best dad in the world" -- something Hammond felt was fake even as a child. He would also typically come bearing wads of cash that she admitted were probably the fruits of his drug-smuggling while importing trucks between the U.K. and the Caribbean. "He'd illegally bring drugs into the country in the days when people could get away with it, before they introduced sniffer dogs and body scans at the airport," she wrote in "You've Got to Laugh." She also claimed that he carried a shotgun and cut an intimidating figure in his native Jamaica, where he was treated like royalty by local residents.

She Tragically Lost Both Of Her Parents In 2020

Alison Hammond's mother Maria
Alison Hammond's mother Maria - alisonhammond55 /Instagram

Just before the world went into lockdown in early 2020, Alison Hammond shared that her mother had passed away in January of that year. The pair were incredibly close, with Hammond spending several years living just around the corner from her mother's house in Birmingham. Hammond later shared that her mother had been diagnosed with liver and lung cancer. She has also admitted that she still talks to Maria all the time. "When she died, it felt like a different sort of relationship with her -- more spiritual," Hammond said in an appearance on "DNA Journey," where she traced her maternal lineage. "I know she's there. Obviously, because she knew she was dying before she did die, and she said, 'you know, I'm always going to be there with you.'"

The rest of 2020 wasn't much kinder to Hammond, whose father subsequently passed away just five months later. Due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time, Hammond was unable to attend the funeral and say goodbye. "I'm saddened that I won't be able to make his funeral and saddened that he wasn't part of my life as much as I would have liked but I still have a sense of loss and emptiness," Hammond wrote on Instagram after revealing that Cliff had died after suffering a heart attack in Jamaica. "Sleep well Daddy, love leaves a memory no [one] can steal."

Alison Hammond Competed In The Great British Baking Show Before Becoming A Host

Alison Hammond holding chocolate cake
Alison Hammond holding chocolate cake - The Great British Bake Off/YouTube

In March 2023, Alison Hammond was unveiled as Noel Fielding's new co-host of "The Great British Baking Show," replacing comedian Matt Lucas. However, this wasn't her first stint in the tent. Back in 2020, Hammond competed in the show's annual celebrity charity spin-off, "The Great Stand Up To Cancer Bake Off."

She may not have won (despite reassuring viewers that she was both "a natural baker" and "a natural eater"), but Hammond once again proved herself to be a diamond in the rough of reality TV contestants. Tasked with whipping up a traybake, Hammond went to put her cake in the oven, only to find that the door was missing, or so she thought -- until she realized the door was retractable and broke out into her trademark cackle.

Other hilarious highlights included her defensive rebuttal to Paul Hollywood, who complained that her biscuit showstopper -- which was shaped like a police station -- was too robust. "Well, that's what I want," Hammond retorted. "It's a police station." It wasn't all laughs, either. Hammond did, in fact, prove herself to be a dab hand in the kitchen, with the judges praising her brownies. Even Prue Leith (who has previously shared her doubts over a celebrity's ability to bake) has admitted to taking home the recipe and putting it on her fridge. Now that's what we call Star Baker material.

She Once Gave Up Sugar And Raved About The Health Benefits

Alison Hammond holding plate
Alison Hammond holding plate - This Morning/YouTube

Hosting "The Great British Baking Show" is every sweet tooth's dream job, and Alison Hammond was in her element in her first season of the show. However, there was a time when sampling unlimited cookies, cake, and other sweet bakes would have been totally off limits, when Hammond went totally cold turkey on sugar.

While participating in "Sugar Free Farm" -- a British reality show that saw several celebs ditch sugar -- Hammond discovered that she was eating roughly 666 chocolate bars per year. After cutting out all sugar during her two weeks on the series, she went on to stick to a diet extremely limited in sugar that caused her to drop two stone (28 pounds). While Hammond compared the experience to a constant hangover or drug withdrawal (despite the fact she's never experienced either), she did admit that it improved her general wellbeing and helped her sleep better.

Hammond Underwent (Then Reversed) Weight Loss Surgery

Alison Hammond in black dress
Alison Hammond in black dress - Dave Benett/Getty Images

Midway through an interview with Matt Damon in 2007, Alison Hammond made a life-changing decision to get a gastric band. While talking to the actor, Hammond had noticed that her chair felt a bit tight -- only for it to then break completely, leaving her red-faced as the actor asked if she was okay and got her another chair. "'Right, that's it. I'm having a gastric band,' I decided," Hammond wrote in an extract of her memoir "You've Got to Laugh" that she shared with The Sun in 2021. "I didn't want to be fat anymore."

Over the course of the two years that Hammond had her gastric band, she lost around 14 pounds -- less than she'd expected. It also made her extremely sick, which she later discovered was due to scar tissue that had grown around the pouch and was squeezing her stomach shut. As a result, Hammond got her gastric band removed. While Hammond has since said that she would consider weight loss surgery, she is extremely body-positive. "Sometimes I look at myself and go, 'Wow, I am a big girl'. But I like taking up a bit of space," she said during an appearance on the podcast "What If? With Lorraine and Rose." She added: "I take a little bit of extra space in the world and I don't think I'm hurting anyone."

She's Keen To Spotlight Little-Known Black Historical Figures

Alison Hammond outside grand building
Alison Hammond outside grand building - alisonhammond55 / Instagram

Back in 2020, Alison Hammond made an impromptu appearance on "This Morning" beyond her regularly scheduled slots to talk about George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. During her tearful speech, she mentioned the importance of educating yourself -- something she later began to wonder whether she needed to do, too. "There's a lot of Black history -- my history -- that I don't know about," she told The Guardian.

This idea led to the production of "Back to School" -- a documentary that saw Hammond travel around the U.K. to learn more about overlooked figures from Black British history, such as nurse Mary Seacole (the pioneering British-Jamaican nurse) and Septimius Severus (Rome's first Black emperor). The show was a hit and led to a book, "Black in Time," which delved into the stories of even more under-appreciated Black Britons. Hammond later dubbed it the proudest moment of her career so far during an episode of "This Morning," saying, "I just feel so privileged, firstly that this documentary isn't about me, it's about these amazing people that I have the opportunity to bring their stories alive to show you about your history, because this is your history, my history, British history that we just need to embrace."

Hammond Was Praised For Bringing New Life To The Great British Baking Show

Alison Hammond Bake Off cast
Alison Hammond Bake Off cast - alisonhammond55 / Instagram

A show like "The Great British Baking Show" is rare. Not only is it a wholesome gem in a media landscape that seems to grow more cynical by the day, but it has also run for an incredible 14 seasons and counting and survived a revolving door of hosts and judges. In recent years, however, critics have claimed that the formula is growing stale, with some even speculating that the end was nigh for "Baking Show" after Season 13.

Then, Alison Hammond stepped into the tent for Season 14. Critics and audiences alike lavished her presenting style with praise, particularly the fact that she didn't make her job all about the jokes, as was the habit of her predecessor, comedian Matt Lucas. The Guardian dubbed her a "lovable jolt of energy" while The Telegraph declared that she was "a lovely, sunny presence." So successful was her first stint on the show that Hammond finally went from a well-known British celeb to a bonafide global sensation, with American audiences also jumping on the Hammond hype train. Unsurprisingly, Hammond is confirmed to return for more hilarity in Season 15.

Read the original article on Mashed