By Kimberley Bond
In a particularly difficult and tiresome year, The Great British Bake Off has been one of our few crumbs of comfort. With an average of 10 million viewers this season, cake fans across the country have tuned in as the show provided welcome refuge from lockdown misery.
However, as the 11th season of the baking competition draws to a close, some of the real world’s ugliness has crept in, blighting the fun and light-hearted nature of the tent.
The shocking semi-final saw fan favourite Hermine eliminated– a bittersweet exit, especially as Prue Leith said Patisserie Week was going to be “her moment”.
Despite not having tasted the food or having any cooking credentials, many armchair critics thought Hermine was more deserving of a place in the final than Laura. The backlash to Hermine’s exit prompted a response from some fans that was so ugly, not even smut-filled innuendos about Paul Hollywood’s cream horn could lighten the atmosphere.
The vitriol turned so toxic that it led to Laura speaking out on her own Twitter account.
“It’s ok to be sad your favourite person didn’t go through, but please remember it’s not my fault,” she wrote. “I don’t make the decisions. GBBO is all about kindness and I haven’t seen much of that on here.”
It's ok to be sad your favourite person didn't go through, but please remember it's not my fault. I don't make the decisions. GBBO is all about kindness and I haven't seen much of that on here.
— Laura Adlington (@LauraAdlington) November 18, 2020
Trolling, unfortunately, is nothing new. Ever since social media has become an instant tool for the public to register their opinion, television shows (and reality shows in particular) have egged on their viewers into having their say on Twitter.
To go on reality TV is to open yourself up to a mass of individuals all brimming with opinions, but it’s a sad reality that people have to steel themselves for such an onslaught from random strangers over something as trivial as cake. Have some fans already lost sight of the need to #bekind?
It's easy to sit there on your sofa and judge. But I am a real person with feelings. Please take a moment to consider your words before you judge someone you've never met and whose food you've never tasted.
— Laura Adlington (@LauraAdlington) November 18, 2020
Sophie Faldo, who won the Bake Off title in 2017, previously spoke out about the trolling she received.
“The trolling on Bake Off had a horrible impact,” she told RadioTimes.com last year. “I experienced some dark times after the show.
“TV is TV and when you finish, it’s nothing to do with the production company, it’s to do with the viewers and what people say about you. It’s not anything you can do much about.”
Trolling in all forms is horrendous, but trolling over Bake Off always seems especially bewildering as it’s in such stark contrast to the very nature of the programme itself. Other reality shows thrive off tricks and twists, paired alongside Simon Cowell-esque putdowns, vicious arguments and national humiliation.
Bake Off distinguishes itself from other programmes by being resolutely the same each year – the format is very rarely taken beyond the tent, the judges border on ‘bad cop’ but are never outright villains (with Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas being their cuddly counterparts) and the Great British Bake Off contestants, no matter how eccentric, all genuinely appear to leave the competition firm friends. Its warmth is one of the key components see fans return every single year, so it seems wrong-footed for that goodwill to not be extended by the entirety of its fanbase.
Despite the urgency and reach of the message of compassion that came to a head and united TV fans earlier this year, through the medium of the viral hashtag #bekind, the heat of people’s emotional reactions see them overlook the kindness that stands at the heart of Bake Off. The show is, after all, a competition which forgets it’s a competition. There are no particularly high stakes here. The winner doesn’t walk away with a cash prize or even the guarantee of further media success. People pour bile on bakers over something as flimsy as who they believe should win a trophy and a handshake from Paul Hollywood.
It’s not the first time there have been calls to curb trolling in the world of reality TV. In the wake of Love Island presenter Caroline Flack’s suicide at the start of 2020, many urged people to #bekind in an attempt to build a more considerate society. But while there was a sense of camaraderie and goodwill for a short while, buoyed by the first lockdown, it appears patience and consciousness has started to wane. Despite all the calls for kindness and awareness of mental health, some people seem to have short memories.
In times as gloomy and as uncertain as this, it’s important to note that Laura, like everyone else, may be dealing with more pressing matters than a competition that has already been filmed and should have fans’ kindness and respect. In the spirit of the show, whoever does take the trophy next Tuesday (along with the rest of the Bake Off class of 2020) deserves nothing but warm wishes and praise for brightening up our year for 10 weeks. And if you’re not entirely happy with whoever wins? Well, as last year’s contestant Michael Chakraverty so perfectly put it: “It’s only cake, babe.”
If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, contact Samaritans for free from any phone at any time of the day or night on 116 123.
The Great British Bake Off concludes Tuesday at 8pm on Channel 4. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide.