In these depressing times, overstuffed with arguments about Trump, Brexit and, latterly, Facebook, we have to grab crumbs of comfort wherever we find them. And there have been plenty of crumbs, both of the real and metaphorically soothing kind, provided in recent weeks by The Great Celebrity Bake Off. This run of special episodes in aid of Stand Up to Cancer has been an unalloyed delight.
The huge fuss that greeted Great British Bake Off’s (GBBO) move from the BBC to Channel 4 last year now seems a distant memory. Not only did the show survive the transition, but it actually improved. Most remarkably in our age of social media nastiness, the new presenters, Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, who replaced Mel and Sue, seemed to meet with almost universal approval. Prue Leith, who replaced Mary Berry as judge alongside the programme’s one permanent fixture, Paul Hollywood, has also gone down well for her blunt opinions and snazzy outfits.
Unlike the usual run of GBBO, in these celeb editions the competitive element is nothing more than a notional idea – and that is the key detail that makes it work particularly well. Everyone is clearly having a ball, and the enthusiasm is infectious.
Highlights have included Harry Hill’s cake inspired by his “beach holiday with Camilla Parker Bowles” (complete with a swimming horse), Jamie out of Made in Chelsea creating the worst sponge in the history of Bake Off, and the general uselessness of Nick Hewer (formerly of The Apprentice). My only, very minor, gripe is the over-use of the “Hollywood handshake”. It sounds like a ghastly euphemism, but is, in fact, nothing more a simple handshake proffered by the mahogany-skinned one when he feels one of the bakers has really hit the mark. Perhaps I should lighten up, but for some reason it’s ubiquity is really starting to grate on me.
There is, with the Stand Up to Cancer cause at its heart, a serious side to the show. Case studies, in which families recount their tragic stories about lost loved ones, are dropped in amid the cake-based tomfoolery. This could so easily have been a horrific misstep, of the kind dreamed up by Chris Morris (cake and cancer!). But instead these vignettes are compelling and devastatingly sad – and help make the Great Celebrity Bake Off truly special television.