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Great British Sewing Bee to return to BBC One with Orston’s Gillie Ford among the contestants of the show judged by designers Patrick Grant and Esme Young and presented by comedian Sarah Pascoe





The Great British Sewing Bee returns to our TV screens on Wednesday night and representing the older generation is Gillie Ford.

Gillie, formerly Orston and now living in Lady Bay, beat 15,000 other hopefuls for a seat at the BBC sewing table for one of the nation’s favourite craft shows, now in its ninth season.

Speaking to the Advertiser on her 74th birthday, Gillie said: “It was during lockdown that I started to think about what I really wanted to do.

The contestants of the Great British Sewing Bee series nine, include 74-year-old Gillie Ford, fourth from right. Credit James Stack/BBC
The contestants of the Great British Sewing Bee series nine, include 74-year-old Gillie Ford, fourth from right. Credit James Stack/BBC

“I had always watched the Great British Sewing Bee and I decided to apply.”

Gillie then faced a rigorous auditioning process before being selected as one of 12 competitors who put their sewing skills to the test to battle it out to be crowned the best amateur sewist in the country.

Great British Sewing Bee contestant Gillie Ford at her sewing machine. Credit: James Stack/BBC
Great British Sewing Bee contestant Gillie Ford at her sewing machine. Credit: James Stack/BBC

“I’m representing the older generation,” she said: “There is someone who is 20 and then there’s me who is 20 years older than anyone else.

“As part of the audition process they asked you to make a washbag. Well, I had threads hanging everywhere, but I finished in the three hours. Three hours isn’t long. Only three finished in that time and I think they were impressed with my splash of colour. I felt under pressure as when I sew at home I like to take my time, have a coffee and have the radio on.”

She had to keep her participation in the show a secret until the contestants were officially revealed and only told Jonathan and their sons Harry, from Tollerton, Guy, who lives in Newark with wife Viridiana and Leo, who lives in Southwell.

“I knew they’d keep it a secret,” she said of the children: “They wanted to be spies when they were little.

“I’ve always loved sewing. I’ve made my own clothes, clothes for the boys and I’ve always been very proud of the costumes I made for the Orston [Christmas Eve] pageant.

Gillie was five when her mother, a fashion designer on Bond Street with an illustrious career, first instructed her on how to thread a needle. Her father wouldn’t allow her to go to art college and, much to her disappointment, she became a secretary, later working in human resources as a manager, but she carried on sewing.

Gillie, who is grandmother to Freddie and Camilla, with a third due any day through Harry and Leanne, loves elegant designer clothing and is influenced by high-end French fashion houses. She is also a big Nottingham Forest fan, her father Harold Alcock having been a chairman of the club.

It was during a trip to Paris, France, in the Sixties, a country she visited to learn the language, where her love of making clothes really came into its own through a job with a fashion house.

“One of my favourite designers is Alexander McQueen,” said Gillie, who always buys Vogue magazine.

“I would describe my style as classic, very different to some of the other contestants who could be such free spirits.

“The set was like an Aladdin’s cave with such amazing fabrics and haberdashery. I loved choosing the fabrics and getting to work.

“I love to make something beautiful from nothing.

“Seeing a model wear something that I had made was a wonderful experience and I have made friends for life.

“I was so thrilled to get on the programme. It gives you a confidence that you never really had before.”

Contestants will compete in three sewing challenges each week. The challenges have been carefully designed to test each sewist's technical and creative skill.

Each week, one contestant will be awarded with Garment of the Week and another sewist is sent home. The best three sewists will battle it out in the final to be crowned the winner.

Of the judges, Gillie said: “Patrick [fashion designer Patrick Grant] is very cool. All the girls liked Patrick. Esme [fashion designer Esme Young] is lovely and a bit of a whirlwind. Sara Pascoe [presenter] is a dream.

She has to remain tight-lipped about what happens on the show and how she fairs, and plans to watch opening night with a family get-together at Harry’s house where a homemade curry is on the menu.

Tune in to BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday nights, or catch up on iPlayer, to cheer her on.



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