When it was announced in 2016 that Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, the widely adored, pun-loving hosts of The Great British Bake Off, were leaving the show prior to its eighth season, along with judge Mary Berry, fans were devastated. While no one can deny judge Paul Hollywood’s expertise, Sue and Mel were the heart and soul of the show. It was them, after all, who spent the most time with the contestants in the tent, comforting them through bad bakes, rejoicing in their successes, and experiencing seemingly real sadness when a baker was sent home. To say they were beloved in both the United Kingdom and the United States would be an understatement, which led fans to ask if the series could ever regain what had been lost.
Season 8 of The Great British Bake Off returned to a new channel in 2017 (switching from BBC to Channel 4 in the U.K.), and while the set pieces remained the same, the cast was largely different. Whereas Berry had the calming energy of a reserved grandmum, new judge Prue Leith, with her chunky jewelry and professed love of all things boozy, is more like a kooky aunt. Then there are the new hosts, Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig, two seasoned and well-loved comedians who, despite their credentials, were stepping into roles with exceedingly high expectations, and replacing fan favorites who left under somewhat acrimonious conditions.
But it feels safe to say that in 2019, GBBO belongs nearly as much to Toksvig and Fielding, two kind, witty, and endearing hosts, as it ever did to Perkins and Giedroyc (a similar statement can be made about Leith and Berry). And it could have been ruinous. Before Bake Off, Fielding was best known as the co-creator of The Mighty Boosh, and has since made a career creating art, comedy, and appearing on a variety of British quiz shows. Toksvig is a Danish-born intellectual, presenter, actor, and activist, perhaps best known for her appearances on Stephen Fry’s QI, which she took over hosting in 2016. Unlike Perkins and Giedroyc, who have been comedy duo Mel and Sue since the early ’90s, Fielding and Toksvig had only worked together in passing. It was the appeal of partnering with Toksvig that led Fielding to sign on for the GBBO hosting gig, though whether they’d have chemistry on the show was any fan’s guess.
Fielding and Toksvig were, it turns out, adorable together. Their style shifted away from Perkins and Giedroyc’s pithy wordplay to something more surreal: In their debut episode, the pair arrived in a hot air balloon, Fielding in steampunk gear and Toksvig dressed as Amelia Earhart; a later episode has them dressed as The Wizard of Oz characters, with Fielding, known for his adventurous sense of style, as Dorothy; in the most recent season, they joke that Toksvig, diminutive in size, drives a clown car; in the intro for Festival Week, a confused Fielding arrives prepared for Glastonbury, with Toksvig packed inside his nap sack. That the pair could charm individually is no surprise to anyone who’s watched Fielding perform as Kate Bush or seen Toksvig riff on QI, but that they meshed together so well was deeply encouraging.
Having just finished their third season, the hosts have found their groove, making the roles almost fully their own. One place where they take after Perkins and Giedroyc, fortunately, is in their kindness to the bakers in the tent, demonstrating real care in their interactions and often displaying humanity over poised professionalism. In the ninth season, during vegan week, Toksvig and Fielding respond with genuine devastation as baker Ruby Bhogal’s cake collapses, both rushing to comfort her, with Fielding muttering a stricken “Oh, shit.” In the most recent season, when contestant Michael Chakraverty — who’s spoken publicly about his struggles with anxiety — bursts into tears after a particularly stressful challenge during dairy week, Toksvig hugs him tightly and whispers an encouraging “You did good” in his ear. In a lighter moment, Fielding and baker Helena Garcia bond over their love of goth culture and witchy fashion, jokingly agreeing to run off together. “I don’t know what to say,” Fielding pronounces upon seeing her pointy shoes and learning about her ghost-shaped cake. “I love you.”
I will likely never forgive Paul Hollywood for being the lone survivor of the GBBO changeover, especially when many of the changes seemed suspiciously ego-driven, with all sides playing coy. But even so, it’s hard to deny that Hollywood, too, has a better rapport with Toksvig and Fielding, as well as Leith, than he did with Perkins, Giedroyc, or Berry. While the former hosts and judge can’t be blamed for the iciness that seemed to exist between them and Hollywood, the new, friendlier relationships do impart a warmer atmosphere in and out of the big white tent.
As is said of grief, the hole in one’s heart will always be there, but your love will expand to accommodate others. Sue and Mel, you will always be our Great British Bake Off hosts... but so will Noel and Sandy.
Nick Iluzada is a designer and snack enthusiast in Los Angeles.