When recently interviewed by the British national institution for gossip and all things crass, known more formally as OK Magazine, Paul Hollywood had been encouraged to tell all about his fellow presenters and what they got up to when they weren't presenting the Great British Bake Off. Apparently, these juicy tidbits of information were what the public wanted - these sorts of features sold magazines. It may have made little sense to him, but how could he refuse? They were paying him handsomely to answer pointless questions about baking custard tarts and what hobbies he liked to do in his spare time.
But, when it came to what he did in his spare time with a certain co-presenter, he knew he had to be very shrewd with his words. Had they have known the full story, it would have become a front cover splash without doubt and, for this week at least, OK Magazine's sales would have shot straight off the chart.
He could not help but smile to himself at the thought of it, as he conversed with the journalist. Prue chipped in with, "We are a little gang of four." Which was, for the main part, true, but sometimes two of those four people liked to go off and do their own thing. Paul was still smiling.
He went on to explain to the reporter how all four of them - himself, Prue, Sandi and, of course, Noel - liked to get together as much as they could, for outings and so on. They even had their own WhatsApp group. It made him chuckle to think that he was only further endorsing the stereotype that all 'celebs', as they were becoming known, lived happily together in a big mansion - with Delia Smith cooking a roast, Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen painting the skirting boards, and Alan Titchmarsh out back, mowing the grass and whistling a cheery tune - whilst, obviously, Paul would be whipping them up a batch of fairy cakes to devour when they were done.
Hollywood genuinely loved every minute he spent with Leith and Toksvig, but it was the time spent with Fielding which had really become rather special. "The more time I spend with Noel, the more I realise we have in common. We both went to art school. Our humour is very similar," he rambled.
But what Paul loved most about Noel - besides his wild and beautiful eyes, his devilishly handsome gothic good looks and those unfathomably tight skinny jeans of his - all of which Paul was trying not to think of right now - was how incredibly down to earth and unpretentious he was. It was a breath of fresh air in the world of television.
The baker had also mentioned to the reporter that he and Noel liked to 'hang out in the evening and have a bit of dinner.' Which sounded incredibly casual - and that was because it was. When Paul had discussed with Noel the possibility of dining out at one of the several Michelin-starred restaurants he was familiar with, Noel had dismissed them all with the wave of the hand. It would be in no time soon that Paul would be forgetting that their first ever 'date' as a twosome, no more than a few days before this interview, had been at bloody McDonald's.
The press and their reports of Paul's holidays to private villas in Mauritius and other such scoops would have had you believe that the host was rising above his station but, if truth be told, that couldn't be any further than fact - Paul still felt close to his working class roots and longed for his days of being a young, carefree lad dossing about in Liverpool. To be here, with his co-star, in this fast food restaurant, he felt like he could have been anyone, from a pauper to a prince. It was a feeling he'd missed of late, and one of the best ideas his friend could ever have had, he thought, pondering as he gazed at him across the table.
Noel ripped open the little paper sachet and began to sprinkle salt all over his fries. He then shook the famous red carton, with its trademark golden arches, until the potatoes therein were evenly coated. With all the money and prestige in the world, and the ability to waltz into any restaurant they wanted - for they were famous enough to do so now - you simply couldn't beat a portion of chips from McDonald's, Noel had told him. And a Quarter Pounder too. With cheese.
Noel had told him that when you wanted something fast and dirty, McDonald's was where you went. Paul hadn't really known what to say to that.
He pulled one out of the tangle of overlapping fries and held one over his mouth, tantalisingly. Paul could not stop himself from shaking his head with mirth. Fielding was just like a pre-school toddler as he played with his food. Hollywood grabbed at one of his own fries and dipped it in Noel's ketchup pot, as he didn't seem to be using it, before stuffing it into his face, still smirking.
"I love the soggy ones the best," the goth waxed lyrical, admiring the way that the chip dangled before him, long and thin and limp. He twirled it around in the air before dropping it into his mouth.
"God, the only thing worse than a soggy bottom is a soggy chip," Paul cried in disgust. They both began to laugh, and the older presenter put aside his few remaining chips in favour of his still untouched Big Mac, but not before taking a big slurp of coke through a plastic straw and nearly snorting it through his nose as Noel continued to make him giggle.
The pair of them could be naughty - even naughtier off-screen than they were on-screen. It was perhaps, even, flirty, thought Hollywood with a slight redness rising to his cheeks. He brought his hand up to cover his face, leaning onto his fist with his elbow on the table, and the other hand now holding his burger.
He loved how Noel would humorously raise his eyebrows at all of the Bake Off-style innuendos, even if the pair of them were supposed to be trying to phase them out of the show - even if the producers were trying to raise the tone of the programme, Paul and Noel would still undoubtedly go on to banter about 'big floury baps' and 'cream horns' for some time, like two mischievous schoolboys. Sometimes, those flirtatious looks Noel gave him as they joked around would find their way straight to his groin. However, up until tonight, only he knew how Fielding gave him the butterflies every time he made such a cheeky gesture.
