Packed full of warmth, anecdotes, family photos, and recipes, BBC Two’s The Mary Berry Story has proven time and time again that it is a must-watch for fans of the former Bake Off host.
However many viewers were left in tears after the most recent installment (11 November), which saw the beloved cook open up about the tragic moment she found out that her son had died at the age of 19.
In 1989, William had returned home from university in Bristol to spend time with his parents, his brother, Thomas, and his sister, Annabel. Berry recounted how, excited to have him back, she’d whipped up a special roast dinner for the entire family to enjoy, leaving her son feeling overwhelmed.
“Will came back from [university] on the Friday night and he hadn't been home for a few weekends, so I thought I'll do roast lamb, because it's his favourite,” she explained on the show.
“I can remember Will walking through the door on that Friday and asking ‘Mum, who's coming?’ And I said, ‘It's you, it's so lovely to have you home and Annabel and Tom too’, so we had a lovely family meal.”
Berry went on to describe the events of the next morning, explaining that William asked his parents if he could borrow their car for a trip into town.
Heartbreakingly, he never returned home again.
“It was a glorious January day,” reflected Berry. “And it was sort of one o’clock and he wasn’t home.
“The doorbell rang and there was a policeman there and immediately then I knew why. And he said there’s been an accident and I’m sorry to say your son is dead.”
The (now) 81-year-old and her husband, Thomas Hunnings, rushed to Wickham Hospital, where they were offered the chance to see their son for one last time.
“[The staff] were so understanding, and then they said ‘Would you like to see William?’” recalled Berry. “And he just looked so beautiful and so lovely, his little cold face...
“It was nice to say farewell.”
Annabel, who had been in the car at the time of the crash, escaped unharmed.
Adding that she and her husband were “just so lucky to still have our two other children”, Berry said: “We had William for 19 years and he was just such fun.
“We have great, great memories.”
Berry recalled that both she and her husband were obviously extremely shaken by the tragedy. She retreated from her public career in London, moving with her family to Buckinghamshire – and she turned her back on cooking for the first time. But, thankfully, she and her husband sought support in one another.
“It was a great comfort to us both to have each other,” she said. “Your life long partner. I was so lucky to have him.”
Eventually, after a year had passed, she felt strong enough to face the world again. So she started her own cookery school from home, focused around the Aga in her own kitchen.
“People started ringing and asking ‘When can I come to the school?’ So we made two dates, then another two, and then, from that day on for the next 12 years, we never advertised. It was always personal recommendation and we gave people a right day out.”
The cookery school attracted over 40,000 people to Berry’s kitchen – and allowed her to get back to doing what she loved most, all whilst remaining close to her family and friends. That refusal to compromise, and her desire to do things on her own terms, is probably a big part of why she is so well-loved today.
The Mary Berry Story is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
Images: BBC Two