The reactions to Noel Fielding joining The Great British Bake Off followed a simple recipe.
His humour was too niche, too irreverent for viewers’ tastes. He lacked the gentle charm needed for the twee tent. He wasn’t a presenter. And he wore skinny black jeans. He was going to be terrible.
Guess what? The opposite has happened, and Noel has quietly but quickly become the best thing about Bake Off.
So much so, I actually enjoy watching him in the tent more than Mel and/or Sue. Put the rolling pin down, and let me explain.
During the whole moving-to-Channel-4 hoo ha, Bake Off was held up as a precious commodity. It needed to be handled with kid gloves, protected and nurtured like a fragile sourdough starter.
Any change whatsoever – no matter how minor – was to be treated with huge suspicion, whether it was the brand of food mixers being changed (this caused a minor scandal in 2015) or the loss of the history segment (which has since made a surprise return).
Which meant that I, like most people, was rather perplexed by the thought of Noel Fielding remotely near the GBBO tent.
Episode one didn’t exactly put my fears to bed. Looking (and no doubt feeling) a bit awkward throughout, the most bizarre moment came as he rendered Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith speechless by popping a marigold in his mouth and claiming it tasted like a clown’s nose.
It was an abrupt end to seven years of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins pepping up the bakers with their motherly encouragement and gentle smut, but it also proved something else; that this was a far sturdier format than most people believed, and actually, it could hold its own without the very people who were supposed to hold it together.
Now as the episodes have rolled on, the flour has settled on Noel’s residency in the tent. Far from being the odd addition to the mix, his quips, asides and bizarre references have become the best bits of Bake Off, the nuggets you turn the volume up for and rewind if you miss. Bake Off never took itself seriously, but who knew you could handle heaps more irreverence and silliness and still produce such entertaining results?
Essentially, Noel Fielding has given Bake Off an edge no-one knew or thought it needed.
He’ll sidle up to the bakers mid egg-wash with a cheeky grin and an off-the-wall reference, swig some rum, ask if he can wear their shirt, threaten to take his clothes off, gently poke fun at their bakes.
It’s not all as smooth as a mirror glaze ganache. An incredible Prue Paul’s Drag Race pun aside, the scripted bits between Noel and Sandi Toksvig often miss the mark, while his narration sounds more sickly sweet than every bake in caramel week combined.
But when he’s ad-libbing, he’s unstoppable. Utterly left-field and unexpected – and always bloody funny. It’s this unpredictability that makes him such a treat to watch. Who would have thought that a history segment could be introduced with heavy references to Blade Runner actor Rutger Hauer and a comedy fall backwards over a box hedge? Somehow, it just works.
Then there was the time he announced the bakers didn’t have long left, using a wooden spoon to ding a display of teacups on the wall and smashing one in the process. Far from being apologetic, he simply shoved the evidence in a nearby sink, ignored the carnage and drifted off. It used to be that the only times you’d laugh out loud on Bake Off were when someone would splat the cake they’d been working on for five hours onto the floor, but Noel has brought a fat dollop of genuinely humorous moments.
Of course, he’s also a friend of the bakers. As the weeks roll on he’s clearly starting to care about them in the same way we are. When Tom was on the receiving end of a verbal mauling by Paul, he piped up how much he felt for him – and you could tell he really meant it. Then there was the time Liam was struggling, and Noel reassured him by saying that when he was his age, he couldn’t boil an egg.
Noel previously said he “didn’t think I had a hope in hell of getting on Bake Off”. Now, I can’t imagine it without him.