Nancy Birtwhistle rose to the occasion tonight 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” in only one week of the series - during the first heat – against the five times when builder Burr took the title, including a three-week run of supremacy up to the final, and he had been the bookies’ favourite.
Birtwhistle 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.
“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,” she said.
Birtwhistle and her fellow finalists, Burr, 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 Burr blew it by coming last.
Birtwhistle, originally from Hull, 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.
“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 estate of Welford Park in Berkshire.
Birthwhistle 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 Burr – 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 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 for me, 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 have been exceptional.“
The programme moved from BBC2 to BBC1 for this year’s fifth series and created a buzz like never before. It has pulled in around nine million viewers and has become one of the most popular shows on the channel.
BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore said tonight: “It was absolutely right for one of the nation’s most talked-about programmes to move to the nation’s favourite channel, and I’m more than thrilled BBC1 viewers have taken it to their hearts.”
:: Signature dish – Viennoiserie
:: Technical – 12 mini tartes au citron, 12 mini Victoria sponges, 12 mini scones
:: Showstopper – Piece montee