Raymond Blanc should stick to making those delicious chocolate eclairs. His Twitter tip for the winner (and apparent spoiler) on Monday proved unfounded. In the end, the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2013 wasn't headline-hogger Ruby Tandoh, but Frances Quinn, the 31-year-old fashion designer from Leicestershire who saved all her attention-grabbing flourishes for the cakes themselves.
Not that last night's fourth season finale required a patriotic Twitter storm to pull in its estimated 8 million viewers. The viewing figures have grown steadily since the first season became a sleeper hit in 2010; this year's finalists were whittled down from a record 13,000 applicants; there are now 14 international spin-offs and it was announced last week that series five will be screened on BBC One where an even bigger potential audience awaits. Don't let its dainty affect fool you, GBBO is a fearsome behemoth of popular television.
Unlike some other TV talent shows, it doesn't rely on heavy-handed sob stories to secure our sympathy. Last night a VT segment gave us rare insight into the home lives of "the lady finalists" (as co-presenter Mel insists on calling them) and there wasn't a terminally ill granny in sight. We learnt instead that Frances is the youngest of five, that Kimberly has an nice boyfriend called Giuseppe and that Ruby did most of her practice cooks in the scummy kitchen at student halls.
These contestants aren't desperate showboaters or exploited oddballs, they're just ordinary women with an extraordinary passion for baking. So pity the poor showbiz journos who wasted words on attempts to turn Ruby into a hate figure. Not only did the 21-year-old always seem undeserving of animosity, she was gloriously impervious to it and remained her peculiar curmudgeonly self right to the end. Last night's vintage Ruby whinge even had a note of self-parody: "I'm up against design queen Frances and here I am! I can't compete with Frances!" she wailed while deftly completing the flawless lattice work on her picnic pie.
Meanwhile, GBBO's coolest cucumber Kimberly was confronting a genuine baking catastrophe with characteristic sangfroid. Despite it's depressing name, her 'Chicken and Pig Pie' sounded quite delicious in theory. In practice, not so much. Even the most unrepentant meat eater doesn't want to be taunted with cutesy piglet-shaped decorations on a pork pie. Kimberly only needed a quiet moment of reflection in the wildflower field, before she bounced back with a challenge-winning pretzel. ""I'm beginning to feel that the outside doesn't reflect the inside" mused Paul later as he sliced into Kimberly's uninspiring wedding cake to reveal an orange and pistachio chequerboard interior - a metaphor for the inscrutable woman herself, perhaps?
Frances rounded out the show with her own moment of glory, a Midsummer Night's Dream wedding cake decorated with a confetti of beetroot hearts and dried pineapple flowers. It was both a reminder that her much-talked of creativity had been responsible for this series' big 'wow' moments and a justification for her win. She made a worthy winner, but in a final as evenly matched as this, so too would have either Kimberly or Ruby.
Ultimately, The Great British Bake Off is never a one-horse race, it's a dark-horse race, making the show itself a gentle, schoolmarmish admonishment to those brasher TV talent shows. They seem to believe that only humiliating contestants and exposing their private lives will keep the bloodthirsty TV audience happy. We're much nicer than that really, and the proof is in the pudding.Reuse content