Surprised that Bake Off's Noel Fielding has admitted he doesn't really eat sugar? I'm not
TV presenting and acting is staffed almost entirely by people who go to bed hungry every evening feeling slightly proud of that hunger. Trust me, I know
“No-one likes a tubby goth,” Noel Fielding mused jokingly in a promo interview this weekend about all-new Channel 4’s The Great British Bake Off. Fielding was explaining why he avoids sugar and intends to not gain weight during his tenure at the hands of Britain’s most hysteria-inducing TV show.
Fielding will possibly be regretting his candid admission that he plans to avoid much of the cookies, pastries and gingerbread architecture, because predictably, due to many Bake Off fans being highly-strung crybabies, reaction was severe on social media. But I’m so glad, especially as a man, he spoke the uncomfortable truth about TV land’s requirements.
Fielding, it should be pointed out, is on a hiding to nothing anyway taking over the lead role on this regenerated show. The anxiety would put anyone off their dinner. If Fielding is kooky, tangential, glassy-eyed and his usual loveable clever-silly self he’ll be accused of trying too hard, of changing the format and tone, of emulating Sue Perkins. If Fielding reins it in and is serene, orthodox and asks sensible questions, he’ll be instantly called a waste of space and told he’s had his wings clipped.
The best Fielding can hope for is six weeks of Battenberg-fuelled Orwellian "hate", softening to begrudging affection once many of the slow-of-thinking, quick-to-opine audience gain some introspective enlightenment that TV shows have always swapped channels, updated presenters and pruned their formats. Bake Off is no different. Even if it is your special show, and the lovely cakes make you feel snuggly and happy.
And as if Fielding existing wasn’t enough, now he’s upset the Bake Off brigade further by joking – but not really joking – about his severely restricted food intake.
“Sugar is a powerful thing,” he said, “I get more work when I’m thinner. So I can’t put on weight."
Now, isn’t it the uncomfortable truth? The never-ending TV person’s need to be "camera-ready", slender, teeth bleached, cheekbones visible, hair greyness covered, non-tired, non-wobbly, never getting old. The agony of achieving slimness, by average person-in-the-street standards, but still being the biggest "talent" on set. Endless debates on how to dress you. Fitting for clothes where your measurements are cc-d about on e-mail willy-nilly and the stylist still brings nothing to fit your seemingly bulbous frame. I can’t blame Fielding for eschewing croquembouche and Paris-Brest. Whenever I fancy toast thickly spread with Dairylea I simply think about the times I have been filmed sitting beside Christine Bleakley and then I no longer want the toast but I do want a little cry.
TV presenting and acting is staffed almost entirely by people who go to bed hungry every evening slightly proud of that hunger as it signals a successful day’s intermittent fasting. Oh, yes, they will claim they wear size six off-the-rail dresses or size 28 waist denim due to fancy eating plans, HIIT training and “running around after my little’uns”, but in reality, television people stay slender by nil by mouth.
If an average piece of homemade banoffee pie contains 670 calories, then add a latte to that and you have a skinny TV person's calorie intake for approximately 24 hours. Inhale that on top of other "meals" for a few weeks and observe how, on television, one’s face in HDTV becomes more rotund, more moon-like, less appealing, less bookable.
There is a small chance Fielding was so bloody starving while doing that promo chat that in his mind’s eye the interviewer was merely a large, talking crusty bacon baguette. Still, the same people screaming on Twitter about his honesty, and how he is a fraud and a charlatan for cake-avoidance, are the same belming bin-fires who’ll tweet him at 2am on Boxing Day to tell him he’s looking tubby on Big Fat Quiz of The Year. Oddly, people who contact TV presenters to note their weight gain always, in their avatars, resemble Humpty Dumpty post-all inclusive holiday to the Dominican Republic.
Perhaps Fielding’s quip was extra-shocking as he is man. Because once going without dinner in a bid to increase screen time was only for the birds. Male talent, on the other hand, were permitted a paunch.
Back in the 1970’s, male prime-time comedians mainly resembled Mr Potato Head. The terrifically popular Wheeltappers and Shunters Club was a comedy show populated mainly by men with 44-inch waists, jowls and NHS glasses. I am not sure how Frank Carson became camera-ready but I don’t imagine it involved much more than a sausage bap and a stand-up wash in a guest-house sink with a bar of Imperial Leather.
Today you will struggle to find a muffin-top, a paunch or a flabby bottom amongst male TV stars. Gender equality has led our male high earners to be every bit as body-fat intolerant as women. Ant and Dec, Dermot O’Leary, Jimmy Carr, Mark Wright and Paddy McGuinness are all lean, keen and permanently seen. Their thinness creates an image of showbiz razzle-dazzle, of relevance, of alertness, of confidence, of professionalism – of the idea that, by and large, they are just a little bit better than you on the sofa eating carbs at home. If we could only relax our expectations of TV stars, then we could let them eat cake.