Hand it to Paul Hollywood – he can take the Bake Off heat | Rebecca Nicholson

The TV judge has been pressing the flesh and thereby cooking up controversy

Fans of The Great British Bake Off, and I count myself among their number, are so devoted to TV’s best baking competition that they are prone to becoming just a little bit cross, thank you very much, if the show or its contestants ever dare to disappoint them. But even at its most heated and controversial, it’s only ever a gentle sort of outrage. In 2014, I had just returned home from a period of living in the US when the baked alaska scandal broke and it was sobering to explain to friends in New York why “bingate”, the sorry tale of an ice cream accidentally removed from a freezer, had been front-page news here for days on end.

Last week, Paul Hollywood’s liberal way with a handshake turned up the scrutiny. This once rare, always excruciating process of offering silent praise to contestants via a steely glare and a staid grip was offered not once, but thrice, to Rahul, Kim-Joy and Manon. A Buzzfeed investigation revealed that use of the handshake has increased significantly since it began in series three. Like teenagers insisting on shortening their names to something involving an X or a Z, the handshake has become Hollywood’s “thing”.

The reason Bake Off has survived a change of channel and presenters, and maintained such success when other reality-adjacent formats grow tired and crumble as they get older (small aside – is The Apprentice back?) is that it always feels like a collective, like everyone is in it together. There is no room for cranky “I’m not here to make friends” moments. They all want each other to do well.

So when Hollywood goes overboard on the handshake, it’s breaking the unspoken democratic code that keeps the show warm. It makes it more about him than the contestants. As the original judge, the only one to have been there through the fallow handshake-less years, he’s in a position of some authority, but the handshake has become a predictable way of showing it off.

On The Jonathan Ross Show, Hollywood addressed the issue, insisting the handshakes have been plentiful so far simply because the bakers have been so good this year and that they’re about to dry up like an overbaked shortbread. “I raise the bar and then no one gets over the top of it,” he explained, somewhat ominously. There has been no word on what he might choose as his next-level honour, though the day someone (probably Rahul) gets a Hollywood hug is when you know he’s truly serious.

Goop hoopla keeps the bucks rolling in for Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow: laughing all the way to the bank.
Gwyneth Paltrow: laughing all the way to the bank. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The opening of the UK’s first Goop store last week, in London’s Notting Hill, has given a boost to an ongoing fascination with Gwyneth Paltrow’s ever-giving lifestyle brand. Goop is a “wellness” venture so akin to performance art that it will come as only the mildest of surprises when Paltrow reveals that it’s all been a Richard Linklater-style experiment in endurance film-making and Goop: A Cautionary Tale walks away with the Oscar for best picture in 2032.

Reports from the pop-up shop have giddily highlighted the availability of essential oil for softening pubic hair; a bag of crystals for £76; and the infamous vagina egg, which, for a bargain £65, one can place inside the body, with the aim of strengthening pelvic floor muscles. Other reasons to do so are less clear, perhaps owing to a lawsuit over “unsupported attributes” made regarding the eggs, settled by Goop for $145,000 in California, after prosecutors argued that the “wellness empire sold a series of women’s health products whose advertised medical claims were not supported by competent and reliable science”.

I subscribed to the Goop newsletter early on. It was a ridiculous, cartoonish insight into what people with too much money can find to spend it on. What’s not to love about a £40 jar of Moon Juice-branded Brain Dust, “alchemised to align you with the mighty cosmic flow needed for great achievement”? But the last laugh is on me: a highlight of an extensive, brilliant profile for Paltrow for the New York Times in July was the revelation that the more people criticised its most outlandish products and claims, the more people clicked on the site. I unsubscribed eventually. Monetising outrage no longer seems very funny. But then again, perhaps my mighty cosmic flow just needs attending to.

Do not disturb Eric Idle before lunch

Eric Idle: definitely a night owl.
Eric Idle: definitely a night owl. Photograph: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for FilmRise

A tale of two Monty Pythons last week. On Good Morning Britain, John Cleese accidentally continued a mysterious and tantalising off-air conversation with Ben Shepherd, suddenly very much on air, about “this extraordinary caravan which is powered entirely by marijuana”. (Finally, an episode of Top Gear I can get on board with.) Eric Idle, meanwhile, spoke to the New York Times, updating readers on the progress of the film version of the musical Spamalot, while discussing his fellow Monty Python members and explaining why he often wrote alone. “Deliberately so because I can’t stand talking to people before lunch. I don’t think anybody civilised does,” he said.

Idle is completely correct about this and I appreciate him speaking up for the non-morning underdog. There is little worse than not only having to wake up early, but having to be enthusiastic about the day ahead, when one’s circadian rhythms lean firmly towards the night. I would almost go so far as to suggest a blanket ban on all phone calls before midday. Recent research suggests that night owls are more likely to die early than morning larks, of course, but please don’t talk to me about this until I’ve finished my third coffee.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

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