Peter Sawkins, Laura Adlington and Dave Friday will battle it out tonight in the final of this year’s The Great British Bake Off. The Channel 4 show has attracted record viewing figures of 10.8 million – the largest the broadcaster has seen since 1985. Its popularity has been mired with controversy after Ofcom received a number of complaints including some for Matt Lucas’ impersonation of Boris Johnson, sexual innuendos and other faux pas on the programme. Matt replaced Sandi, who quit the show in January – a departure that deeply saddened co-presenter Noel.
Noel and Sandi had sizable boots to fill after veteran hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins chose not to join Paul Hollywood in the show’s move away from the BBC.
The programme, which was created by Love Productions, was commissioned by Channel 4 for an extra £25million, which was £10million more than the BBC’s final offer.
Despite Bake Off’s popularity, many feared that without Mel, Sue or Mary Berry, it would struggle to keep its loyal following.
While it has struggled to replicate the peak viewings figures on the BBC of more than 16 million in 2016, this year’s installment, season 11, has been watched more broadly than before.
Despite the new-found success under the Noel and Matt partnership, the former Mighty Boosh star mourned the departure of his former co-host Sandi.
They first appeared together on the game show QI but Noel admitted on that programme “it was hard to know” if they were “a good double act”.
It was only during his time on Bake Off, that he realised they were extremely alike and during a 2017 Radio Times interview gushed with love for the star.
Noel said: “When it was just the two of us together it was great – you can count on one hand the people you can be in a double act with.
“I have chemistry with Russell Brand and Sandi. It’s quite a rare thing. It’s like falling in love and you can’t choose who you fall in love with.”
Despite considering their partnership a success, he had doubts about being able to do the show justice before his audition.
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Noel said: “I love it when we make Prue giggle. If I’m making Prue laugh, I’m doing my job… You see, I do know what Bake Off needs.
“It’s a charming, feel-good show, you need to be light and it needs to be nice and fun – just like being the host of a party.”
This year’s show has faced more challenges than in previous years due to coronavirus restrictions.
Contestants, judges, presenters and crew lived together in a bubble for six weeks before they could start filming.
It was reported that Paul regularly made pizzas for everyone and Prue ran flower arranging classes to keep up spirits.
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Matt who took over from Sandi was suggested as a potential host after Noel had a dream where they were “making each other laugh” in the Bake Off tent.
He told The Sun: “I’ve no idea why Noel was dreaming about me… [but] when he woke up he got in touch with the producers and said he wanted me on board.
“It’s very strange because it’s not as if we knew each other very well.”
He claimed it was “probably a bit weird” as they had only met a handful of times and “weren’t close friends” – but added that it turned out “brilliant for me”.
The Great British Bake Off airs tonight at 8pm on Channel 4.