And here I have a confession to make – it’s been so long since I actually watched the final (a trip to Poland and a busy week intervening) that I can’t actually remember that much about the grand finale. I can remember that the big challenge for all the competitors was to get everything baked, given that they had only one oven (Mwa-ha-ha-hah!). I remember Andrew’s perfect little salmon and asparagus quiches, which somehow looked so much more appetising by virtue of being rectangular and having the asparagus criss-crossed neatly over the top (was there a box in his spreadsheet “Arrange asparagus”?)
I remember that Jane and Andrew both suffered from underbaked sausage rolls, which maybe cost them the title, and that Jane also failed with her cake. In a previous episode she tried to do a chocolate wrap and it didn’t work, in this episode she tried to do a chocolate wrap and it didn’t work. Plus ça change, plus ça melty chocolate wrap. I remember that Candice had a steely glint in her eye and the air of a woman going for broke, which proved to be prophetic, as she walked away with the cherished cake stand, and very well deserved too. And I remember that the inimitable Val is running a baking holiday in Ayia Napa, which frankly boggles the mind, and that Jane and Candice are planning a baking trip together, which, if somebody films it, should give The Hairy Bikers a run for their money.
I always find the final bit of the final episode a bit weird. The families all turn up and burst the fantasy bubble in which the bakers, Mel, Sue, Paul and Mary are all bezzie friends who hang out together in between episodes and exist only to bake and make us happy. We leave the tent and go outside, which feels as strange in many ways as when, in the last Blue Peter episode before Christmas, they used to light the last candle on the Advent Crown (remember, FIREPROOF tinsel, people!), the lights would dim and the cameras pull back and the studio doors would open to reveal a brass band and children’s choir with lit lamps. They would all march in and sing carols with Val, John and Peter (the dream team) underneath the Advent Crown. And it was lovely, but also kind of weird, because it broke the fantasy that they belonged to us, and revealed that they were just part of the big wide world, and belonged to us no more than any of it.
Which is as true of Bake Off As of anything else. The bakers, Mary, Paul, Mel, Sue, and the tent don’t belong to us, or, indeed, to anyone now. They belong to the past, because that was The Last Episode of Bake Off As We Know It, Ever. It’s gone where the good TV programmes go, with Val, John, Peter, Shep, that Siamese cat that nobody was ever really that interested in, even me, and presumably the Blue Peter tortoise too. It’s over (because in my opinion, celebrity versions don’t count).
And what shall we do about that? Shall we be like the spectators at the end of The Truman Show, totally emotionally invested, weeping, laughing, hugging, and then, when the credits have rolled, reaching out for another slice of pizza and turning over to see what’s on the other side?
Well, yes, because at the end of the day it was only a TV programme, albeit a bloody good one. A programme which celebrated diversity, in which it didn’t matter if you were male, female, young, old, brown, black, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jedi,so long as you could bake. A programme which could take a young Muslim woman who was too nervous to leave the house without her children and turn her into one of the five hundred most influential people in the UK. A programme which, unlike most, had three women presenters to one man, and middle-aged and elderly women at that (maybe other broadcasters might want to think about this when wondering how to emulate its insane popularity). A programme which was like being part of a family, with Mary as the matriarchal gran, Paul as the stern but loving father, Mel and Sue as a combination of lovely supportive mum and mental auntie, and the bakers as sometimes maddening, sometimes wonderful brothers and sisters.
And like all good things, even good families, it came to an end, but at least it went out on a high, which is all any of us can hope for in the end. Goodbye, soggy bottoms everywhere! Miss you. 💖