A birthday cake for a “well-known celebrity” – later identified as Catherine Tyldesley – spiralled into the scandal known as “Cakegate” this week, reviving the debate around celebrities requesting freebies from brands in exchange for social media “exposure”.
Here’s how it all unfolded:
It all began on 27 July, when a cake shop in West Yorkshire, called Three Little Birds Bakery, called out a PR firm over their request for free baked goods for a celebrity’s 40th birthday.
Rebecca Severs, who owns the bakery, posted a screenshot of an email from a company called NVRLAND on Facebook, with the caption: “This poor celebrity apparently can’t afford to pay people for their products and services. Spare a thought! What happened to women supporting women…”
As per their email, NVRLAND asked Severs to provide two cakes and 100 cupcakes for the theme “camp as t*ts” in exchange for promotion on the then-unknown celebrity’s social media channels as well as in OK! Magazine.
“I’m so sorry to hear that your client has fallen out on such hard times they can’t afford to pay small businesses for their products,” Severs fired back, in her response.
“Unfortunately, as my mortgage provider doesn’t take payment ‘in the form of promotion on their socials’, and my staff can’t feed their kids with exposure on Instagram, I’ll have to decline your very generous offer,” she continued.
The post earned messages of support from social media users, who praised Severs for her “fab response”.
“Excellent. I’m sure said ‘celeb’ would be happy to receive payment in the same way, as obviously they wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite….,” one person wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Four days later, on 31 July, the bakery shared another update on Facebook, explaining Severs has been “threatened” with legal action for “encouraging defamation of their business”. This time, the post garnered over 3,500 reactions and 800 comments, with support for Severs coming from across the country as well as other parts of the world including Canada.
But #Cakegate was far from over.
Shortly after, the Daily Mail revealed that the Leeds-based party planners were working for Tyldesley, who played Eva Price on the hit British soap Coronation Street from 2011 until 2018.
“The abuse I have been receiving online is horrendous so hopefully this will put an end to it,” Tyldesley issued a statement the following day, in a video posted on Instagram.
The 39-year-old said she had “no idea those emails were being sent” and that she isn’t working “with the lovely OK! Magazine on anything that I’m aware of”, defending NVRLAND as an “amazing company” that have been “completely misrepresented”.
“Utterly bizarre, I don’t know what to say,” she continued. “I mean, I hope the cake lady got the exposure she was craving, whilst I’ve got journalists knocking on my front door while my kids are playing in the front room.”
Fans were less than impressed with Tyldesley’s “terrible” response, with one person asking: “How has the company asking for free stuff been misrepresented?”
“Maybe have an idea of who is working for you, and what they are organising,” another comment on X read.
Others noted the irony of Severs having earned more exposure by turning down the “opportunity” to supply for Tyldesley’s birthday than if she’d agreed to NVRLAND’s proposal.
As #cakegate began trending on X, users dug up an old post in which Tyldesley asked for recommendations for a “good cake maker in Manchester” who isn’t “too expensive”.
While the bespoke cake designer didn’t address the actor’s Instagram video directly, Severs said it was “incredible” to know there was “so much solidarity out there” for small businesses in an Instagram Story.
She also posted an AI-generated picture of the “infamous cake request”, much to her followers’ delight.
TV presenter Ulrika Jonnson praised Severs’ “pithy response” to NVRLAND in a column about #cakegate for The Sun, criticising the trend of celebrities and influencers promising publicity in exchange for freebies from small businesses like Severs’ Keyleigh shop.
“It’s cheeky, cocky and often with an utter disrespect for the businesses trying to stay afloat,” Jonnson, 55, wrote.
Jason Manford appeared to defend his Scarborough co-star on Facebook, but the comedian has since deleted his social media post.
In an interview with The Independent, Severs said she started Three Little Birds Bakery seven-and-a-half years ago, but “didn’t charge nearly enough” for her work.
Highlighting some of the early obstacles she faced while setting the business up, she explained it fueled that passion “for people being valued properly for their time and their skill” in the industry and said, “If you’re not getting paid properly for it, it’s not something you can do.”
“Women should not feel guilty about charging for their work and for earning money,” she added.