Council manager Howard Middleton is the toast of the town as he steps into the glare of the national spotlight in the latest series of Great British Bake Off.
Howard, 52, got off to a dramatic start, struggling with a gashed thumb on the first show, to win the judges’ praise.
This week he lost ground with bendy breadsticks and mis-shaped muffins (blame presenter Sue Perkins’ elbow).
The former graphic designer, who shares a city-centre flat with his partner, Peter, learned to bake as a child.
“My mum’s a fantastic baker… trying to improve on her efforts brought out a competitive streak in me,” he says.
Since then he has perfected everything from breadsticks and birthday buns to a four-tier wedding cake.
His baking is popular at work and Howard was encouraged to enter the show by colleagues in the city council communities department.
“The audition process is very rigorous,” he says. “There are so many hoops to jump through and when you get to the stage where you have to bake for Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood it’s very surreal.
“When I got the call to say I’d made it through to the programme, I was in the middle of cooking dinner. So I dashed out to get a bottle of bubbly!”
Contestants have to come up with original recipes for the ‘signature’ and ‘showstopper‘ dishes in advance, but technical challenges are a secret until the moment the red checked cloths are lifted.
Howard watched the first show at home with his family: “We had a bit of a party and I baked the passionfruit and coconut cake that I’d made on the programme. Everyone’s been so excited and the response has been amazing.”
But while the rest of the nation holds its breath to see who makes it to the final, the result is no surprise to Howard.
Filming has already concluded – and his only remaining challenge is keeping the outcome a secret.
HOWARD’S WAY TO THE JUDGES’ HEARTS
Howard says: “I love working with unusual ingredients and flavour combinations. I try to present my bakes in a way that makes people smile.”
* Week 1: gluten-free passionfruit and coconut cake; Black Forest revisited topped by a moulded chocolate bear.
* Week 2: Moroccan breadsticks and a Picasso-inspired sun bread.
For Bake Off recipes visit: Great British Bake Off