Belfast Telegraph

Imelda's stay on Bake Off short and sweet after crunch biscuit round

By Lucy Mapstone and Victoria Leonard

Co Tyrone amateur baker Imelda McCarron was the first contestant in the new series of The Great British Bake Off to leave the tent.

In last night's episode the 33-year-old Fermanagh and Omagh District Council countryside recreation officer failed to impress judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood with the last two of her three challenges.

The new series kicked off with biscuit week, a break from the usual cake week launch.

The 12 new bakers were tasked with creating 24 regional biscuits in the signature challenge and eight Wagon Wheels, a childhood favourite of Hollywood's, in the technical challenge.

The third challenge of the episode, the showstopper, saw the contestants create 3D biscuit selfie portraits.

Imelda made an impression with her cherry and white chocolate oatmeal biscuits in the first round, but she struggled in the technical challenge, finishing in 11th place.

Her final bake, for which she constructed her own face in biscuit against a seaside backdrop, was criticised as "quite simple" and "a little bland and dry" by Leith.

Hollywood said he could not detect her flavours of lemon and ginger, and compared the overall bake to a "stale shortbread".

Deliberating over who should leave the tent, Leith and Hollywood were torn between Imelda, retired air steward Terry (56) and 29-year-old project manager Ruby.

But it was the local woman who was given the boot.

She said: "I'm frustrated because I know I can do better, but at the same time it was one of the best experiences of my life."

Despite her short and sweet stay, Imelda told the Belfast Telegraph earlier how her first time in the famous tent had been "the most surreal experience of my life".

She said the atmosphere on the set was "electric" and that she had most wanted to impress Hollywood, who she described as a "notoriously harsh critic".

She also praised the support she received from hosts Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

Imelda, who grew up in Tyrone with her three siblings, learned to cook and bake from her mother in her family home.

In addition to her work, she spends her evenings and weekends making soda bread, biscuits and treats for her father and son, as well as cakes that she takes into work to share with her colleagues.

Recalling her first morning in the Bake Off tent, Imelda said she experienced "an amazing buzz".

"It was the most surreal moment of my life," she said.

"It still doesn't seem real that I was inside that tent.

"The atmosphere inside the tent was literally electric. An amazing buzz!"

With both Hollywood and Leith reprising their judging roles, Imelda admitted that she "definitely" wanted to impress Paul the most.

"I've followed his baking for years and grew up watching him on TV," she said.

"Also, as he's such a notoriously harsh critic, it's all the sweeter if you receive positive feedback from him.

"Sandi and Noel were incredible.

"I thought they'd be so removed from the bakers and retain their distance off-camera, but genuinely they were so supportive throughout.

"It was an absolute pleasure meeting them and I will forever treasure the memories of their support, along with the whole crew and other bakers."

The local mum said she decided to apply to the show after the casting team visited here, but ahead of the screening of the first episode, admitted she had "never, ever imagined" seeing herself on TV and was "absolutely dreading it".

"When the Bake Off casting team came over to the Richmond Centre in Derry, I got tagged on Facebook by three friends - one from uni, one from school and my brother," she explained.

"It never occurred to me to apply until then! I never thought I'd get through to Bake Off, so I never considered it during the application process.

"I'm so nervous about it going out. Our house can be a bit mad at the best of times, so I'm sure there'll be a few gathered round the sofa!"

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