The Sistine Chapel. Picasso’s Guernica. The works of Beethoven. Hamlet. All considered key achievements in the canon of Western art, you’ll agree. Last night, their ranks were joined by another: Gemma Collins – she of TOWIE, she of memays, she of I’M CLAUSTROPHOBIC DARREN – appearing on BBC1’s Celebrity Masterchef, presenting Gregg Wallace and John Torode with a vegetable stew she’d spiked with Cointreau. We can all go home now.
Everything about the very concept of Gemma Collins on Celebrity Masterchef is perfect because it is so incongruous: is there any mental image on earth more simultaneously enticing and mind-boggling than that of The GC, full face + lashes, butchering a fish fillet in a professional kitchen as the head chef looks on in astonishment? Even the fact that she’s appearing at all – reportedly as ‘compensation’ for the time she literally fell down a hole while presenting an award on the BBC, though the BBC denies this – is another display of consummate GC-ness. It’s her world and now Gregg and John are living in it with the rest of us, chewing on her overcooked scallops.
She made her debut on the show at 8PM yesterday, and over the course of an hour, provided viewers with a piece of surrealist art that quickly transformed Masterchef into The Gemma Collins Show. It was emotional. It was a journey. It included the following voiceover: “Gemma has made a chickpea, vegetable and coconut stew, flavoured with orange liquor, and on the side, a crab-filled mango, and mascarpone cheese topped with diced mango.” A crab-filled mango.
As a committed critic of contemporary art, I’ve broken down the episode’s three most important stages. When this episode is committed to the Tate Modern in years to come, you may use this as your gallery guide:
1) Introducing Her Layered Craft
It’s important to note off the bat that Gemma Collins at this point knows exactly what she’s doing. She is possessed of a comic brain that most actual stand-ups can only dream of; her timing is a thing to marvel at. Putting it to work right away, the first words she spoke in the Masterchef kitchen were as follows:
“I’ll be really honest with you, this is totally out of my depth. I’ve never done anything like this for serious people like you before. Like… you’re in front of me now. This is real life. And… I seriously want to make you something amazing but I don’t know how to cut this coconut.”
There is an unbelievable amount happening in these few sentences. First, GC is managing Gregg Wallace’s expectations re: her bizarre food – chickpeas fucked in a frying pan with every other imaginable vegetable, and orange liquor – in a way that I really identify with as someone who also can’t really be arsed to do anything ever. Secondly, there is a bit of existentialism, as though Gemma was only just realising that she was actually on Masterchef as she was speaking (this seems to happen a lot; see also – her apparent realisation three days after being dropped into the Australian bush that being on I’m a Celebrity did, in fact, entail going to the jungle). There’s even a punchline. There are complex levels to Gemma Collins’ art, and we learned it minutes into the show. An Old Master at work.
2) Hijacking a Professional Kitchen
The second challenge on Celebrity Masterchef puts the contestants in a professional kitchen over the course of a service. Gemma was assigned a seabass dish (upon being shown how to make it she announced: “That’s easy!!!!”), but of course The GC was not designed for a life of servitude, telling the camera: “I’m doing four fish at the moment,” before turning to the sous chef and going “Do you wanna put that in the oven for me hun?” as if he was someone she employed to put her old clothes on Depop.
“I need to be the boss,” she explained, gesturing to the head chef. Of course she does.
Other highlights: Gemma dancing to a noise made by the oven (“This is like a disco!”); Gemma bringing up marriage (“Someone find me a Greek chef to marry now!”) a quarter of an hour into the show; Gemma actually leaving the kitchen at one point to just go and speak to some woman with a baby in the restaurant; Gemma bragging that her fish was “perfect” before being told by the chef to re-do it. Marina Abramo-who?
3) The Redemptive Quality of Seafood Linguine
If you missed the episode last night, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that stunningly, Gemma Collins made it through to the next round of Masterchef. She did so by making a gambas pil pil (prawns in oil, which she says she grew to love on her many, many visits to Marbs) and a seafood linguine, of which she commented: “When all my friends and family come over, this is what everyone loves of mine.”
These last dishes completed GC’s arc: it was the redemption narrative she needed after utterly fucking up the first part (Cointreau! In chickpea stew!) and showing off like a child whose parents have got visitors in the second one. In an unforeseen twist, her food was actually quite good (John even called her linguine a “crowdpleaser”). And the episode, which basically centred on her, came satisfyingly full circle, as all the greatest art must.
GC on Masterchef, therefore, had everything. There was comedy; there was tragedy (C o i n t r e a u); there was even a bit of sweetness when, looking genuinely surprised, she said that it was the first time she’d got through to the next round of a competition. It was an emotional journey unmatched by anything else on television, anchored by Gemma Collins’ incredible ability to make absolutely everything she’s involved in – even heavily formatted, legacy television shows – totally about her. An auteur, a visionary – and one who’s earned her fucking divaship, Fern, to boot.