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‘Great British Baking Show’ Host Dresses Like a Nazi, Breaks My Heart

As a new mother, I need this show for my sanity. What’s wrong with you, Paul Hollywood?

Rachel Shukert
September 12, 2017
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

If Netflix, in a great act of humanitarian foresight and generosity, had not begun streaming The Great British Baking Show (really The Great British Bake-Off, a title apparently and inexplicably deemed too arcane for American ears) during my first few weeks of first-time motherhood, I honestly don’t think I would have survived. Every day, after hours of doing something I was (and remain) sure I was terrible at—struggling to feed my son, struggling to make sense of his mysterious toilet habits, struggling to get him to sleep in a pediatrician-approved vessel before giving up and letting him sleep in a swing that would probably make his head flat—I would finally get him to nap, or latch, or anything quiet, and spend a blissful hour or two watching cheery multi-ethnic Brits churn out Swiss rolls and Battenberg sponges in pastel-hued kitchen tent in the bucolic English countryside.

For those who are unfamiliar, GBBS (or GBBO, as it is known to its superfans) is the gentlest, kindest version of reality television; a competition show where contestants are encouraged and given helpful hints and words of advice, where they are allowed all the preparation and ingredients they need to truly excel. There are no cruel one-hand-tied-behind-the-back or you-can-only-use-self-rising-flour-Splenda-and-12-lbs-of-geoduck challenges, no forcing strangers to live together or plying them with alcohol until they fight. Only friendly, pleasant people who are allowed to practice their recipes at home through the week, gather on weekends, and bake shockingly beautiful cakes and breads and pies together in the spirit of comradely one-upsmanship. It is beloved as well for its recurring cast of characters: presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Geidroyc, who treat the bakers with the chummy collegiality of woman workers marching happily off the factory together in wartime, and judge Mary Berry, the twinklingly posh grand dame of British baking (or so we’re told).

And then there’s Paul Hollywood (and yes, that is his real name, I checked), the “master baker” (and they know how that sounds, they’re British) who serves as Berry’s co-judge and teasing foil. With his gelled steel-grey hair and matching goatee, his golden spray tan, and his reported fondness for luxury muscle cars, Hollywood cuts dashing, if portly, presence, a needed dash of laddish masculinity in the Cath Kidston paradise of the baking tent. And yet he can be surprisingly tender as he sifts flour or memorably, molds a perfect blush pink rose out of circles of pressed fondant; and in my postpartum haze, despite the hair gel and the Eurotrash man jewelry and the reports of some contestants that he is not, in fact, a particularly nice man, I had allowed myself to think I might be very much in love with him.

Until yesterday, when photos came out in the UK tabloid The Sun, of Hollywood dressed in a Nazi uniform, complete with a swastika.


Okay. There are some mitigating factors: the photo was taken in 2003, before it got quite so hard to distinguish people dressed as Nazis who are only kidding to people dressed as Nazis who are actually the real thing. Also, it caught Hollywood participating in an ‘Allo ‘Allo-themed costume party; ‘Allo ‘Allo being an adored sitcom that is sort of a British Hogan’s Heroes, so in a way, it’s like if you showed up to a party dressed as Colonel Klink.

But still, I’ve never quite understood the irresistible urge some men have to put on a swastika, even in jest (see Harry, Prince.) At best, it shows a shocking lack of sensitivity towards fellow who might see you and not be quite so down with the joke; who might see that symbol and be unable stop themselves from recounting the traumatic wartime experiences of the Holocaust—surviving family members, or even of themselves, which is maybe not quite the best context in which to enjoy a hearty slug of red wine and a nice hunk of Paul’s festive tear-and-share walnut-and-gorgonzola stuffed rye loaf. At worst, it makes you wonder what kind of person willingly chooses to dress up as a Nazi, and what kind of buried urges such a costume is hiding—particularly in a country that singlehandedly kept Hitler at bay for large chunk of the war. Would someone show up to a costume party in America dressed as a Klansman? Actually, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that anymore.

But perhaps I might offer a possible solution to those masqueraders who find themselves quite helpless when facing a rack of rental costumes from The Sound of Music and can’t quite see themselves as a nun: use your ingenuity. As a child, I was often faced with freezing temperatures on Halloween and was forced to amend my carefully chosen costume accordingly; instead of a ballerina, for example, I would have to be a cat dressed as a ballerina, because then you could wear a sweat suit underneath the tutu and mittens for paws. In the television business, we call this “a hat on a hat,” a story point that is just a little too overwritten and unnecessary, but in Nazi cosplay, no number of hats is too many. So don’t just be a Nazi: be a Nazi being eaten by a shark. Or a zombie Nazi. Or a Nazi wearing tap shoes and no pants because he’s performing in The Producers. There’s nothing little touch of creativity to inoculate yourself from looking like a total dick.

Because some of us don’t just want to keep watching your show, Paul—we need to keep watching. God alone knows what teething will bring.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.