I had no interest in cakes before Celebrity Bake Off – then suddenly I was in the running to replace Sandi Toksvig

I have never been a baker. My only child is 31 and yet to receive a home-made birthday cake from her mummy. In celebrations gone by, “the shops” provided the thing to stick the candles into. Once upon a time, when she was around four, my daughter came home from a friend’s house and informed me that “you can actually make cakes in your own house”.

“Hah, not in my house, darling.”

For years I didn’t actually have a cooker, I had a hob and a microwave  who needed anything more?

I also had a latent leftover fear of butter and sugar, having been anorexic until my mid-twenties. I know, right? And now look at the size of me! I still don’t have much of a sweet tooth; given the choice between sponge and cheese, I’m always going to choose the cheese, or the crisps, or the ham, and I haven’t actually eaten chocolate in around 40 years, which is something people find hard to get their heads around, I’m a woman after-all, yawn.

But all that apart, I have long been a massive fan of Bake Off. I love the creativity in the tent, I love the colour and drama, I love seeing people sweat and run and fall and fail and triumph and cry. After all, you don’t need to be able to “do it” to enjoy watching it, hence football.

So when the call came in asking me to take part in Channel 4’s The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer special, I was thrilled. Good cause, good gig… then the panic set in. I had one day to practice my bakes.

The girl who phoned me from the production company, was very practical: did I have the usual baking goods in my store cupboard? “No”. Did I own any baking equipment? “No”.

“OK,” she sighed as I began to gibber, “don’t worry.”

That evening, a delivery arrived from a certain well-known supermarket containing not only a vast selection of baking ingredients but stuff like baking trays and a rolling pin; it felt like I’d taken a delivery of someone else’s life.

Practice day dawned and the old man hovered at a distance as I crashed around in the kitchen. By bedtime, I had a migraine.

Being in the tent the next day was as surreal as you’d expect. There is something very Alice in Wonderland about finding yourself somewhere so familiar but otherworldly, it is both bigger and smaller than you’d imagine. Instantly, my mind went blank and I needed help turning on the cooker.

As anyone familiar with the show will know, we had three challenges. My fellow competing celebs included the divine ex-Love Islander and basketball player Ovie Soko, the mega-successful comedian Russell Howard, and my biggest rival, telly’s Louis Theroux, who was burning with ambition.

Now, I’ve done quite a few of these shows and the one thing that always strikes me is how competitive most celebrities are. “Never underestimate anyone who has ever done panto,” is my motto.

As it transpired, we were all pretty useless in the cake-making department, floundering around like a bunch of toddlers suddenly give permission to play in a real kitchen.

Now let me put something straight here… because there have been accusations of my being more experienced than I let on, to which I can only respond with the hysterical laughter of my friends and family. But something odd happened to me in that tent. According to the old man, it was like watching a fat dad get off the sofa and score a Premier League goal. All I can say is that everything I made was a massive fluke.

At the end of round one, I received a pre-coronavirus era handshake from Paul Hollywood for my ginger and orange giant Frida Kahlo biscuit; this was followed by a vaguely successful stab at mille-feuille, which I’ve never been able to pronounce, never mind make; and finally, I managed to pull off a messy but colourful “perfect day” showstopper. This was made entirely out of profiteroles and featuring myself topless and swimming with pigs in the Bahamas. The star baker pinny was mine, all mine, mwhahahaha.

The show was filmed back in October and I managed to keep my trap shut about the results for five months. I also kept quiet more recently about being auditioned to take over from Sandi. Apparently there were only five names in the hat and during the two weeks while they made up their minds, I occasionally allowed myself to fantasise about the difference it would make to my life.

Ten minutes before the charity edition of the show aired, my agent called. I hadn’t got the gig.

I watched the show feeling slightly gutted until the baking high jinks were paused for “Emily’s story”, which told us in a few brutally short minutes how a very young woman with everything to live for lost her life to skin cancer. And boy, did that put it all back into perspective.

You win some, you lose some. I hope Matt Lucas has a ball in that tent.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *