GRegg Wallace, Gregg Wallace, Gregg Wallace. I have to be up front and say: I love the man. There are lots of celebrities I enjoy playing a hypothetical game with where I explain who they are and why they are famous in Britain to someone from another country, and Gregg Wallace is one of my favorite plays.
“Well he’s a greengrocer, basically,” I explain to someone from America or something, where they have dazzlingly glossy celebrities and where Gregg Wallace doesn’t even make an alien sort of sense. “Well, he was. Then I hosted a MasterChef reboot – nobody knows where he came from or why they chose him for that, because he often treats gourmet food as if it’s someone he’s shouting at through a car window – and now he’s sort of a national treasure, I guess. He’s lost a significant amount of weight and now he poses topless a lot on Instagram.” The American is looking baffled now. “You’re not getting it, he goes to factories! He met his wife from him on Twitter!” They are backing away now, saying something about having to get home to their hamburger, or a small child called Chad. “You don’t understand! Gregg Wallace has an irresistibly kissable head! He is one of Britain’s best celebrities!”
It’s best not to focus on the Gregg Wallaceness of Gregg Wallace, is what I’m saying. Just turn your brain off and enjoy the ride, which is exactly what I did while watching Gregg Wallace’s Grand Christmas Adventure (Saturday, 8.25pm), where Channel 5 sent Gregg Wallace to Lapland for two days and said: “Have fun.” The wide-angle lens of this one is: Gregg Wallace will host a travelogue show in one of the most magical places on Earth, and he’ll turn the footage round in one weekend flat. But look closer and you’ll see it is one of the oddest TV shows of the year, and all the better for it.
The first thing is: I don’t think anyone told Gregg Wallace who this was for, or what it’s about. On the surface he goes to Finland, attends a few touristy grotto-style events, eats some yuletide bakes, goes on a sledge, etc etc etc. But occasionally he goes quite odd and turns to the camera and tells me exactly how much the experience he is currently experiencing costs, and suddenly the merry Christmas show feels like when you can’t figure out how to stop the television in your hotel room from playing on a loop. It’s neat I mention hotels, actually, because Gregg gives us an exhaustive tour of the one he’s staying in, perching awkwardly on the edge of his bed with his shoes still on and explaining how, because of the size of the window, you wouldn’ don’t want to sleep naked in here. All right, cheers then Gregg, I won’t. He pops round the corner into a cozy balcony room with a wood fire, sags on a chair, and says: “It’s not cheap.” OKAY?
Next: I know at certain angles Gregg Wallace looks like a baby who somehow got a Millwall tattoo, but he is 57 years old, which makes it odd that he seems to be on a family holiday targeted quite directly at children, alone. Gregg goes around a toy factory (he ca n’t help himself, can he?) After hours and laughs as he fills a toy horse with stuffing. He makes a traditional Christmas goat out of straw and gets pulled by a reindeer, alone, through some woods. The best moments are when Gregg does adult activities – he goes to an ice bar and does a shot of some herby liqueur, and enjoys a woodsy day of fishing and camping with a tour guide who later invites him for a beer in his sauna. But then he goes and meets Santa and hands him a little girl’s wishlist he found and was particularly moved by. Occasionally you’re like: this is classic background TV, I can leave it on while I do other stuff. And then, in a flash, perspective moves and you see Gregg Wallace is on a children’s holiday, alone – one of the most harrowing concepts for a television hour I’ve come across.
Weirdly, I loved every second of it. There is no TV show that made me giggle out loud more this year, and the undercurrent of weirdness – though unintentional – is absolutely what makes it. There is a moment when Gregg Wallace fist bumps santa claus. They have cracked the code, TV producers, and figured out this one central truth: whenever Gregg Wallace is having fun on TV, viewers will have fun, too. Your “American celebrities” can’t get near him.