PEOPLE: DARRYL W BULLOCK
As The Great British Bake Off fever sweeps the nation once again, Q&C gets a taste of the world of Gary Chapman, a man who left behind his publishing job in London for the countryside of the Cotswolds where he became a world-renowned cake decorator and author.
Gary Chapman is a man with more than one string to his bow. Formerly an executive in the publishing industry, he and his husband left their breakneck lifestyle in London behind them more than a decade ago and moved to the Cotswolds, trading the hectic city for bucolic bliss. Now, from his home in Stroud, Gary pursues his twin passions: as well as being a recognised expert on the early jazz era, he is also an award winning and internationally-acclaimed cake decorator.
Gary was employed in the UK book publishing industry for over thirty years, for companies including Pan Books, where he worked with authors Douglas Adams, Clive James and Judy Blume, and Constable, where he devised the marketing campaign for Michel Roux’s autobiography Life’s A Menu. While working as Marketing Director for the Merehurst Publishing Company, he became fascinated by sugarcraft. Merehurst had built up a worldwide reputation as the leading publisher of cake decorating books, and Gary helped launch the company in the USA.
“I thought it would be useful for me to spend a day discovering what cake decorating was all about,” he tells me, “and I became fascinated. I’d always been creative and working in sugar is very much like modelling with clay.” While studying sugarcraft and cake decoration, Gary invented a technique for recreating fabric out of sugar, and he went on to launch the first ever mass market cake decorating magazine, Sugarcraft. “Remember that this was all pre-Internet,” he says. “I had discovered this skill for creating fabric out of sugar - fabric flowers, ribbons, bows, all sorts of things – and I wanted to show others how to do it.”
Invigorated by this exciting edible art medium Gary set up his own business, Iced Delights, in the early 1990s and began to design and create cakes inspired by fabric. Within a couple of years Gary had published his first book, Fabric Effects in Sugar, and he was giving classes and demonstrations throughout the UK and USA. Gary also became one of the top wedding cake makers in London, working on exclusive designs for celebrities, including designing TV host Gaby Roslin’s wedding cake. But it wasn’t always easy, and his unique style did not always go down well. Customers were used to cakes that were dainty, with pastel colours: Gary’s creations were brash and bold. He wanted to do something new and different. Eventually others caught on, and his use of colour, and his ability to recreate fabric out of sugar, has become part of mainstream cake decorating.
His passion for the Jazz Age of the 1920s provided him with a unique source of inspiration. Gary has always been fascinated with the period, and he drew on his extensive collection of contemporary costume designs and illustrations for ideas and colour schemes. His book Iced and Easy, produced for newsagent chain W.H. Smith, cemented his position as one of the most creative and influential cake decorators in the country, years before anyone had even heard of The Great British Bake Off.
Yet life in London was getting him down and, in 2006 he and his husband took the bold decision to move to the other side of the country. “We were both working in hugely stressful jobs,” he explains. “I’d lived there most of my working life, but you’re a hamster on a wheel; it’s all about work and paying the mortgage. Moving here was a bit of a shock to the system, but we walked in to this house, thought ‘this is great’ and now I don’t think I could ever go back.”
The slower pace of life in Stroud suits him and allows him to indulge in his twin passions. In the Spring of 2010 Gary launched the Jazz Age Club website, and shortly after he established his own private press, Edditt Publishing. He has continued to write books about cake decoration – his next French Beaded Flowers In Sugar – is due out next month, but has also written extensively on the hidden histories of some of the most charismatic performers of the Jazz Age, including the Dolly Sisters (in his book The Delectable Dollies: Icons of the Jazz Age), and the early years of the iconic British film studio Gainsborough in London’s Hollywood: The Gainsborough Studio in the Silent Years.
“I have had a passion about the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 1930s for a long time,” he explains, “especially anything relating to film, stage, cabaret, fashion and art. I wanted to introduce new topics and views not explored elsewhere to bring the period alive, instead of just focusing on the usual suspects.” This month he issued his latest book, the first ever biography of the outrageous male performers The Rocky Twins. Extensively researched and featuring over 100 illustrations, many exclusive to Gary’s own collection, the book explores the secret gay underground of the 1930s, when the twins were regarded as two of the best dressed and most handsome men in the world.
It’s non-stop for the man who describes himself as ‘semi-retired’. As soon as French Beaded Flowers in Sugar hits the shelves Gary is off to the other side of the world as the guest of the New Zealand Cake Decorators Guild, hosting workshops and judging competitions at the country’s premier cake decorating show in Wellington. “I was a bit hesitant at first,” he admits, “but some friends recommended me. As well as the exhibition, I shall be going on tour to various places, giving a mixture of demonstrations and workshops.” A former judge at cake decorating completions in the UK and the US, Gary admits that “I used to go to America every year to judge competitions and give demonstrations, but you can’t do everything!”
Gary’s latest book, The Rocky Twins: Norway’s Outrageous Jazz Age Beauties is available now from www.eddittpublishing.com