Glow Up review – Bake Off for makeup offers joyful fun

Lucy Mangan
·4-min read

Stacey Dooley’s out, due to scheduling conflicts with her new, demented-but-works-like-crack show This Is My House, and Maya Jama – best known as a radio presenter – is in. Apart from that, in the third season of Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star (BBC One), all is as it was (especially as Jama brings much the same energy as Dooley – a blend of warmth and enthusiasm that remains charming rather than cloying. She is a great choice). Industry experts Val Garland (statement glasses-wearer and L’Oréal Paris’s global makeup director) and Dominic Skinner (statement-moustache sporter and Mac Cosmetics global senior artist) are on hand to pass judgment. Each week, the contestants face two makeup challenges, with one sent home, and the series winner receiving a contract as assistant to various professional makeup artists (MUAs) in a couple of months’ time.

Related: ‘We cried, it was emotional’: Maya Jama on being herself as new Glow Up host

As someone who regretfully declined the offer of a Girl’s World Styling Head on numerous occasions throughout the 80s because I knew already the parlous state of my own artistic skills, and could not, would not see the bodiless beauty desecrated so, I am always left awed by the Glow Up participants – often self-taught, often working on beauty counters and honing their more exotic skills and creations in their leisure time.

This time round, the guest judge was the beauty journalist and activist Ateh Jewel, and the series opened with the task of designing an eyecatching look for a beauty campaign for Superdrug’s inclusive makeup range. So WHAT our Craig was thinking with his subtle, natural look for his snowy-haired model, well, NONE of us knows! Is that supposed to entice Superdrug’s customers through the doors of any one of the 800 stores whose windows it would be hung in! I think not! Think bigger, Craig!

You get like this very quickly with Glow Up. Fully invested, fully emotional, fully convinced of your own latent expertise despite – see Girl’s World above – the lack of any scintilla of evidence thereof. Nic, the founder of a biodegradable glitter company, was indecisive and lost time. Ryley’s base colour-matching was a DISASTER. But Sophie’s was “fun, playful” and let the details of the model’s skin shine through. She looked to be in with a chance until Samah blew them all out of the water with a design full of coloured spots of eyeshadows round brow and cheekbones and left you marvelling, as all the best bits of these kinds of shows do, about the ineffable, unquantifiable difference between executions that work, that have it – whatever the particular it it is that is under pursuit – and those that don’t. They might not at all or they might nearly. But, either way, they don’t. It’s the perennial fascination at the heart of all such competitions, whether you’re baking, throwing pots or making clothes. Talent, style, creativity, inventiveness. It’s so human, so much the best of us, so lightly done.

Glow Up also has the rare advantage of the traditional deadlines set for competitors actually making some kind of sense. In the real world, they will have to work to tight timetables, make changes at short notice, come up with new plans on the hoof. The arbitrary imposition of a time frame in other cases grates because it is so purely and plainly there to manufacture drama. Just let the people make their lovely things! No one ever needed an emergency cheese set – yes, Great Pottery Throw Down, this was an absurd challenge in the 11 minutes or whatever it was you gave them and I remain upset – or perfume bottles in two sizes with handmade stoppers (Blown Away on Netflix – get over there if you haven’t already and see what human hands and breath can do to liquid glass).

Anyway. There are marked reversals of fortune in the second challenge for our MUAs – the creative brief, involving making up their own faces to tell their personal stories. Dolli creates an extraordinary vision of Afrofuturism, Ryley turns her facial port wine stain into a thing of sequined, seascapey beauty, and Alex – whom we love anyway because she looks like As Seen on TV-era Victoria Wood – would have been a wonderful “parakeet on an estate, because I’m a rough street bird” if she hadn’t kept losing faith in herself. In the end, she was only a pale imitation of the psittacine glory she could have been. No matter. She survived the first cut and will surely find a moment to soar.

Complainers will complain that it’s not a rerun of AJP Taylor’s lectures, of course, because they always do. But it’s joyful, harmless, celebratory fun and there is, as ever, a rightful place for that.