As the three remaining bakers battle it out for the title of The Great British Bake Off champion 2015, last year's winner Nancy Birtwhistle has some tips for getting through the final and reveals what life's been like since she baked her way to victory…
What have you made of this year’s Great British Bake Off?
"I've been glued to this series. I like Tamal because he's a quiet, unassuming bloke but he's always had a 'I'm here to enjoy it' attitude, which I can fully relate to. Nadiya has some great expressions and she's very original with her flavours. I like Ian too - they're all incredibly skilled."
Any idea which of them might win next week's final?
"All the bakers have had their ups and downs, but that's good because it means that, in the final, there's no way you can guess who the winner is going to be."
When you entered the Bake Off last year, did you have a strategy for getting through each week?
"Not really. From the moment I found out I'd been chosen, the realisation just hit me that now I had to do some work – it was down to me to produce the goods. I just didn't want to go out in the first week!"
Each week in the Bake Off tent looks stressful – did you feel under more pressure going into the final?
"I was definitely nervous – you need nerves for that adrenaline rush and to stay focused but I never let my nerves get the better of me. Once you start worrying about what the other bakers are doing, that's when you'll start to wobble and everything will go wrong."
Did you ever think you'd actually win the competition?
“I certainly didn't think I'd ever win the Bake Off, but you've got to believe in yourself and what you've set out to do. I'd practised my windmill at home on the morning of the final and I thought if I can produce that in the tent, then I'll be really pleased – and I did!"
Were you surprised to win given that one of your fellow finalists, Richard Burr, had been awarded Star Baker five times?
"No, not really. I wasn't bothered at all about the 'Star Baker' thing, though I was awarded ‘Star Baker’ in week one, which actually gave me some comfort. I thought: ‘If I can do it in week one then I'm as good as anybody else in this tent.' The thing with the Bake Off is that you just haven't got to be the worst!"
Is winning last year's Bake Off one of the best things that's happened to you?
“Oh yes, without any doubt because it's not until you really push yourself that you realise what you're truly capable of. I look at my windmill now and think: 'Crikey, that was marvellous! How did I do that?'"
And how has winning the Bake Off changed your life?
"In so many ways. I've been giving cookery demonstrations and after-dinner speeches, writing recipes and I still bake every day. I also write a weekly blog and I’m now on Twitter. Before the Bake Off I wasn't into social media at all – now I've got over 20,000 followers!"
Do you enjoy giving demonstrations?
“Yes I do. It's funny because when I was working in management in the NHS, I used to have to hold meetings and stand there talking about really boring stuff. I could see people’s eyes glaze over in the audience, whereas this is completely different. You can see everybody’s eyes are open and everybody’s listening – people want to hear what you’ve got to say about baking and they want to learn."
Would you like to present your own cookery show on TV?
“Ha, ha! That'd be brilliant wouldn't it? I’ve done quite a bit now in front of cameras, so that'd be amazing, yes.”
Have you stayed in touch with Mary and ‘the imale judge’ Paul Hollywood?
“Well, I have seen Paul at a couple of events. He was doing a roadshow last year - he came to Grimsby and told me to come backstage for a chat. Afterwards, I was planning to go back to the audience and take my seat and he said: ‘You’re not going anywhere, you’re coming on stage with me.’
"There was this enormous crowd of about 700-800 people and it was such a gift because he was giving me the opportunity to stand in front of a mass of people without having responsibility for that audience. I was really grateful to him for that because then, when I was standing in front of my own audience for a demonstration, it didn’t feel so bad because I’d already been in the presence of that many people.”
So Paul’s really a pussycat?
“Oh, he’s absolutely lovely. Before I went onto the show, I used to watch him and think: 'He looks like he's not all that friendly'. But he is, and his judging's consistent and absolutely spot on."
Why do you think viewers still love the Bake Off so much?
“Well, it's a family show that appeals to all ages. I’ve had little old ladies come up to me and say: ‘I really enjoyed watching you on the Bake Off’, or if I go into a school, the kids know who I am. I’m also a football fan [she supports Hull City FC], so I might be at a football match and these big burly supporters will shout out: ‘Well done, lass!’”
The Great British Bake Off final can be seen on Wednesday, October 7 at 8pm on BBC1.
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