So, here we are then. Bake Off is back next week and nobody knows how to feel about it.
So far, the public has gleefully torn apart every aspect of the revamp, from the PR photos to the whimsical trailer of singing cakes and vomiting vol-au-vents (I loved it, but don’t you dare tell Twitter). And it’s hard to shake the feeling that we are children of divorce. Like all of you, I’m scared that watching the new line-up – presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, and new judge Prue Leith – move into Mel, Sue and Mary’s shoes will be like watching somebody else sleep in their bed and sit in their favourite chair. Piss off, Channel 4! YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD.
But let’s try to be mature about this, shall we? When I catch up with Bake Off’s new team, the message is clear: their main priority is keeping things consistent. And, whatever heartache may have passed between the parties involved, that doesn’t change the fact that they still love us, the viewers, very much indeed.
Paul Hollywood in particular is so determined to reassure everyone “Bake Off is still Bake Off” that at one point it borders on going a bit “a rose is a rose is a rose”. “Of course it’s still Bake Off – why wouldn’t it be Bake Off?” he insists. “If you get a factory supplying or making parts, if you change the staff, the machinery still works… I’ve seen the first programme – you will not know the difference. It feels like Bake Off; it’s Bake Off.”
Are we all clear? It’s still Bake Off. And although each episode will now be 75 minutes long, to make time for ads, Channel 4 has been quick to promise there will be no product placement. No public votes. No gimmickry. No nudity. In fact, everyone’s so adamant that nothing has changed I almost find myself willing them to add, “Of course, there’s a gunge tank...”
But even if the format and set are the same, isn’t it fair enough that fans are anxious about how their beloved show will translate on an altogether edgier channel?
So, is THAT the twist? Will this year’s gingham altar be groaning under the weight of chia balls and vegan chickpea brownies?
“They’re only anxious about him!” Prue gestures at Noel. He agrees, grinning. “It’s like finding a spider in a packet of fondant fancies.”
Even reformed indie kids like myself, who lapped up Fielding’s surrealist schtick on The Mighty Boosh and Never Mind The Buzzcocks, had to wonder if pairing him with safe, jolly Sandi Toksvig was an experimental flavour match too far. I mean, does he even do puns?
“I’m not really a pun man, but you just find yourself coming up with [them] because it’s appropriate,” he says. “I don’t think any of us came into it thinking we wanted to change anything. But I’m not Mel and you’re not Sue, so we can’t emulate what they did; we just have to try and find our own way.” And despite Channel 4 chief Jay Hunt announcing that the new show would be soggy-bottom-free, rest assured Bake Off is still riddled with nice cracks, firm baguettes and juicy innuendoes. “It’s as filthy as ever,” says Noel.
But what about the more wholesome side of things? After all, it’s been a tough year and, for many of us, Bake Off is akin to televisual therapy. Are they feeling the pressure to keep spirits up? “You can’t spend your day going, ‘I’m responsible for the nation feeling well!’ – it’s too much for anybody. I don’t think even Theresa May does that,” says Sandi. “You just have to go into it loving the show and loving the people that you’re working with.”
“There is something about the show that is so comforting,” adds Prue. “I think its success is largely to do with the fact that nobody sets out to humiliate a contestant or to make them feel awkward. We never put a crap baker in.”
When it comes to sniffing out a crap baker, Leith’s CV speaks for itself. The Michelin-starred restaurateur and cookery-school founder could prove a saltier addition to the mix than Mary Berry – who she rang up to ask if Paul Hollywood was “workable with” before accepting the job. Prue also has a catchphrase: “It’s not worth the calories.”
“I’ve been struggling with my weight all my life, so I know how many calories I’m up to in the day. I know when I’ve passed the famous 2,000,” she says. Plenty of us can sadly relate, but shhh, Prue! You’re breaking one of the unspoken laws of GBBO: that within those sacred canvas walls, calories don’t exist. Bodies are merely vessels for carbs. Societal pressures be damned, we’re all beautiful in the reflection of a perfectly glazed pie.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” chimes in Noel. “No one likes a tubby goth.”
So, is THAT the twist? Will this year’s gingham altar be groaning under the weight of chia balls and vegan chickpea brownies? Not if Paul has anything to do with it (he shoots this query the kind of icy glare he usually reserves for an under-proved bun) – but this year’s bakers do raise the bar for talent. “Every single week this year was better than any we’ve ever done,” he says. “The standard of baking this year was annoyingly good.” Paul reportedly dishes out a Hollywood handshake – the show’s ultimate accolade – four times in just one week.
Meanwhile, Sandi and Noel seem as emotionally involved in the high drama of the competition as their predecessors. “We’re just not removed from it at all,” says Sandi. “It sounds strange, but you do become a little Bake Off family.”
The tent’s new family might still have some proving to do, but they’re determined to present a united front – although they won’t be watching the social-media reaction. “Are you out of your mind?” yelps Noel. “I’m going to throw my phone in the ocean.”
As for us, the children of broken Bake Off? With a little time and an open mind, I think we might just learn to love it again. But if we really want the proof of the pudding, we know what we’ve got to do.
The Great British Bake Off will begin on Channel 4 on August 29