Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn has put Harborough on the map like no-one since Martin Johnson lifted the rugby World Cup ten years ago. Mail reporter Elinor O’Neill caught up with her to talk pies, tray bakes and secret squirrel cake.
Frances Quinn showed she has style and substance as she took the Great British Bake Off crown on Tuesday.
Harborough’s finest pulled out all the stops and impressed the judges with her tasty and highly-stylised bakes in the final, watched by about 9.1 million people.
Her picnic pie in the first round was so good that Mary Berry could not keep her hands off the ingredients, seizing the seasoned vegetables while Frances had her back turned.
And Paul Hollywood said, after one of his dramatic pauses, that not only did the pastry taste good, the filling was fantastic.
Even a pretzel-related disaster failed to deter Frances as her three-tiered wedding cake won the day - and helped the children’s clothes designer take the coveted Bake Off crown.
The screening of the final, filmed earlier in the summer, meant Frances could finally talk about her experience on the show, the result of which she was under orders to keep closely-guarded secret.
Wednesday morning found the 32-year-old doing a tour of the national media, as TV and radio stations queued up to interview her.
But Frances, whose parents Kevin and Deirdre, ran Quinn’s bookshop in Harborough for many years, found time to chat to the Mail.
“There were about 25 of us packed into a flat watching the final,” she said.
“It was still as nerve-wracking watching it back as it was at the time.
“Everyone keeps talking about me writing a book, but I would love it to be more than the book. It has been such a long journey and I would love to combine the baking and the design.
“I want to thank everyone who supported me.
“It has been lovely how my cooking has inspired people, but for me the biggest inspiration was all the support that everyone gave me.”
Regular viewers of television contests are used to that favourite device of producers - the presenter’s pregnant pause before the announcement of the winner’s name. For Frances it was an agonising wait.
She said: “It was the longest time. They edited it down for but times what you saw on TV by about four. It was well over a minute before my name was announced.
“On the last weekend we were in a taxi - we had been upgraded from the bus - and you could really feel the stress and strain. It was the final, it was the crux.
“It was all filmed four months ago, a quarter of a year now. Everyone is saying I should work for MI5 after managing to keep the secret so long. I don’t know how I’ve done it, I think the secret squirrel was an inspiration.”
I had met Frances Quinn a few weeks before the final in Harborough’s Waitrose cafe, picking a secluded spot in the hope she might spill the beans on the outcome of the show.
There are two things I failed to anticipate however.
Firstly, Frances was tight-lipped when it came to spoilers and secondly no matter how secluded the spot, Harborough’s celebrity baker still attracted attention from fans of the show.
As she ordered a drink, a well-wisher cornered her to compliment her on her imaginatively-designed bakes, while someone at the till of the store waved enthusiastically at her.
This, it turns out, is not uncommon. As well as having more than 33,000 followers on her Twitter account and some die-hard fans on Facebook, many of who blamed presenter Mel Giedroyc for the tumbling tower incident (week five of the series - Frances very sweetly says she had nothing to do with it but I cannot help but retain my suspicions), she also often finds herself approached by people unknown to her.
Frances said: “I was at a wedding the other week and a woman came up to me and said, ‘you really look like that girl off the Great British Bake Off, but you’re not her are you?’”
Frances has been baking since she was a little girl, coming from a large family of one sister and three brothers, and she said there was always a high demand for food.
She really developed her cake-making skills however when she took on a role as a clothing designer at Harborough firm Joules Clothing.
The company wanted to do a baking blog and Frances volunteered to put together her inspired creations for it.
Her portfolio is impressive and she has already made cakes for christenings, birthdays and other events.
The secret squirrel cake Frances produced in the first week of the show won acclaim across the nation, with the National Trust even tweeting a picture of it from its account.
Frances said filming for the series was completed in just ten weeks, mostly on weekends.
Unlike the chocolate rodent hidden in her eponymous secret squirrel cake, the result was to remain a closely-guarded secret so as not to spoil the reveal in the final episode.
She said: “I often get asked what I would choose, baking or clothing design? But for me it’s never a choice and always a collaboration of the two.
“I am constantly thinking creatively whether designing with food or fabric. It’s what drives my ideas and is the ingredient that helps me produce unique and quirky baking.
“My creative process always starts or ends with an idea, design or concept that I often find easier to express by ‘drawing’ on my imagination.
“Sketching up designs and pairing them with a recipe helps to feed both mine and other people’s creative appetite before I even reach for a spoon.
“It’s the impact, response and buzz that comes from baking that makes it fun. To surprise, inspire and bake memories and experiences for people is, for me, the icing on the cake.”