The Great Celebrity Bake Off review: Jodie Whittaker gives a showstopping performance in more ways than one

The ‘Doctor Who’ star has some drama in the tent, and is joined by Munya Chawawa, Spencer Matthews and Paloma Faith

Sean O'Grady
Sunday 17 March 2024 21:12 GMT
Jodie Whittaker turns out to be mustard with a giant custard cream
Jodie Whittaker turns out to be mustard with a giant custard cream (C4)

The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up to Cancer is back, and while there is much that is familiar – unhealthily large lumps of butter, homemade jam, weak jokes – there are some important changes. Out like a soggy digestive goes Matt Lucas, and in comes new ingredient Alison Hammond, a lovely choux bun of a presenter, and the nicest Brummie on the telly (not a crowded field when you consider the rest are mostly Peaky Blinders).

She’s not quite as fruity as Lucas – who is? – but her larger-than-life personality comes in handy now that it’s teamed up with Noel Fielding, who seems to be deflating into a worryingly pale, smaller-than-life persona faster than an undercooked soufflé. I don’t like to be personal, really I don’t, but his vampiric presence on the show is fairly off-putting these days. And, according to reports, this will be Prue Leith’s last season on the celeb spinoff, with Nigella Lawson rumoured to be the very acceptable replacement. She might feed Fielding up a bit. The sardonic Paul Hollywood is also present, as ever, and sprinkles his unique umami quality to proceedings.

It might be my fading memory but they seem to have rejigged things a bit this year, and so the show doesn’t proceed quite as stodgily through all the contestants, ingredients and cookery tips as it used to. Watching people make cakes remains inherently boring but the editing is snappier and, at least as far as the first episode is concerned, the celebs are livelier than usual, too. Jodie Whittaker endures with good grace the endless bantz about Doctor Who, her most celebrated role, and smiles bravely when advised not to confuse her sonic screwdriver with her whisk.

She proves to be a worthy runner-up baker, based on creations with a sense of occasion and a vivid imagination. Her showstopper consists of a giant custard cream that actually tastes as good as the ones you can buy in the shops, according to Paul, with the ageless features of the judges picked out with ice rings, melted glacier mints and jam. These treats appeal to the judges, as do her sunny cake pops. At any rate, she and the cast and crew survive Bake Off’s first serious industrial accident, when the glass bowl in Whittaker’s food processor decides to go into orbit like a Sontaran spaceship and smashes into the floor. That really is a showstopper.

But not enough of one to thwart Spencer Matthews (Made in Chelsea, and now surely a bit of a Chelsea Bun), who excelled himself with his Jekyll and Hyde avant-garde “dodgy jam” portraits of Leith and Hollywood, nicely combined with the Stand Up to Cancer arrow logo; here is a baker who’s also a painter. It is when he reveals – with understandable smugness – that the jam for the filling in his giant biccies is home-made, that we really get the gut feeling he most likely will win. As the judges say, Spencer seems to improve through the challenges, and makes the effort. He consistently applies a sense of balance to his cooking – cutting through sickly sweetness with a squeeze of a lemon for his red velvet cake pops. If life as a professional celeb ever palls, he might consider becoming a TV pastry chef .

The low point, aside from the Time Lord’s flying mixing dish, is the cake lollipops designed by singer Paloma Faith. These are inspired, if that’s the word, by the poo emoji, and her kids love them. Crafted by hand with cocoa and caramel, with a nausea-inducing realism, they go down well with the judges, and Hollywood particularly enjoys their grainy texture. Makes you wonder…

Fielding turns a bit scatological as he observes Faith forcing the brown stuff out of her piping bag like a badly constipated labrador. As I say, a haunting and unappetising scene, and the most disturbing since Russell Brand created a biscuit diorama tribute to his missus’s ladyparts.

Jodie Whittaker turns out to be mustard with a giant custard cream (C4)

Even with a format as thoroughly well-baked as Bake Off, keeping it so fresh is a remarkable achievement. The recent flawed revivals of Big Brother, Survivor and even Wheel of Fortune remind us how difficult it is to sustain a “franchise” across the years, changing presenters and moving around the channels; but Channel 4 has proved to be the ideal oven in which GBBO can rise. The next episode will feature actor Danny Dyer, comedians Rhod Gilbert and Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon), and presenter Yinka Bokinni, a highly palatable mix, and I’m particularly looking forward to just how much obscenity Francis/Lemon can pump into a cream bun.

Funnily enough, Bake Off was first aired on the BBC back in 2010, and so it is the same age as the Conservative government. Sorry, but I cannot avoid the obvious point that Bake Off hasn’t yet gone all racist, mouldy, or stale. Let’s be grateful for that.

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