Nancy Birtwhistle was crowned winner of this year’s ‘The Great British Bake Off’ in the final episode of series five of the show, which aired on BBC1 at 8pm yesterday.
The 60-year-old grandmother from Lincolnshire beat her two rivals – favourite Richard Burr and Luis Troyano – to claim the title. The final three competitors were pushed to the limit with a series of baking challenges, including signature Viennoiserie, mini tarte au citron, mini Victoria sponges, mini scones, and the piece de resistance showstopper cake. The contestant’s two judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, agreed that the class of 2014 had proved “exceptional” and “a joy to judge”.
Paul said: ”Nancy has been confident, creative and unafraid as a baker, and that showed from the very start. In one of my judgings I called her close to perfection, so that says it for me. This series has been one of the best, as we have had great bakers who have built on their baking expertise each week. They have shown both a depth of knowledge and a sense of humour – you really couldn’t have asked for a better bunch. They have really pushed the boundaries of technique this year. The style, the finesse and the precision… the class of 2014 has been exceptional.”
Mary added: “I agree, I think this has been one of the strongest series so far, with a cracking semi-final episode leading up to a gripping final. You never know how the bakers will be affected as we go through filming week by week, but Nancy remained constant throughout. I think it was her quiet determination that drove her through, and the fact that she never really lost her cool. It was a close run when it came to judging the final, but Nancy is deservedly our winner and I must admit that I have been inspired by her baking. The bakers have been so keen, so creative and the results have been mind-blowing. It’s been a real joy to judge this year!”
The programme has become a ratings hit, regularly pulling in around nine million viewers. Talking about public reaction to the show, Paul said: “There has been an amazing reaction from viewers on Twitter and just generally, it has all been very positive. I think now that home bakers will have learned that baking bread is all to do with the timing!”
Mary added: “I don’t follow all the social media sites but the people coming up to me in the street as the series has been going out have all been rather wonderful. My best bit of advice, that I hope has been absorbed, is to always read the recipe twice. You can’t go wrong then.”
Winner Nancy 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.
“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’. We were all pretty exhausted, Luis was close to tears, and Richard looked the same. I took a big gulp, and realised that this moment was like knowing the snowman is going to melt and it will never be the same again. So it was quite a poignant time for all of us.
“Then the judges said my name, and I can’t really remember what happened. 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. It was a fabulous day with the sun shining and all my family had come. There was a band playing and it was a lovely atmosphere. We had such a great time and everyone loved it.
“I had watched the programme before but didn’t realise how big the show is. To get positive feedback from Paul and Mary takes you to a completely different level. I have never had comments from people in such authority on their subject. It carries such a great feeling when the judges say your bake is perfect; it gives you confidence and a terrific buzz.
“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. What I enjoy doing is teaching people how to make pastry, and it really is easy; so I would like to share some of what I know. You learn all these skills through your life and you have to pass them on. I have never stood in front of big crowds but I think I could be good at that. I have learned that I am good at keeping my head.
“Baking isn’t difficult, you have to just keep trying and practising. I am still learning techniques even now, and I can sometimes make a complete mess of things! And when that happens you just start again, keep your patience and try and gain your confidence. By and large, in life and work, you are not often told you are good at your job. Each week we were being told what we were good at, and where we could improve. You felt that you were getting this personal one-to-one tuition for 10 weeks, and doing something you really enjoy. Without any doubt whatsoever, it is one of the best things I have done in my life.”