When Liam Charles was knocked out of The Great British Bake Off last year, there was national uproar. Some viewers threatened to boycott the rest of the series, others declared him the winner regardless.
After placing fifth and being eliminated in week eight, Liam gave an emotional goodbye in which he said: “Onwards and upwards. It’s not the end of me, it’s just the beginning. I’m coming for Paul Hollywood’s job in a couple of years.”
Some might’ve scoffed, but just four months later, Liam was revealed to have landed the gig of co-host on Bake Off: the Professionals. Which, surely, is the next best thing.
Now this Sunday, the 20-year-old makes his presenting debut alongside comedian Tom Allen and returning judges Benoit Blin and Cherish Finden.
Whilst we know all about Liam’s baking prowess (why it took so long for him to land Star Baker, we’ll never know), the big question now is: can he actually cut it as a presenter?
In short… yes. The end result might be a little under-baked, but it’s unquestionably good news that Liam is back on our screens and in particular on Bake Off: the Professionals. Let me explain why.
When the first series of the uber-competitive, uber-technical spin-off aired on BBC2 (back when it was called Bake Off: Creme de la Creme), many viewers were quick to deride it for lacking the warmth and charm of the main show. And in that, nothing’s changed.
It might have moved to Channel 4, but judges Benoit and Cherish are still as harsh and unflinching in their takedowns of the baking teams (unlike in GBBO, pairs of bakers compete in the Professionals). Mary – and more recently Prue – would often find a positive in the most soggiest of bottoms, but Benoit and Cherish take no prisoners.
Similarly, comedian Tom isn’t the warmest of presenters. He’s brilliant with the withering looks, the acerbic put-downs and has a sharp wit. He has the confidence that comes with being a seasoned performer, comic and stand-up, and can easily command a scene. But this is why having Liam on board is so important.
Unlike his three Professionals colleagues, Liam hasn’t got much experience with this whole presenting and being on TV thing, and that does translate through the screen. His scripted lines are often more chewy than smooth, and he can look a little nervous and awkward when he’s clearly being instructed to stand here and say that.
And yet what far outweighs all of that is the boundless and infectious energy, enthusiasm, warmth and sheer likeability that Liam oozes. There’s a reason why everyone was so outraged when he was ejected from Bake Off: it’s immensely fun watching him on TV.
Liam also isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. When one contestant is making a sweet pastry, she asks if he wants a go on the rolling pin. Exclaiming “I do!”, Liam jumps in and excitedly starts rolling only for her to promptly stop him claiming that he’s doing “too many waves”.
With a mock exasperation and hamming up how aghast he is, Liam asks: “Is that why I lost the other Bake Off?”
For a show that arguably errs a little too much on the side of po-faced, what Liam does is inject a crucial dose of joy, light-heartedness and youthful exuberance. Prior to this first episode airing, Liam said that it felt “natural” to him to present. “I wouldn’t say it is easy because that sounds a bit big-headed,” he added.
Judged solely on his first outing, ‘natural’ feels a bit strong. But with a little more time to settle in, and as the weeks go by on the Professionals, we wouldn’t be surprised if Liam rose to the challenge and became as good in front of the camera as he is in the kitchen.