The final of The Great British Bake Off drew more than 13 million viewers – making the show far bigger than last year’s X Factor final.
A peak of 13.3 million tuned in to watch Nancy Birtwhistle become the show’s oldest ever winner at the age of 60 as judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood raved about her showstopper windmill-shaped piece montee.
The climax of the 10-week BBC One 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 only manage an audience of 9.7 million.
Last night’s show even 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.
Judges lavished praise on Nancy’s cookery skills with Mary hailing her ‘quiet determination’ and Paul describing her baking as ‘close to perfection’.
Nancy’s win had caught many by surprise with Richard Burr, 37, expected to take the honours after weeks of supremacy. He was the bookies’ favourite and had been named “star baker” five times, to just one week – during the first heat – for the eventual winner.
The winner 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.”
Bake Off moved to BBC One for the first time this year which has helped increase its audience and increasingly capture the public imagination. Last year’s final on BBC Two had an average audience of 8.5 million.
Nancy said of her win: “It has been a fantastic, incredible experience. There has been the baking, learning and writing recipes. Getting to know the other bakers has been fantastic and being amongst lots of young people, seeing how television works – the whole experience has been fantastic.”
Nancy 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, while Richard came last.
Nancy 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 Bake Off at the famous marquee pitched on the estate of Welford Park in Berkshire.