MasterChef winner Irini Tzortzoglou said she immediately asked to share her prize with her fellow finalists after she was named champion of the latest series of the cooking competition.
The retired banker, 61, saw off challengers Jilly McCord, 42, and Delia Maria Asser, 28, in the first all-female final in the show’s history.
She was named the winner after impressing judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode with a menu inspired by her childhood and Greek heritage, including red mullet with a squid risotto, griddled rosemary lamb chops and a fig and hazelnut baklava.
She told the Press Association: “I’m floating somewhere in space, in mid-air.
“It happened so quickly that I felt all the final that the three of us were like one.
“We were all doing our own thing but actually we were in unison so my instinctive reaction was: ‘Can I share it? Can I share it with my friends?’
“Because it felt like we all had won and then it sunk in because the girls left the room and I was like ‘oh my god, it’s me, I’ve actually done it’.
“A normal person, an average person, does not suddenly win a major competition watched by millions, it just doesn’t happen and it happened to me and it was very, very difficult to sink in.”
We are just lucky we are three women who love and respect each other and have grown to be very fond and appreciative of each other's talentsIrini Tzortzoglou
Tzortzoglou, who grew up in Crete in Greece and now lives in Cartmel, Cumbria, said she was particularly pleased to have taken part in the first final to be made up of only female contestants.
“I’m excited about my grandchildren and the young generations who are growing up seeing a shift in our perception as to who can do what and understanding that women can be equally good as men in all things,” she said.
“We are just lucky we are three women who love and respect each other and have grown to be very fond and appreciative of each other’s talents.”
Tzortzoglou said there was only one moment, midway through the competition, when she thought she might be able to clinch the title.
She said: “There was once after a meal where I said ‘my brain is saying this is impossible, it’s an impossible dream but something in the pit of my stomach says that maybe I could do’ and it was a very quiet, very deep kind of spiritual feeling of ‘yeah, I think I could win it’ and I was in wonderment of that feeling.”
Tzortzoglou said it did not cross her mind during the final because she was too busy, adding: “I felt that I wasn’t cooking and I felt like that during the duration of the competition, that it wasn’t me doing that, almost like I was a puppet and people were pulling strings, it was really strange.
“Since then I have understood this is what happens when you’re in one of your gifts and I think cooking and hospitality are very much my gifts, so it felt like I had a lot of help from above.”
Discussing what she will do next, she said: “I started writing down things as I was preparing for the competition and writing was a fantastic process, I realised that so much that links me to food was coming back in my memory and a very lovely warm feeling.
“I started writing almost like a journal and then I was remembering recipes and how people I loved made different things and I want to continue that.
“I don’t think that at my time of life I want to run a restaurant, I want to spend more time with my mum and I would love to go round Greece and do some research, maybe make a programme if I’m lucky.
“This is my dream scenario, to visit the different Greek areas where the land is different, the climate is different, the people and food are different, and be able to showcase more of that, that would be amazing.”