The new series of The Great British Bake Off began on Channel 4 on Tuesday night with a record 7.9 million people tuning in to the launch episode.
The 11th series of the baking competition had been delayed in production due to lockdown restrictions and then saw a further delay, with its start time put back by 15 minutes to 8.15pm due to the Boris Johnson addressing the nation on coronavirus.
But the hold-ups did not quell viewer’s appetite for the show – presented by Noel Fielding and new co-host Matt Lucas and judged by Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith – with its peak of almost 8 million marking Channel 4’s biggest broadcast of 2020 to date.
It was also the most successful launch episode of Bake Off since its move from the BBC to Channel 4, beating last year’s premiere by a 1.3 million viewers.
And it was 500,000 more people than tuned in to watch Channel 4’s first ever Great British Bake Off show in 2017.
The show began with its new host, Little Britain star Lucas, kicking off with a hilarious skit that saw him impersonate Boris Johnson at a COVID-19 briefing, advising the nation: “Stay home, protect cake, save loaves.”
The 12 new contestants were challenged to put their unique spin on a Battenberg cake in the first Signature Challenge before attempting to make pineapple upside-down cakes in the Technical.
This led to the first shock moment of the series when 31-year-old pharmacist Sura moved her hand as armoured guard Dave, 30, set his cakes down on the table to be judged – knocking them on to the floor.
Sura quickly apologised and Dave insisted he didn’t mind, but the incident led to a fierce debate on Twitter as to whether it was a genuine “accident”.
Sura brushed it off on social media, posting a selfie on Instagram and writing: “What a first episode! I’m overwhelmed with all the lovely messages so thank you.”
The Showstopper Challenge saw contestants make busts of their favourite celebrity, with stars including Sir David Attenborough, Lupita Nyong’o, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Louis Theroux rendered in butter cream and fondant icing.
Bake Off – which is shot in a purpose-built tent – was able to go ahead with the contestants, judges, presenters and production crew, approximately 120 people, living in a self-contained biosphere for six weeks in a south-east location so they did not have to socially distance.
But it meant a “gruelling” filming schedule for the contestants, who usually go home during the week and film only at weekends, with filming every other two days and less time to practise their bakes.