IT’S as comforting as the smell of freshly baked scones so it’s no surprise that eight million people watched the Great British Bake Off final this week.

Nearly 40 per cent of the TV viewing audience tuned in on Tuesday night to watch Giuseppe Dell’Anno crowned winner of the 12th series of the amateur baking show.

The 45-year-old chief engineer from Bristol became the first Italian to take home the prize and even though he’d proved over and again how talented he is, the final was touch and go when he burnt his Belgian buns to a crisp.

I’m not usually a fan of reality TV but Bake Off has real feel-good factor and none of the crassness or cruelty of some of the other shows. Instead of watching minor celebrities choke down kangaroo testicles in the jungle or Simon Cowell humiliate a pub singer who should never have left karaoke night, we get to see Paul Hollywood narrow his blue eyes at cakes, breads and pies before grinning and giving the relieved contestant one of his coveted handshakes.

The other judge, Prue Leith, is like a kindly home economics teacher who clearly relishes every bite of a successful bake, declaring it ‘worth the calories’ or ‘simply delicious.’ Hosts Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding with their off-centre humour and attempts to distract the contestants are the icing on the cake.

When the show, which was first aired in 2010 on BBC, moved to Channel 4 after seven series and presenters Mary Berry, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc jumped ship with only Paul Hollywood staying on, there were fears that it would never be the same, just as Top Gear has never recovered from the departure of the three idiots and their cars.

But thankfully we were proved wrong when Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig came on board. Toksvig was later replaced by Matt Lucas, who pretended to be caught about to have a passionate snog with Fielding in the final. Nobody cared or complained sniffily to Ofcom – it’s 2021 and it’s the GBBO, a bit of light to offset the dark on the news. Even grumpy Paul Hollywood has mellowed and become less grudging with his praise, which is all part of the fun.

But the real stars are the bakers, a mixed bag of people with a variety of backgrounds, ages and professions. This series hit new heights of talent that imbued the judging of the signature, technical and showstopper challenges with knife-edge tension. There were moments of shock – when Giuseppe’s main rival the skilled German Jürgen was knocked out – and in the nail-biting final Giuseppe’s oven failed to heat up, Crystelle focaccia was a soggy mess, and Chig’s Belgian buns were unrecognisable.

The final was everything and more that it had promised as the three remaining contestants battled it out over a hugely ambitious showstopper challenge themed on the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland. Their creations were so ambitious it was inevitable things would go wrong as the bakers raced around the kitchen pulling off four different bakes.

It made for great TV and I found myself welling up when the finalists’ back stories were revealed in moving vignettes: Crystelle had been a hellraiser at school but baking gave her life focus; self-taught lockdown baker Chig lost his father when he was young and was determined to embrace life; and Giuseppe was inspired to start baking for his children by his father, a chef and patissière who presented his family with a beautifully crafted dessert every Sunday.

Bake Off is one of those shows that has everyone talking, the way we used to talk about TV shows before streaming. Why do people of all ages and genders love it so much? My husband was playing tennis that evening and was smiling when a playing partner, a male academic, rushed off to watch the final as soon as the game was over.

Long before the lockdown mania for making sourdough, the Bafta-award winning show was credited with a resurgence in baking, with shops reporting a massive rise in baking ingredients and materials.

The series is one of those British shows that’s also done extremely well in the US, where it has a huge following – it’s even referenced in next year’s animated film DC League of Super-Pets when Superman’s dog goes in the huff because it’s the series final and his master is going on a date. “It’s pie night!” he growls before going off to chew on some of the superhero’s footwear in revenge.

Perhaps the Americans love GBBO, as we do, because it’s quintessentially British. The show was conceived by producer Anna Beattie who was inspired by the classic village fête baking competitions. She said: “I loved the idea of an old-fashioned baking competition with people who only wanted to bake a good cake.” The set with its marquee strung with jolly bunting in a scenic garden reproduces that bucolic ideal and speaks to our nostalgia for simpler times.

GBBO has spawned a junior version, a professional one for teams of pastry chefs, while its formula inspired The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throw Down. But there’s nothing like the original. I was delighted when it was announced that a 13th series will be made and felt like Giuseppe, who said: “There are no words, I’m speechless for once.”

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