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Hollywood Handshake is the epitome of the patriarchy

Diane Hall


Illustrated handshake

I’ve been meaning to write this article for quite a while, having got my knickers in a twist about various things surrounding this subject lately; watching ‘The Great New Year Bake Off’ over the festive period reignited my anger.

I love watching GBBO. Though I love black humour, sweary stuff and gross-out comedy, I also love that there’s a programme we can all enjoy together as a family with no looking at the ceiling when a rampant sex scene comes on or feeling like my daughters are going to sound like dockers with the amount of curse words they’re absorbing from the box in the corner. GBBO is heart-warming and there’s always someone you root for (or, in my case, want to mother), as well as others you take great delight in dissing within your own four walls.

There was controversy around the semi-final of the 2021 series, which aired on 16 November. Three of the four semi-finalists received a handshake from Paul Hollywood; my favourite, Winnie the Pooh lookalike and all-round nice guy, Jurgen, didn’t get one—despite high praise from Prue Leith relating to what he’d produced.

Watching the GBBO New Year offering, and seeing the ‘Hollywood Handshake’ appear again, it really bothered me.

Paul Hollywood shaking hands

Paul Hollywood shaking hands

I personally find Paul Hollywood a little slimy, though I respect his experience as I know absolutely nothing about baking or cooking myself (though I’m very good at eating). However, I respect Prue’s experience and knowledge far, far more. If only the Channel 4 production team and the general public did, too.

Prue opened her Michelin-starred restaurant in 1969, when Paul was just 3 years old. She founded her training school in 1975, where she passed on her expertise to aspiring cooks and chefs. She’s written twelve books as well as columns in various national newspapers on the subject of food. Her TV career began in the 1970s and she has been on and off our screens ever since, with an 11-year stint as a judge on The Great British Menu under her belt before she replaced Mary Berry when GBBO moved from the BBC to Channel 4.

In comparison, Paul Hollywood learned his skills in his father’s bakery. The author of 10 books on the subject of food, it’s clear he knows his stuff. His television career began in the early 2000s, with guest spots alongside other celebrity chefs before he was snapped up by the GBBO producers in 2010.

I’m not wishing to disparage Paul’s skills or experience; however, it’s clear to see that Prue’s career and knowledge is more formidable when compared to his. He may have more specific baking know-how, in his defence, but that said, Prue’s general comprehension of food is vast, and there are as many cooking skills to demonstrate as there are baking techniques to master for someone to win GBBO.

I think it’s the impression that Paul is the master and lord of all, and that his opinion makes contestants go weak at the knees, that frustrates me so. The ‘Hollywood Handshake’ has become a symbol of true success on GBBO—I just fail to understand why. Prue’s feedback should be valued just as much, if not more so. It seems to me that, as long as Paul has a female counterpart who likes cake, the producers of the show aren’t too bothered about who this is nor what she could bring to the show. Considering what we could learn from Prue and everything she’s seen, done and achieved throughout her career, I find this incredibly sad. It was the same story with Mary Berry, so this is not an isolated incident but a fundamental approach.

Women constantly fight the patriarchy to be seen as equals in the workplace, but in one of the most watched shows on the telly, and in 2021, we’re still playing second fiddle to someone less experienced, just because they happen to have both an X and a Y chromosome.

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