He may not have the steely blue eyes, but Crumpsall-born Paul Hilton shares the initials, the sharp shirts – and for 32 years – shared the career of silver-haired baker Paul Hollywood of Great British Bake Off fame.
He’s well aware that his life could also have been all about bread rolls and baking powder were it not for a mysterious advert that appeared in the local paper way back in 1998, which Paul eventually answered.
Up to that point baking had been Paul’s bread and butter. At 13 he was grafting in his sister’s Moston bakery, spent three years at Salford Tech learning the theory, had his own business (Paul’s Patisserie) for ten years, and then spent another decade working for an Italian restaurant owner called Rocky who built a bakery just for him.
“Rocky was about to sell the business and I was a bit fed up when I saw an advert in the paper which said: ‘Are you stuck in a rut? Ring this number’. I put it in my pocket and forgot about it, but then decided to give it a go,” he explains.
“The next thing I know a woman from the BBC was asking me: if I could do any job, what would it be? I’m a Man City fan so I said: ‘Assistant Manager to Kevin Keegan, but failing that I’d like to work with the deceased’.”
Out of 15,000 people, Paul was chosen to take part in a BBC documentary (Apply Immediately) which followed his every move for a year as he carved out a career in the funeral business. He did his training at one of our Chorlton branches, and was such a natural he was offered a job at the end of it.
But why did someone dealing with dough want to turn his attention to death? “I wanted to care for the deceased and to make that journey a family are about to go on as painless as possible, so you’re also helping the living,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s not that often you get an opportunity to do both. It’s a unique thing.”
So does Paul ever regret leaving the world of baking behind? “I’d never go back,” he says. “I’m based in such a brilliant community (Moss Side in Manchester). It’s been absolutely fantastic for me personally. This is the most rewarding thing you could ever do.
“I went to see this family last night who’d lost their 15-year-old son and someone had recommended me. You can’t put a price on that. It’s a privilege to go in there and already know this family has got 100% confidence in me. There’s no job in the world like it.”