And Paul's secret enjoyment of Noel's reactions to such innuendos would only be further put under the spotlight when the Mighty Boosh star ran a tongue slowly over his lips, signalling that Paul should do the same - he'd only managed to spread the Big Mac sauce all over his chin. Hollywood began to chuckle again, laughter only stifled by a mouthful of bun. He wiped it from his beard with a paper napkin.
"Mmm... What's in your secret sauce, Paul?" he asked.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" the baker's redness had grown into a full-on blush.
"I'm torn between mayonnaise and wallpaper paste."
Paul was glad he hadn't said what both of them were thinking. "Come on," he then said, still chewing, "Let's be getting off."
"I still haven't finished my chips," Noel whined.
"Bring 'em with you!"
The pair of them emptied the mostly eaten contents from their trays and into the bins before heading for the exit.
"And there I was hoping for your professional critique on the apple pie," Fielding grinned. "Does it have a nice even bake? A nice flaky finish?"
Onlooking members of the public who clearly recognised both of them were now starting to snigger as they heard Noel asking Paul to judge the quality of the McDonald's dessert, known for its blisteringly hot centre and a cardboard sleeve that did not nearly hold enough thermal protection to stop you from burning your fingers as you ate it. One loutish chap amongst the crowd even shouted out at the pair, "Oi, Paul! Show us yer bake, son!"
Paul nodded over to the man in acknowledgement and shrugged on his coat; Noel, naturally, had never even taken his black leather jacket off, a brightly coloured polka-dotted shirt poking out from beneath the zip. There was a chill in the air as dusk started to fall. It was the end of August and, most certainly, the end of a glorious summer. Long forgotten were the days of twenty-odd degrees - Paul almost felt as though he needed his scarf. Or, at the very least, someone special to keep him warm.
"You know, Noel," Paul said, not quite meeting with his partner's eyes, but instead staring out onto the busy London street, full of people and teeming with life. "This makes me feel alive - all of this. I feel... like I'm sixteen again and out on the town in Liverpool with my mates... pulling the birds... drinking lager... puking up outside the kebab shop--"
"You know what I mean, though?" he turned to Fielding. "You make me feel so young."
For one, Noel was pleased that Paul had not decided to burst into song - he'd heard his Frank Sinatra before on the karaoke and it was sub-par at best - but, for two, and more crucially, Noel could not understand why Paul was saying this to him when he had a twenty-something girlfriend at home waiting for him. "Doesn't... doesn't Summer make you feel young, Paul?" he asked.
"Summer doesn't want to be young. She wants people to think she's older than she is. She doesn't want to be a girl; she wants to be a woman."
"But I don't want to be young either, Paul - I want to put those days behind me - the parties, the drug-taking. I want to focus on my work now and my family... Everyone needs to grow up sooner or later, so I can see where Summer's coming from," he tried to reason with his downhearted pal.
"It just feels different being with you," Hollywood whispered, his hand around Fielding's arm. There was a moment between them which just went unspoken, with the two men simply now standing there, motionless and connected. Somebody made a noise which sounded like the clearing of a throat, but neither knew which one - if either of them - had made it. Perhaps the noise had come from beyond them; perhaps it had never really occurred. But there was something which made them spring apart gently, as if they weren't quite ready for this yet. "It's more fun with you," Paul added, as he let go of his arm.
Ready or not, however - fate always finds a way. As they said their goodbyes for the evening, they found themselves in rather dimly lit and empty alleyway somewhere near the taxi rank. Paul embraced the goth and squeezed him tightly to his chest. "I don't think I've ever really thanked you, Noel," he said, Fielding looking down at him quizzically whilst still trapped in his bear-hug. "I've lost a lot of friends over Summer, and you aren't one of them. You've always been there for me, buddy."
"Of course, mate. Anytime," Noel replied. "And, anyway," he went on, "I don't think I've ever thanked you."
"For helping to give me the opportunity to work on a show like Bake Off. For supporting me through the times I didn't think I'd be good enough. Oh, and for finally making me realise..." he trailed off. "This," he finished, leaning forwards and downwards to meet with Paul's wanting lips, their current embrace - though a loving and friendly one - was now a steamy lovers' clinch, kiss and all.
As chaste as perhaps Noel had intended the kiss to be, Hollywood had been hankering after something hotter - maybe even hotter than a McDonald's apple pie - for most of the night. He slipped his tongue into Fielding's mouth and the pair of them groaned, undone by the culmination of all of their desires for one another, fingers gripping tightly into the fabric of coats now, and their heads filled with all of the thoughts of what was surely to occur later on this evening.
"Maybe we should forget the taxi," Paul advised with a smirk. "And snog under the bus shelter instead. That's what most sixteen-year-olds do after a McDonald's, isn't it?"
"Paul..." the younger man began. "Just what is in your secret sauce?"
"I knew you were going to say that," he said, bursting into laughter. "That's for me to know and for you to find out!"
"Lead the way, Ronald," Noel grinned.