If more proof were needed of The Great British Bake Off’s (Channel 4) triumph as a format, look at the calibre of celebrities they’ve assembled for this five-week-long charity edition. Daisy Ridley! James McAvoy! Dame Kelly Holmes! Dizzee Rascal! David Baddiel! Often these editions are full of people who are famous for craving fame, but here there’s not a no-mark influencer or reality star in sight. Even the representative from Internetia, the YouTuber KSI, is as big as online stars come. Lockdown might have helped, although it doesn’t seem to have made much difference to The Circle. Really this is about Bake Off’s position in the culture: a programme that’s predictable, beloved and unlikely to embarrass you.
In the first episode, Ridley lines up against the singer Alexandra Burke and the comedians Rob Beckett and Tom Allen, who were at school together. Allen presents the professional edition of the programme, so continues a tradition of presenters going to the other side for celebrity specials. Thanks to Star Wars, Ridley is properly, hard-to-go-shopping famous, but she mucks in with the soggy bottoms, gamely twirls her rolling pin like a lightsaber, beams her thousand-candelabra grin and generally seems like a laugh.
“Can you explain to me how you made the sponge,” Paul asks her after sampling a calamity.
“I put it in a bowl and I whisked it,” she replies.
“For how long?”
“I didn’t do it for too long.”
“How long was that then?
“Some few… moments,” she replies. “Until the big bits of flour were gone.”
The others, aware of the Jedi elephant in the room, seem happy to accept supporting roles. Baking is a wonderful leveller: whatever else may be said of ganache, it doesn’t care about how many followers you have on Instagram. Where the contestants on regular Bake Off are accomplished bakers, this lot are mainly hopeless. As a result, this version ironically ends up being much more relatable. There are few moments of surprising virtuosity, plenty of undercooked heaps of ingredients. It’s possible that you, the mortal viewer, are as good at baking as Alexandra Burke. It’s possible that the formats slowly evolve over the years to the point where the regular Bake Off is more like the professional one, and the celebrity edition is the endearing mass-audience mainstay.
With only four contestants, there isn’t the quite the same energy in the tent as there is with a full complement. Noel Fielding’s chemistry with Matt Lucas has become a vital part of the show’s formula, so his absence on paternity duties is felt. Aside from that, this is as enjoyable a celebrity special as I can remember. There’s a short Stand Up to Cancer video to remind us that these good sports are in support of a good cause, but they don’t lay it on too thick. The question is who they’ll get in next year. To judge by what we saw on ITV last night, the royal family could use a bit of bonhomie.
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