Spectacles, by Sue Perkins - book review: Baked to perfection

MICHAEL JOSEPH - £20

Right from the foreword of her memoir Spectacles, Sue Perkins’ intentions are clear: “I have amplified my more positive characteristics in an effort to make you like me.” Co-presenting the wildly successful Great British Bake Off and now being styled as the new Michael Palin, she’s edging into the territory of National Treasure. Many will be buying Spectacles to find out more about Bake Off, and, true to form, Perkins is charming about everyone, from Mary Berry, “one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting” to Paul Hollywood, who is “funny and kind”. Early in the first series, the producers were determined to pile excessive pressure on contestants, so Perkins and co-host Mel Giedroyc walked out. They won, and now, it seems, niceness is the order of the day.

Just occasionally though, Perkins shows her teeth. Earlier in the book, there’s her understated, heartbroken rage on being told of her infertility by a consultant who, learning she was gay, said: “Well that makes it easier.” Then there’s the memory of her parents’ dinner parties, listening to “the rumble of banter, in the days before ‘banter’ was a euphemism for ‘white male doing rape jokes’.”

She furiously downplays any hint at self-regard, so we hear almost nothing of her time as president of the Cambridge comedy society, Footlights, and in her telling, she almost lucked into her launch-pad job co-hosting the 1990’s daytime TV hit Light Lunch – “We somehow managed to slip through the audition, through the pilot, and on to the actual television.”

But Perkins is open about pain, and experienced in it, too. Her father’s cancer, the break up with her partner, and her grief at infertility are all expressed with delicate precision. One of the most memorable passages comes when Perkins visits Giedroyc just after the birth of her first child: “We’ve gone everywhere, hand in hand together. But I can’t go here. Not here.”

She’s as funny as would be expected, her humour best at its blackest. Top of the Pops, she explains, “was a documentary about a group of predatory paedophiles set against a backdrop of disco music and early electronica”. And when her childhood hamsters die, she grieves “like a drama school Medea”.

Indeed, some of the book’s most moving moments come in her account of Pickle the beagle, who, at eight weeks old and 2.26 kilos, was “the exact weight of love”. When, later, Pickle becomes ill ... well, maybe don’t read that chapter in a public place.

Life, love and loss – it’s all here. And as for her mission statement, Perkins needn’t have worried. Warm, crisp and beautifully layered – like its author, Spectacles is a complete delight.

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