MASTERCHEF has announced that it has now reached its 500th season and has been watched by more than one billion people.

500 seasons? I know it seems to be on all the time, but I didn’t think it had been on the BBC as often as that.

Ah, no, it’s 500 seasons globally. The format has been duplicated in some 200 territories around the world. There have only been 50 seasons in the UK.

50 seasons? I know it seems to be on all the time, but …

Remember there are now four different MasterChef formats in the UK: the original MasterChef for amateur cooks, MasterChef: The Professionals, Celebrity MasterChef and Junior MasterChef.

That must keep Gregg Wallace pretty busy.

Well, you only get to compete in Strictly Come Dancing once.

MasterChef is quite popular then?

In the UK last year, the show was watched 22.2m times on BBC iPlayer. Only the dramas Normal People and Killing Eve got more. In April this year more than five million people tuned in to see the MasterChef final.

Paralympian Kadeena Cox won the final of Celebrity MasterChef in September. And a new series of MasterChef: The Professionals began on Monday night.

Whose idea was it anyway?

It was originally conceived by the film director Franc Roddam who before MasterChef was best known for directing Quadrophenia and coming up with the idea for the TV series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The first series aired in 1990 with Lloyd Grossman (of Lloyd Grossman sauces fame) as the presenter. Since 2005, when the series was rebooted, Wallace and John Torode have been the presenters.

Over the years some 1,700 contestants have taken part in the UK version of the series. In 2017 Gary Maclean won MasterChef: The Professionals, two years after fellow Scot Jamie Scott had picked up the title at the age of 25.

Why is it so popular?

Because it combines competition and cooking, presumably. And, the producers believe, Covid lockdowns have just made us all more obsessed with the food we eat. MasterChef Spain has even introduced a new format, MasterChef Seniors which was designed as a thank you to older people who may have spent lockdown isolating and alone.

Aren’t you forgetting someone?

Are you referring to the aforementioned Mr Wallace and his over-the-top reactions to the food he is presented with? It is very much part of the fun of it, yes. Of one dish he said: “I want to take my shirt off and dive in!” It’s perhaps little wonder that he’s been called the “Alan Partridge of food criticism” from time to time.

Have you ever cooked something you’ve seen on MasterChef?

I’m too busy trying to keep up with every series of MasterChef to do anything more than stick a M&S ready meal in the microwave. Or should I say “meecro-wa-vay”. No, wait, that’s a different TV cookery show, isn’t it?