This year’s series of The Great British Bake Off was bound to make headlines – not least of all because the UK hates change (when it comes to TV shows at least), and the show has, at first glance, gone through a lot of them. It’s on Channel 4. There are ad breaks. Mary Berry has been replaced by Prue Leith. And Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig are presenting instead of Mel and Sue.
Despite this, the show has proven to be a rip-roaring success, with many people praising the “more surreal, comedic take” on all of that baking action.
Yet it seems as if some of GBBO’s fans have found it difficult to adapt to the brave new world. So much so that they have done their very best to sniff out a conspiracy theory, in a bid to explain away the bad taste in their mouths.
We’re talking, of course, about all the rumours flying around about two-time Star Baker (and 2017’s first recipient of The Paul Hollywood Handshake), Steven Carter-Bailey.
Steven blew Paul and Prue away in the very first episode, winning praise for his Bonfire Night-inspired bake before creating a cake that looked like a loaf of bread in the final showstopper.
This week’s episode (5 September) was no different, with Steven’s pristine chessboard cake securing him the title of Star Baker for the second week in a row – an accolade which left him pleased as punch.
“I don’t think I will ever get used to this feeling, it’s alien to me,” said Steven. “I have bullied myself so much in my life that finally I am getting praise, I don’t know what to do with it.”
Pride, though, is not something which the Great British public can get on board with; they much prefer it when people bat away compliments, talk down their skills and insist they’re far more mediocre than the world gives them credit for.
Naturally, then, suspicions were raised when they stumbled across Steven’s Instagram account, @spongecakesquaretin, which is filled with beautifully technicoloured and (rightly) self-congratulatory photos of all of the cakes he’s ever baked.
There’s the ridiculously cool minion sponge:
A horrifying zombie bake:
An edible pot of very realistic daisies:
A sponge-based designer bag that genuinely looks more Chanel than actual Chanel:
A homemade wedding cake:
Another homemade wedding cake:
And a perfect Spongebob Squarepants cake:
It makes sense – to rational people, at least – that a GBBO hopeful would have some prior experience of baking. That he or she would, in fact, be a seriously adept baker. That they would have a veritable arsenal of awesome edibles to show off on social media. That they’d be confident in their own abilities (enough to apply to a baking talent show, at the very least).
However, some folks out there disagree with all of those beautifully logical sentiments. They prefer their GBBO stars to be cowed, simpering, and full of self-loathing. They want them to flush red with embarrassment whenever Hollywood’s hand hovers near their face. They want them to spout out lengthy monologues about how terrible they’ve been, and are, and will continue to be. Nay, they don’t want it: they need it.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that, despite the fact that there is no suggestion the marketing manager is anything but a talented home baker, Steven’s early performances have caused a few people to cast doubt over his amateur status.
“Steven is a fraud,” wrote one. “Get him outta here.”
Another questioned: “Of course he is very talented, but are we 100% sure that Steve isn’t actually a professional?”
And still one more said: “He’s a secret pro – watch this space.”
A GBBO contestant who can bake cakes? Won’t somebody please, please, PLEASE think of the children?
As if that weren’t damning enough, others have pointed out that Bake Off never used to include the likes of the ‘illusion cake’ challenge – and even suggested the task had specifically been set to suit Steven’s particular skill set.
Addressing the controversy, Bake Off bosses told metro.co.uk that these whisperings of a “fix” couldn’t be further from the truth.
“The different challenges each week test a huge range of skills over the series and were in place before the bakers identities were known,” they said firmly.
It’s worth pointing out that Steven makes his bread (ha) as a marketing manager, not as a professional baker. And, yes, he has whipped up an array of birthday and wedding cakes in the past, but he did them as favours and gifts for friends and family.
In fact, he learned his skills in the kitchen from watching the most important woman in his life: his mum.
“My mum, Judi, has been such a massive influence on me,” he said. “When she had children, she wanted to provide a warm environment where the oven was always on. Toad in the hole, pies, cakes, she always had something on the go.”
Not-so-subtly reminding the world at large that he is not a covert baking professional, he added: “It’s a cliché but you have to love your job. I’d love to swap my career [to baking] one day.”
Go for it, Steven: live your dreams. Just remember not to live them too loudly, or you'll find yourself the subject of many a tut going forward. And nobody wants that, do they?
GBBO continues next Tuesday at 8pm on Channel 4
Image: Channel 4