Reader, I was seized by a sort of madness on the last day for applications, and yes, I did. I filled out the form as wittily as possible, attached various photos from this blog in an attempt to demonstrate my baking *ahem* prowess, and clicked send. I sort of felt that I ought to put my money where my mouth was. Not my fault if I didn't fit the demographic the producers are looking for: I expect there were more than enough white married mothers who applied to tick that particular box, although I'll admit to playing the disability card by mentioning the fact that my dog only has 3 legs.
I spent the whole of Friday terrified that the phone would ring, then on Saturday I hotfooted up to Town for the second annual meeting of the Non-Bookclub Bookclub (you can read what happened at the first meeting, this time last year, here what happened at the second meeting involved coffee, culture and cocktails, and that's all I'm saying for now, except that I really love my friends. I really love them). The instructions/application said that if we hadn't heard by 2 February, we weren't in. I checked my email and my messages. Nada. Rien. Not a sausage. Reader, my soggy bottom will not be gracing your TV screen this summer. Phew!
But niggling away at the back of my mind through all this was a worry about what was driving me to enter. I really do have no wish to be humiliated (even if it is by the doyen of British Baking and the Silver Fox) on national TV, to have my fairly average baking skills
I recently read a very interesting book by the journalist Jon Ronson called The Psychopath Test. It's not as heavy as it sounds, but it deals with a fairly heavy issue, that of the classification of psychopaths.
I had a residual interest in this anyway. Many years ago as a trainee lawyer, I did some work in connection with Mental Health Review Tribunals. I was involved with those tribunals of psychopaths incarcerated in high security hospitals Broadmoor, Rampton), who argued that as they were effectively 'untreatable' they should be in prison, not hospital. It's easier to get released from prison than hospital, and when someone has raped and murdered without turning a hair, you can imagine that there's a certain interest in these particular hearings. I can't say any more or I'd have to kill you, but I should say that all this was a good 15 years ago, and the law will have moved on. Hopefully, the psychopaths won't.
The reason I mention this, though, is that there is a chapter in the Ronson book about how bookers for those day time TV shows where people go on and 'air their family differences' work. Essentially, the bookers ring potential participants up relatively frequently, whipping them up into a sort of frenzy before the programme. They also (this is quoted in the book) ask if the people concerned are on medication. Anything that would suggest a bi-polar disorder - lithium for example, is a no no - "too mad", but people taking mildish anti-depressants are in. They are just mad enough. Does that not make you feel even a little uneasy? And why do people apply to go on these shows (by the way, I include Big Brother in this and the audition rounds of X Factor and Britains Got Talent - total car crash humiliation TV)? For fame? For notoriety? For someone to hear them? To be trashed and humiliated on national TV in the pursuit of their 15 minutes? For (that most dreadful of words) 'Celebrity'?
Were my motives any different in applying for the GBBO? I would have been terrible - but it would all have been done rather nicely and with a wry smile. And imagine the fodder for this blog. May be I'd be asked to open the school fete as our own local GBBO contestant. The mind boggles as the world of G list celebrity beckoned briefly...
I know that we all love to slate those 'my sister is sleeping with my husband's crack dealer' type of TV shows. I genuinely do not watch them - and am even more convinced of that having read Ronson's book, but - strike me down - is GBBO not just the same thing, albeit dressed up as a fancy middle class Village Show baking class? If I got through (some hope) would I actually be trashing all my principles for the sake of my own 5 minutes of fame (I would never have lasted longer than the first round, believe me!) and some extra baking burns to add to my collection?
I watched most of the GBBO series 3 (btw I think the wrong person won) and enjoyed it, but I got the same niggling feelings, as Messrs Berry & Hollywood grimaced and eyebrow-raised their way through it, as I do whenever I catch bits of those other shows I mentioned in rare channel surfing moments. I love Mel and Sue, but it all felt like a bit of a parody, a bit set up, in the same way that those conversations between the judges on Masterchef feel all staged - Greg says one thing, John contradicts, Greg changes his mind (unless it's about pudding) and John gets his way. It's true. I've studied it. In some ways, it might even be worse, because most of the Bake Off contestants seemed to be me to be pretty good bakers, yet the way it was presented, well, I cringed. People putting their heart and soul into something to have it trashed for a soggy bottom. I felt a bit bad that I was contributing to the success of the programme by watching. On the other hand, it can't be worse than putting people the producers KNOW are on medication up in front of a TV audience and getting them to scrap it out? As far as I'm concerned, willing participant or not, that is exploitation, and I'd be hard pushed to use that word about GBBO, but is that because I probably fall slap, bang into the GBBO target audience?
It's true that nowhere on the GBBO application form was there any requirement to enter any medication I was taking - just spaces to include any family baking stories. Maybe, though, my tale of being a conspirator in the great icing sugar cover up says as much about me as any medication I might be taking (actually, none). So there we go. Am I too sane to be on the GBBO? I'm not going to analyse the contestants on last year's GBBO (the first series I watched). I was more interested in the cakes to pay them too much attention. I did notice that they all had vulnerabilities that the programme tried to highlight and play on, but they all seemed pretty sane to me, even the scary one who made the blackbird pie thing. Maybe, then, it is different, and may be it is OK that I applied. May be if I had been accepted, I could have entered with a clear conscience. The (soggy?) bottom line is that, had I got through, I (speaking personally) would have been there to entertain the nation with my baking inadequacies, and may be, really, that is just a little bit 'car crash' ?.
On the other hand, though, following twitter through the heats, it wasn't just the disasters that made everyone tweet, but the wonderful stuff too. And I totally loved James for pulling things back from the brink - that 'deserted barn' - awesome!. So rather than it just being about the bad stuff, it does genuinely celebrate the good. And I'll accept that once it gets to the final rounds of X Factor and Britain's Got Talent etc, it's the same. Gone is the sniping and bitching, and there is is, great singing and real talent (OK may be not dancing dogs), celebrated as it should be, and we're rooting for the finalists all the way
Does this just sound like sour grapes (it's not, it really isn't - I reiterate that I would have been TERRIBLE on it)? I'm sure I will watch series 4, and enjoy it. I wish all those that got through the best of luck - and remember, I'm rooting for you all, and I promise not to laugh at any soggy bottoms. But I expect that when I'm watching I'll be secretly glad that I didn't get selected, so I don't have to ask myself these questions...