GREAT British Bake Off winner Nancy Birtwhistle has revealed how she would start her practice runs as early as 5am as she prepared the dramatic ‘showstopper’ creations that won her the coveted title.
The 60-year-old grandmother overcame pre-final favourite Richard Burr to be crowned the best baker of the 16,000 entrants who tried out for the fifth series of the popular BBC1 contest.
A peak of 13.3 million tuned in to watch the show, giving it a bigger audience than the BBC coverage of the football World Cup Final.
Mr Burr, 37, from north London, was the bookies’ favourite and had been named “star baker” five times, to just one week, during the first heat, for the Hull-born winner.
In the showstopper challenge, her Moulin Rouge windmill sealed the decision for judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, who were both in full agreement she was the worthy winner.
Ms Birtwhistle, who now lives in Barton-upon-Humber, said she was so caught up in the moment, she could now barely recall the actual triumph.
“The judges said my name, and I can’t really remember what happened,” she said. “Later I was asked how I was feeling in an interview, but I felt I didn’t have the vocabulary, it was all a bit of a fog.”
Despite describing the show as one of the “best things” she has ever done, she admitted that she had doubts about whether she would be able to deal with the added pressure of the contest’s climax.
The grandmother-of-eight said: “There is nothing so scary as the final, and I didn’t know if I would be able to cope with it, but I was fine. I have never been tested to that extent, or had that pressure before, but I realised I could be pretty stoic about it all. Earlier on in the series I hadn’t even realised that I had said ‘You can’t go forward if you are looking backward’ until I saw it on TV.
“My earliest practice run was 5am - I would set the alarm and attempt the showstopper challenge of five hours, so at least by 10am if it hadn’t worked out you knew you could have another go without losing the whole day.”
Speaking about her plans for the future, she said: “I’d like to share the skills I’ve got because there are tips and shortcuts to getting a successful bake.
“I feel duty-bound to share that because more people need to bake. We don’t want to be buying shop-bought cakes, biscuits and pastries. I’m going to have a go at whatever comes along.”
After the show fellow finalist Luis Troyano, 22, tweeted: “Massive congratulations to Nancy and to Richard Burr love you both. Thanks to everyone for the massive support and good wishes.”
Builder Mr Burr said: “Congratulations to Nancy. A brilliant baker, and a great friend. Hope I gave you a run for your money nance!!”
Ms Birtwhistle and her fellow finalists had to complete the toughest challenges of the series, finishing with a towering “piece montee” as their showstopper, with sponge, caramel, choux pastry and petit fours, completed in five hours.
She leapt ahead during the technical challenge, coming first with her array of tartes au citron, Victoria sponges and scones.
Ms Birtwhistle said it was an emotional moment as the three hopefuls gathered to hear who had won after 10 weeks of competition in which they had undertaken 30 separate challenges.
She said: “I can remember having to stand for what seemed an eternity to hear the result. I looked at a tree in the distance and focused on that rather than looking at the judges, and felt what will be will be.
The finalists were joined by the eliminated contenders from throughout the series in the famous marquee pitched on the estate of Welford Park in Berkshire.
Among those sending congratulations was former Hull MP Lord Prescott, who tweeted: “Hull - Premier league team, Challenge Cup Winners, Olympic Champion boxer, UK City of Culture 2017 & now #GBBOfinal winner! Well done Nancy!”
Ms Birtwhistle has had to keep the secret of her win secret, only letting her husband Tim know the result, since the final was filmed in June.
Tim, who came up with contraptions including the famous cake guillotine to help his wife, told BBC Radio Humberside: “People badger you all the time, trying little tricks like where do you put your trophy?, did everyone clap? We didn’t tell anybody.”
The couple celebrated on Wednesdsay night with family and friends.
Ms Birtwhistle also revealed that she keeps up with all the other bakers with a chat group on online programme WhatsApp.
The climax of the 10-week BBC1 series drew an average audience of 12.3 million, one of the biggest TV audiences of the year. When the winner of last year’s X Factor was crowned in December, the ITV singing contest could manage an audience of 9.7 million.
Wednesday night’s show beat the 2013 finale of Strictly Come Dancing, which had an audience of 11.5 million, as well as the most recent Britain’s Got Talent final on 10.9 million, putting Bake Off into a new league.
It even pulled in a bigger crowd than BBC1’s coverage of the football World Cup Final in the summer on 12.1 million, although when combined with ITV’s coverage of the game at the same time, the football had a total audience of 14.9 million.
Bake Off failed to beat the audience for England’s World Cup match against Uruguay which had an average audience, according to overnight figures, of 13.1 million.