Nancy Birtwhistle rose to the occasion last night to be crowned champion of this year’s Great British Bake Off – with a surprise win over hot favourite Richard Burr.
Judge Mary Berry praised her “quiet determination” while Paul Hollywood said her baking was “close to perfection” as the retired GP surgery manager became the oldest winner of the competition at the age of 60.
The grandmother had been named “star baker” just once during the series – in the first show – as opposed to the five times builder Richard took the title, making him bookies’ favourite.
Nancy said she was so caught up in the moment, she can 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.”
Nancy and her fellow finalists, Richard, 37, and graphic designer Luis Troyano, 42, 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, while Richard came last.
Nancy, from Hull, said it was an emotional moment as the three hopefuls gathered to hear who had won after ten weeks of competition involving 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.
“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.”
They were joined by the eliminated contenders from throughout the series in the famous marquee pitched on the Welford Park estate in Berkshire.
Nancy added: “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.” The result will surprise many viewers who had been expecting Richard – known for his signature pencil tucked behind the ear – to be the victor after his many strong performances.
Berry said: “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 mindblowing. It’s been a real joy to judge this year.”
Hollywood added: “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 for me, as we have had great bakers who have built on their expertise each week.”
The programme moved from BBC2 to BBC1 for this year’s fifth series and pulled in around nine million viewers, becoming one of the most popular shows on the channel.