Bake Off is back with a new ingredient — Matt

The Great British Bake Off is back on our screens from tomorrow, Tuesday, September 22.
Bake Off is back with a new ingredient — Matt

Contestants Hermine, Sura, Rowan, Marc, Laura, Linda, Mak, Dave, Loriea, Lottie, Mark, Peter

TENTS everywhere. A sense of community. Folk doing all sorts of different activities, from yoga, to rounders, to cooking.

No, this isn’t a festival, but the new Great British Bake Off set, the Down Hall Country House Hotel in southern England.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and consequent restrictions on filming TV shows and films, has meant the Channel 4 competition is being made differently this year; namely, the series’ cast and crew had to live in a ‘self-contained biosphere’ for the six-week shoot.

Paul Hollywood, Matt Lucas, Prue Leith and Noel Fielding getting ready for Bake Off.  Picture: PA/ Television/Mark Bourdillon. 
Paul Hollywood, Matt Lucas, Prue Leith and Noel Fielding getting ready for Bake Off.  Picture: PA/ Television/Mark Bourdillon. 

The new ten-part series returns on Tuesday at 8pm, with Matt Lucas taking over from Sandi Toksvig as host, alongside returning presenter Noel Fielding and regular judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith.

The 12 contestants have been required to form a social bubble.

During a Zoom call with judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, they explain they had tests for Covid twice at their individual homes, then again as they arrived on site. Once they had come back negative, they were allowed to take face masks off and socialise within a certain distance.

Prue Leith.
Prue Leith.

“I ended up thinking, ‘This is the safest place in the whole of England’,” quips 80-year-old food writer Leith. 

“All 130 people — which includes the hotel staff and all of the crew and support staff and all the bakers — we all had been tested to death. We had our temperatures taken every morning.

“So, when we were in the tent, we were allowed to behave absolutely freely, and that was great, as it meant the viewer will see Bake Off like they’re used to. It won’t be masks and social distancing... It would have been really difficult to do Bake Off without being friendly, wouldn’t it?”

What was Luas, of Little Britain fame, he like to work with?

“Do you know what, he’s quite a quiet guy actually!” says Hollywood, aged 54. “But I’ve always been a massive fan of Matt.”

I think everybody loved Matt,” adds Leith. 

“He knew nothing whatever about baking, but became really interested in it, and he was very good with the bakers, he genuinely wanted to know what they were doing and why were they doing it.

“The very first day, he was very nervous, but as soon as he walked into the tent — like actors walking on to the stage — all those nerves just disappeared.”

The contest begins with Cake Week, starting with a signature challenge to produce a classic Battenberg.

The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice is also back on Friday at 8pm, as Jo Brand is joined by a panel of celebrity fans to discuss the best bits, air some unseen footage and speak to the baker who has left the tent. The first line-up features presenters AJ Odudu, Richard Osman and new host Matt Lucas.

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