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'Try to showbiz your way through and the glamour soon falls away'

Celebrity MasterChef returns with a stellar line-up, but star prowess aside, it's a level playing field, as Gemma Dunn discovers

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John Torode and Gregg Wallace are ready to sample a new range of celebrity dishes

John Torode and Gregg Wallace are ready to sample a new range of celebrity dishes

John Torode and Gregg Wallace are ready to sample a new range of celebrity dishes

If there's one show we can rely on for a taste of the familiar, it's MasterChef. And hot on the heels of its 2020 finale comes its much-loved celebrity spin-off.

Set across five weeks, the BBC One primetime staple - filmed before lockdown took hold - will once again offer up a who's-who of drama, music, sport and show business, as 20 famous faces compete to impress judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace in their pursuit for culinary victory.

But just who is set to battle their way to the top of its 15th season?

Among those vying for this year's Celebrity MasterChef title are actors Shyko Amos, Phil Daniels and Felicity Montagu, actor and comedian Crissy Rock, comedian Judi Love, recording artist Myles Stephenson and musician Lady Leshurr.

Joining them in the kitchen are Kingdom Choir conductor Karen Gibson, TV presenters Gethin Jones and Dom Littlewood, travel presenter Amar Latif, TV and radio presenter Jeff Brazier, broadcaster and internet personality Riyadh Khalaf, and RuPaul UK finalist and drag artist Baga Chipz.

Olympic gold medallists and sports presenters Sam Quek MBE and Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE will also star, as will reality personality Pete Wicks, Apprentice star and entrepreneur Thomas Skinner, tennis coach Judy Murray OBE and football great John Barnes MBE.

That's some line-up. But forget the day job, for there's no room for big egos here, says 55-year-old Wallace.

"They act like celebrities when they first walk in, but I promise you, after round one, they're no longer celebrities, they're contestants," he vows.

"They think they can 'showbiz' their way through it and then they realise they're seriously going to succeed or fail by the quality of their cookery - and so the glamour just falls away.

"What you're left with is hard-working MasterChef contestants, and I like that metamorphosis in them."

"You end up with a level playing field, regardless of who you are," notes Torode (54).

"MasterChef, it's a kitchen and everybody is the same, whether you're a DJ rapper, whether you're a footballer, a rower, a YouTuber or an actor, you're exactly the same as everybody else.

"You've just got to cook your food get through it."

How does their own experience compare to that of the amateur format, then?

"There's something very different. The amateur one is very intense; there's a lot of responsibility, lots of great food and it's very interesting," Torode begins.

"And then you go to the celeb (one) and really you have no idea what you're going to encounter.

"It's like jumping into a river and hoping that it's not moving too fast, that there's not too much mud at the bottom of it," compares the Aussie chef.

"I look forward to the celeb version because I expect it to be more relaxed, more fun, at times," Londoner Wallace confesses.

"Most certainly the one I've had the most laughs on has been Celebrity MasterChef."

Yet, they don't actually know who's set to take part until filming begins, Torode points out. "We get a brief sheet as we're about to walk downstairs," he reveals.

"But that's the joy of it, in a way, because you don't have any preconceptions, you just let it roll.

"One of the great joys of MasterChef has always been that we're not scripted; Gregg and I say what we want, but we respect each other's opinions, and always have, and that makes for a great show."

It helps, too, that the show has devised a winning format.

Like previous years, viewers will see five names put through their paces in the Celebrity MasterChef heats each week.

The first challenge is The MasterChef Market, whereby they will stock up on produce, before inventing and cooking a dish for the judges.

The second challenge is the task of cooking in a restaurant kitchen - for paying customers; while the third sees the contestants, back in the studio, preparing a dish of their own design.

As for sending someone home at the end of each heat? "Of course we disagree", Wallace quips. "You do because you're always looking at potential - and that's a gut feeling, isn't it?

"I like to say that John, as a chef, pays special attention to their skill set, and I don't care as much; I just want it to be delicious."

"At the end of the day, if it tastes like a bag of muck, then you don't want the person to go through," reasons Torode, who's worked alongside his co-star since 2005.

"What you want to do is find the potential and hope they can get better - and the great thing about MasterChef is it's positive."

"It's gauging how much your mate disagrees," Wallace interjects.

"Does he disagree a little bit or is he absolutely adamant and putting his foot down? And that's just a subtle thing that works between us."

As for what's next for the duo - "We don't really know!" says Torode, who's kept busy during this period filming Instagram cook-alongs at home with wife Lisa Faulkner, as well as their Saturday morning ITV show, John & Lisa's Weekend Kitchen.

Similarly, Wallace has been posting recipes for fans, as well as workout videos, by which account he recently announced the launch of ShowMe.Fit - his own fitness website and fitness brand.

But have the ever-busy pair enjoyed a change of pace?

"Personally, I've had the time of my life," says Wallace, who lives with his wife Anna and one-year-old son, Sid.

"Once I got over the shock of not working, and once I realised I was going to be okay, I've had a wonderful time at home.

"It's really made me consider what it is I do and how I live," he confides.

"I don't think I'll get this opportunity again, to spend this much time with my family."

"There's a lesson to be learnt of how much do you really need to do," adds Torode.

Celebrity MasterChef, BBC One, Wednesday, 9pm

Belfast Telegraph