Why there’s nothing wrong with Celebrity MasterChef’s line-up

Jennifer Saunders and Dom Joly claim they don't recognise most of the contestants - but were they really expecting Tom Hanks to cook for Gregg Wallace?

John Torode and Gregg Wallace on MasterChef

Series 15 of Celebrity MasterChef is on its way from the restaurant kitchen to our dinner plates, thankfully filmed before lockdown started. The line-up has already been announced and we’re expecting the show on our screens this summer.

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But the announcement of this year’s celebrities, featuring Gethin Jones, Sir Matthew Pinsent and the show’s first blind contestant, presenter Amar Latif, has gone down less favourably than a bowl of cold and lumpy mashed potatoes.

The grumbles on social media, led by comedians Dom Joly and Jennifer Saunders (whose husband Ade Edmonson won the show in 2013), concern the fact that the celebs aren’t recognisable enough. Who are they? How dare they masquerade as famous people on a very important celebrity cooking competition? Outrage in the extreme!

Calm down, dears. For a start, what were you expecting? It’s true that this year’s crop of celebs is a little less starry than usual. But were you honestly expecting a heat in which Jennifer Aniston’s apple crumble was up against Tom Hanks’ Eton Mess, Adele’s lemon sorbet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s spotted dick?

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
We’d all love to see Leonardo DiCaprio in the kitchen

The term ‘celebrity’ is used ever more loosely these days, partly because there are so many shows to cast, and so many vaguely famous people required to fill them. We’re on series 15 of Celeb MasterChef now, how many famous folk willing to embarrass themselves in front of the nation do you think are left? Of course there will always be the odd moment of magic – Teri Hatcher on Bake Off seemed an incredible signing, but it’s a high bar to set for every show. Often what looks like an A list coup is wrapped up in a PR campaign anyway.

What irks me most is the short-sightedness of some critics. TV isn’t just made for you and your best mate (more’s the pity, I know). Casting directors have to think carefully about serving a wide audience and sometimes the tick box casting is glaringly obvious – there’s the cricketer for dad, the soap star for mum, that pop star my cousin likes, etc. And of course letters are sent to gazillions of well-known people in the hope that just one will clear a space in the diary/reduce their fee/give in to the nagging.

While neither me nor my Gran were particularly excited when Joe Sugg was initially announced for Strictly in 2018, a huge community of his young followers were thrilled (although they’d never use that word, obvs). Amusingly, a lot of the people who moaned bitterly about an influencer ruining their favourite show later found themselves voting for Joe to win, so charmed were they by his attitude towards the series and his all-important ‘journey’.

Joe Sugg won over new fans with his Strictly appearances
Joe Sugg won over new fans with his Strictly appearances

The point is that you get to know the celebs, just as you get to know contestants on the civilian versions of these shows. By the final, you’re rarely still voting led by your initial allegiances. And who is to say that the mega famous make good telly anyway? If you ask me, astronomer Russell Grant was a far more successful Strictly signing than Destiny’s Child superstar Michelle Williams. If I had the choice of Will Smith or Wolf from Gladiators in the MasterChef kitchen, I’d honestly need time to think about it.

Reality shows are always full of surprises anyway. While most of us had heard of Harry Redknapp before he went in the jungle, nobody had him pegged as a charming romantic and a soon-to-be-national treasure. And who can forget when Dancing on Ice spent an eye-watering sum of money signing Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, only for her to be voted out first? Awks.

I predict that series 15 of MasterChef will be just as popular as previous years. Save for the odd rush of excitement if you see someone you particularly admire on a casting list, we no longer care about the names. Of course I would love it if Michelle Obama did Strictly or Brad Pitt went in the jungle. But all we really want is easy, enjoyable TV to wile away an evening. And whether you’re mega famous or just well-known in your postcode, you’re all welcome as far as I’m concerned.

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Celebrity MasterChef returns to BBC1 this summer. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide.