The Great British Bake Off was in real trouble. Audiences agreed that the once iconic competition show went completely off the boil in the last series, thanks to overly harsh judging and unachievable time constraints set by its judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. It was as if the show had left behind the warmth that made it an institution in the first place.
But today (17 March) the news broke that Alison Hammond – the effervescent, 48-year-old TV presenter best known for her role on ITV’s This Morning – has been signed as a new co-host, replacing Matt Lucas. Now, Bake Off feels safe again. Her signing is a masterstroke – and another step in her unstoppable rise in British television.
Hammond is an ideal booking not because she is an overly talented baker. She appeared on the celebrity version of Bake Off as a contestant, once memorably declaring, “Things are just running so smoothly for me – this is actually boring TV!”, before worrying that her oven door had gone missing, when it had merely retracted back into the high-spec appliance. She also once filmed herself baking mini pancakes from home during lockdown: while dancing, she knocked the frying pan onto the floor, along with nearly all of the batter. On another occasion, while baking chocolate brownies on This Morning, she realised only two-thirds of the way through the recipe that she had not yet added any eggs.
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No, Hammond is such a joy to watch because she has the ability to put anyone at ease. She even managed to make Harrison Ford laugh (!) along with Ryan Gosling during a junket interview with her opening line (“Bleak, dystopian, an absolute nightmare to be honest, but that’s just my interviewing technique… let’s talk about the film Blade Runner 2049”). By the end of the interview she got Ford to yell “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” when asking him what was appealing about starring in the sequel. For most people, getting such a line out of Ford would have been frankly impossible. For Hammond, it is all in a day’s work. No wonder she ended up hosting this year’s Baftas alongside Richard E Grant. She can turn the stuffiest of scenarios into something warm and entertaining in an instant.
Hammond hardly ever comes across like she is presenting, which is maybe her greatest strength. She has made a career for herself by being herself. She acts honestly and authentically no matter what she is thrown into. This might look easy, but it is incredibly hard to do. And it is something she has done consistently – all the way back to her first TV appearance as a contestant on Big Brother in 2002.
Take the time she got into trouble with the Italian police when she believed her This Morning camera crew didn’t have a didn’t have a permit to film the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Instead of feigning cool on television she joked “I’m going to get arrested. I love you loads. LATERS.” And then, with the cameras still rolling, she ran away into the distance.