In Brief

Great British Bake Off: meet the celebrity contestants

Sports stars and a former Spice Girl will join Samantha Cameron and Ed Balls for charity bake off

The Prime Minister David Cameron's wife Samantha is one of sixteen celebrities who will take part in a Great British Bake Off charity special.

The four-part series, which airs in March, aims to raise money for Sport Relief, reports the BBC. It features a line-up of celebrity contestants whose baking efforts will be critiqued by regular judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

Samantha Cameron's rivals include Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh and pop star Will Young, and actors Ade Edmondson and Alison Steadman. Another figure from the world of politics, former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, will also appear on the show.

Other contestants in the kitchen will include former Spice Girl Geri Horner (formerly Halliwell), Louise Redknapp, Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Jason Manford. From the sporting world, former footballers David James, Chris Kamara and Jermaine Jenas will also don aprons for the charity event which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and overseas.

Mrs Cameron is not the first political spouse to take part in the show, says the Daily Telegraph. Sarah Brown, wife of the former Labour prime minister, Gordon, lost out to actor Michael Sheen (who played Tony Blair in The Queen) in an episode screened earlier this year.

It is also not the first time that Mrs Cameron has displayed her baking skills, notes the Telegraph. In 2013 she baked cookies and flapjacks wearing a red wig in the Downing Street kitchen for Comic Relief, and during the General Election campaign earlier this year she was overheard saying, "I feel like Mary Berry," when she and her husband were pictured with a group of baking apprentices.

The Daily Mail adds that she has previously said how much she enjoys creating cakes to help raise money for charity.

However, the Mail says that Mrs Cameron will face stiff competition from Balls who is known to be passionate about food and also enjoys baking for his children.

Speaking about his abilities in the kitchen in an interview, he said: "My mum taught me. She's a good cook and always keen to try new things. And I've been practising ever since."

Children's birthday cakes are "a bit of a speciality", added Balls. "I do a good pirate ship but 'a Coke can with straw' proved to be an ask too far…"

Regular presenter Sue Perkins will not appear in the four-part series, but her co-star Mel Giedroyc will present one of the hour-long episodes, with Jennifer Saunders, Sarah Millican and Ed Byrne hosting the others.

The series will also show Clare Balding visiting Comic Relief projects in Kenya, while Denise Lewis, the Olympic gold medallist, will visit charities in Britain, to show viewers where Sport Relief money is being spent.

Great British Bake Off: why is the show so popular? 

20 August

When The Great British Bake Off first appeared on television five years ago, broadcast from a tent in Devon, few predicted its mix of cooking, competition and corny jokes would go on to be a global hit. But as Series 6 gets underway, many commentators are speculating on what key ingredients go into this recipe for success.

The Bake Off, which features Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood guiding contestants through a baking contest, is watched by viewers in almost 200 countries. Some 20 countries have also cooked up their own versions including Brazil's Hands in the Dough and Italy's Dolci in Forno (Sweets in the Oven).

But the show almost didn't make it to our screens, after it was initially rejected by broadcasters, reports The Guardian. Love Productions spent five years repeatedly pitching the show before it got a TV slot, and presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins thought it might flop. The first episodes also received a lukewarm response from critics.

But the final of the last series was watched by a record audience of more than 12 million viewers, making it the second most popular show of the year after England’s football World Cup match with Uruguay.

Bake Off’s BBC commissioning editor, Clare Paterson, thinks the reason for its success is that it represents a safe haven in an often harsh world. “What’s not to like about it? It’s something viewers can sit down and watch with coffee and buns and laugh at the puns. It’s just incredibly lovable. There’s something about it that makes people feel good."

Many others have have also been pondering the question of what makes the show a hit.

Jamie Merrill in The Independent supports the feel-good idea. Bake Off is "a kind affair with only a mild sense of jeopardy from the constant threat of baking elimination", says Merrill.

This is "nice television", adds Merrill, "where the hosts are kind and the contestants, who are varied and interesting, are treated kindly and with respect by the producers". The show has "left the British public hooked and desperate for another lick at the bowl of ever-so-sweet Bake Off cake mixture".

Eleanor Doughty in the Daily Telegraph, says baking is therapeutic. "Spending time in the kitchen can be hugely therapeutic, and for many, baking is done as ‘therapy’," says Doughty, adding that the end result is something "delicious to eat".

It's about simplicity, suggests Chris Clarke on the advertising site Campaign. The show's success and grip on the popular imagination is "down to its distillation of the massive complexity of human experience and identity into a few very simple ideas". People like simple things, says Clarke.

Mores the pity, says Brendan O'Neill in the Daily Telegraph. Britain is being swallowed up by "a tsunami of twee", he says. As the more rebellious culture of the working class wanes, and the high culture of the elites is damned as inaccessible and irrelevant, the twee middle classes take over.

We need an antidote to all this twee, declares O'Neill, adding we should, "squash the cupcakes, grab a beer, and do something less boring instead".

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