The Great Celebrity Bake Off, ep 1 recap: Russell Brand takes the biscuit with a birth scene and Noel does his best Pat Butcher

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Michael Hogan
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Russell Brand took the Star Baker award - Mark Bourdillon (Channel 4 images must not be altered or manipulated in any way) CHANNEL 4 PICTURE PUBLICITY 124 HORSEFERRY ROA
Russell Brand took the Star Baker award - Mark Bourdillon (Channel 4 images must not be altered or manipulated in any way) CHANNEL 4 PICTURE PUBLICITY 124 HORSEFERRY ROA

Bake Off was back with four celebrities braving the sweet-toothed tent for charity. Here are all the talking points from the first of five fundraising specials…

Russell Brand’s biological showstopper clinched it

He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy. Thesaurus-swallowing comedian Russell Brand, sporting a Christ-like beard, pulled off a miracle in the marquee by john lithclinching the coveted Star Baker apron.

Fittingly, West Ham fan Brand's dozen Footballing Idols brownies were a game of two halves, with six overbaked but six perfectly gooey. We enjoyed how, at co-host Sandi Toksvig’s request, Brand inserted her into the Hammers' Boys of '86 midfield alongside Geoff Pike and Alan Devonshire - although Prue Leith wasn’t keen on how their claret-and-blue kit was rendered in fondant icing.

Brand struggled in the Swiss Roll technical, with an offering which was folded rather than rolled. But going into the the showstopper round, it was still all to bake for and Brand rose to the occasion. Female viewers might have rolled their eyes when he appropriated his wife giving birth for the Scene of Your Finest Performance theme, but there was no denying the sheer creativity of his high-concept 3D biscuit scene. 

Brand called it "The Portal to All Life, an expressionistic depiction of the cosmic vagina, commemorating the birth of my second daughter". Stifling giggles, Leith declared it “a celebration of womanhood - Germaine Greer would approve”. What’s more, Brand’s shortbread was perfectly baked and surprisingly delicious. 

As ever, the literate urchin was amusingly verbose, name-checking Pablo Picasso and Fritz Lang, quoting Shelley’s Ozymandias, and casually slipping in words such as “diorama” and “actuated”. Brand's memoir was called My Booky-Wook. This was his bakey-wake and it proved a blockbuster hit. He vowed to wear his Star Baker apron with nothing else on. Thankfully we were spared this sight on-screen. 

John Lithgow fought them on the benches

Third Rock Cake From the Sun, anyone? Actor John Lithgow brought a frisson of Hollywood star power to Berkshire, taking time out from filming his role as Winston Churchill in Netflix royal saga The Crown (“the best time I ever had as an actor”). 

Lithgow bonded with Noel Fielding over their art school backgrounds and decoration was certainly his strong suit. His cognac-soaked Special Relationship brownies were adorned with dinky royal icing flags, while his Churchill & The Queen 3D biscuit scene was superb. “I am ridiculously proud that I actually achieved this,” Lithgow smiled sweetly. It’s just a shame it didn’t taste as good as it looked. 

Actor John Lithgow brought Hollywood star power to the tent
Actor John Lithgow brought Hollywood star power to the tent

In between came a disastrous technical, which saw Lithgow admit that his uncooked Swiss Roll resembled “a Swiss guard’s discarded underwear”. Leith said it was “not saleable on any cake stall”. “Words that will haunt me to my dying day,” replied Lithgow.

However, Lithgow was a highly loveable presence in the tent: jovial, enthusiastic and an all-round good sport. He got blue lips from unblocking his piping bag nozzle with his teeth and delighted Star Wars fan Fielding by Yoda’s voice, having played the gnomic green Jedi in radio adaptations. No official confirmation on whether Lithgow autographed Noel’s Bigfoot & The Hendersons DVD but we’ll wager he obliged.

Hannah Cockroft was a supporting act

As the only non-performer among this episode’s quartet, multiple Paralympic gold medallist Hannah Cockroft was understandably overshadowed when it came to witty repartee.  However, the wheelchair racer earned her place with her no-nonsense Yorkshire attitude, fierce competitive spirit and solid baking skills. 

Her Cookies & Cream brownies were sumptuously chocolatey, if over-cooked. She came second in the technical with a delicious Swiss Roll. Her London 2012 Victory Biscuits were buttery, lemony and delicious, even if she did get a little help from Toksvig fetching apricot jam and Leith's advice on icing thickness. 

The steadiest performer across all three rounds, “Hurricane Hannah” ran Brand closest for Star Baker. Who knows what could have happened had she worn her lucky socks and underwear?

Hannah Cockroft
Hannah Cockroft

Jon Richardson claimed the comedy crown

Brand might have been the higher profile of the two comedians in the tent, but it was wry Lancastrian stand-up Jon Richardson who stole more laughs.

He made vegan bakes, despite not being a vegan himself, because: “It’s important of me to have the moral high ground in case I don’t win.” He wanted his brownies to be “dark, sensual and silky, very much like myself” - although they ended up “square, bitter and unpleasant to be around”. He had an endearing man-crush on Lithgow and did a Paul Hollywood impression which sounded suspiciously like Ringo Starr. 

Richardson is a long-term OCD sufferer, so cheerfully insisted on tidying surfaces and washing bowls as he went along. After a chocolate spill on the tent carpet, he recommended replacing it with wipe-clean lino. 

The technical challenge played to Richardson’s strengths and he duly won with a neatly swirled Swiss Roll. He was the only baker to attempt a savoury showstopper and his School Nativity was the best-looking scene, with a googly-eyed donkey and biscuits stuck together with “an immense amount of love and sheer affection for this whole process”. Sadly, Richardson’s Lentil Madras biscuits were completely inedible. Still, at least the moral high ground was his.

Comedian Jon Richardson, the king of Swiss Rolls
Comedian Jon Richardson, the king of Swiss Rolls

Karen's appeal film was gut-punchingly tragic

Amid the mirth and mixing bowls came a reminder of this show’s raison d’être. Karen’s Story told how Nottinghamshire firefighter Karen Land and mother-of-five went to see the doctor with a lump in her breast and was told she had just three months to live, as triple-negative cancer had spread to her lungs and lymph nodes. 

However, Karen responded well to chemotherapy, went into remission and returned to something like normality - until it was discovered she had two tumours in her brain. It was a cruel twist, as her partner Kev tearfully pointed out. A gut-punch closing caption informed us that Karen died a fortnight ago. 

As the voice-over reminded viewers, one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. All donations go straight to Cancer Research to help us fight back. 

Noel’s new look fails to win style wars

Noel Fielding sported a new look
Noel Fielding sported a new look

Co-host Noel Fielding unveiled a new hairdo for this celebrity spin-off, sporting a peroxide blonde mod-style mop that  - let’s be kind - looked like it was still bedding in. Teamed with a puffy-sleeved psychedelic shirt and gold pixie boots, he resembled a boho Victoria Wood or hipster Pat Butcher. 

With both Hollywood and Toksvig in safe blue shirts, it left Leith to win this episode’s in-tent fashion battle with her red top, blue specs and bonkers rainbow necklace.

Another manly marquee next week

The male domination of the tent continues next Tuesday, as Our Girl actress Michelle Keegan flies the female flag amid comedian James Acaster, actor Russell Tovey and presenter Rylan Clark-Neal. See you back here to analyse the good bakes and soggy bottoms.