Great British Bake Off’s Richard: the builder, baker and stereotype-breaker

In his own little low-key way Richard, with his sharpened pencil behind his ear, is breaking down stereotypes, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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The fifth series of The Great British Bake Off comes to a close tonight, with Nancy, Louis and Richard vying for the title of ultimate star baker.

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When it comes to making the final decision about whose showstopper is the show’s topper, the responsibility lies with the King and Queen of the baked good, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. But for me, Richard is already a winner. 

The north London builder, who is as handy with a whisk as he is with a drill, has charmed the nation, men and women alike, with his precise creations and down to earth attitude. And in his own little low-key way, Richard, with his sharpened pencil behind his ear, is breaking down stereotypes. 

We’ve come a long way from a time when a woman’s place was only in the kitchen – and of course it’s worth remembering that Bake Off’s winners have been more male than female – but it’s great to see a man openly and unapologetically embracing a world – stocked with frilly doilies, pink icing and edible glitter – that’s been labelled as feminine. 

Even though cooking and the realm of celebrity chefs is dominated by men – Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Rick Stein (the list goes on…) – cake baking is still primarily seen as a woman’s domain. Even the show’s judge Paul Hollywood is evidence of gendered cooking. Sure he loves a sturdy sourdough, but you don’t see him presiding over the macaroons or petit fours. 

Cheerful, chirpy and unflappable Richard, though, doesn’t play up to cake making’s girly reputation, or ignore it all together, serving up wedges of sponge on slate in a super manly way – he simply enjoys baking. 

As well as gardening, cycling and building. He’s an everyman. A man who hand-crafted his own kitchen, probably with his bare hands, and now hand-crafts cakes in it. A pretty perfect modern man, actually.  

“[Baking isn’t] a particularly empowering thing, it’s just cooking. It’s what you do in your spare time in the kitchen. I feel like it should be free from the constraints of feminism or misogyny,” last year’s finalist Ruby Tandoh told RadioTimes.com recently.

And she’s right. The Bake Off, like baking itself, shouldn’t be about big issues. It never set out to change the world. GBBO’s humble intentions are just to showcase the skills of dedicated amateur bakers and maybe inspire a few more of us to pick up our whisks and wooden spoons. But good TV makes you think. 

And Richard Burr, with his record five star baker wins, has made me think. About the way we are so quick to label and constrain and how this builder-turned-star baker simply and brilliantly refuses to fit into a pigeon hole. 

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The Great British Bake Off concludes tonight at 8:00pm on BBC1