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Great British Bake Off: Andrew from Co Down's sponges soak up all the praise

By Mairia Cahill

Published 25/08/2016

Andrew Smyth cooking on the Great British Bake Off
Andrew Smyth cooking on the Great British Bake Off
Andrew Smyth cooking on the Great British Bake Off
Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood

If social media reaction is anything to go by, most of Northern Ireland was glued to last night's Great British Bake Off, rooting for one of our own, Co Down's Andrew Smyth.

An Aerospace engineer and one of the youngest contestants, he held his own on the Drizzle Cake challenge, and shone in the Showstopper round with his Ultimate Indulgence Mirror cake, earning notable brownie (sorry) points from judge Mary Berry, who declared that "all those flavours are like a perfect marriage".

He even pulled off an almost impossible feat and managed to get Berry's reliably sarcastic fellow judge Paul Hollywood to utter a sincere "stunning". High praise indeed.

However, he failed to impress in the technical challenge, in which he finished in last place after making upside down Jaffa Cakes, earning the notoriety of being the first person from Northern Ireland not to know his orange from his elbow. He's endearing, and notably supportive to the other contestants, and besides his Northern Irish fanbase, should win housewife and mammy hearts alike.

There's a reason why GBBO is such an institution on our screens. Maybe it's the satisfaction of lazing around, watching others sweat in the kitchen. No effort, all the thrill.

It might be the eclectic range of contestants and their backstories, or the interesting concoctions they come up with. The programme's recipe for success is hard to put your finger on, but it's now in its sixth year, and it not only works but makes for enjoyable viewing.

The humour of presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins make it unmissable and the great camerawork means you can almost taste the images through the lens.

Last night's first episode in the highly anticipated new series was no exception. There were tears, smiles, sighs of relief and a few mishaps as cakes fell on the floor, and another was thrown against the window.

The first episode is always the hardest to keep track of, as we struggle to identify with all 12 contestants (and remember their names), but the producers managed to get the right mix - no pun intended - and a few favourites are shining through already. The star of the show for me was Val and I loved her, right from the opening shots of her dancing round her oven in her slippers to her eccentric soundbites: "I listen to my cakes … they sing." While her baking may not be as perfect as Benjamina's or Michael's, her personality saves her. If she ups her game, she will be one to watch.

So, too, will this week's star baker Jane, whose quietly understated pieces drew high praise from the judges, bringing tears to her eyes.

The least likeable contestant, Candice, will be known throughout the series to me as Posh Spice due to her Beckham-esque dark lipstick pout. She made it through by the skin of her teeth in this round, as her mirror glaze cake failed to cut the mustard.

Perhaps her cooking will improve if she manages to relax a little. Who knows? She may even crack a smile before the series is over.

Alas, one contestant has to be voted off, and Bolton's Lee drew the short straw this week and fierce criticism in every round.

Next week it's gingerbread and biscuits. Will they crumble under pressure? I can't wait.

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