In early 2011 a mum of two from Leicester was knee deep in nappies and night feeds for her second son when she decided to do something for herself. Ten months later, Holly Bell is standing on the edge of victory in the BBC's Great British Bake Off, she is being talked about by Lily Allen on twitter and is being referred to in the same breath as such eminent bakers as Lorraine Pascal.
Holly's ambition after entering the competition reflects the modest and sincere woman that the nation has enjoyed watching cook for the last few months, "My main aim pre filming was just not to be kicked out in the first episode. I didn't want to hide my face in the local supermarket! After that I set my sights on the half-way point and after that I took it week by week. I'm still in shock now that I got to the final. Who'd have thought it?"
The good humour of the contestants and close relationships that have been built throughout the series seem to differentiate the Great British Bake Off from other reality television shows. "I think the pressure built throughout the filming. In the first week the odds of you being asked to leave were at their lowest so I guess you could say people were very relaxed compared to say the semi-final which was stressful.
Holly continues, "Surprisingly the final had a fabulous atmosphere. I think we were all so chuffed to be there we didn't care who won."
It may have something to do with skilful editing by the BBC but throughout the series there did not appear to be that one contestant that the country dislikes or the one that they rally around. Each episode appealed because of what the contestants were baking and this meant that in some episodes certain contestants were the stars and some were the supporting cast.
Holly is probably most remembered for her macaroons and her half savoury and sweet loaf. She set the twittersphere alight with talk of them but while delighting the British public on the side, there have only been two mouths that Holly has aimed to please, those of judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.
Despite Holly's macaroon success, she suffered at the hands of the judges when she produced her very green pesto quiche, "I'm not as experienced as Mary and Paul and certainly don't have the training and technical understanding of a Master Baker. So, all in all, I think we just had to take it on the chin each week that the decisions made were the right ones."
Holly's enthusiasm for cooking is contagious and talking to her helps you understand how she has become as skilled as she has, "I read a lot of cookbooks, subscribe to some great blogs and try to eat out as much as we can afford - all great ways to widen your knowledge and inspire ideas. I truly believe anyone can cook with a bit of enthusiasm and some trial and error."
"I am inspired by so many bakers and chefs but I guess if I were to be stranded on a desert island with one male and one female I'd choose Nigella and Michel Roux Jr. Both of these people are talented, successful, creative and easy on the eye."
Some influences lay closer to home and are set much deeper than experimentation and reading though, "My Mum cooks some great British classics; a good roast, epic fish pie and the best coffee and walnut cake I've ever tasted, but she is by no means a 'foodie' so I have also taught myself a lot."
Holly runs her own cookery website, 'recipes from a normal Mum' and it is full of inspiration but with a difference, you might actually be able to cook some of the recipes. She doesn't subscribe to the celebrity chef mantra that you must live in an area with a lot of niche shops to be able to cook. "The recipes on the whole mostly use stuff I have in my cupboards, fridge or freezer rather than requiring a one off stressful shopping trip to a specialist market/shop searching for that missing elusive ingredient.
"When I went on maternity leave last year, we were faced with a smaller budget each month, meaning I had to be that little bit more creative with my ingredients. For me there is something wonderful in taking regular, inexpensive ingredients and making them taste great. That's what I try to do every day, with varying degrees of success!"
As the country's disposable income continues to drop, good food seems to be increasingly becoming a victim of this austerity. "I try to cook fresh food as often as possible though, even if it's just pasta, pesto and some vegetables. It makes me feel good knowing my sons have gone to bed on something reasonably nutritious."
Despite her love of fresh food, Holly knows that life can sometimes get in the way, "I would never berate anyone for not cooking fresh food every day for their kids. We are all busy and so everybody uses the freezer now and again. There's no shame in fish fingers and smiley faces for dinner!"
As anyone who will have read anything written by a chef will know, there will always be a single dish that they remember from their childhood and Holly is no different, "My favourite childhood dish was definitely my Mum's fish pie with boiled eggs and parsley sauce. It is a classic but my Mum cooked it absolutely perfectly. When my children and I cook together, we like to make a pizza. We have fun making the dough and then choosing toppings, it is really involving and actually pretty cheap and healthy."
To end, Holly shared a few tips on how families with low disposable incomes can save money, eat healthier and most of all, end up with Holy Grail of dinner times, a clean plate.
"My first tip would be to menu plan and only shop from the list that comes from this. It saves huge amounts of money and avoids waste. My second tip would be to involve the kids, if you have the time, in planning their food for the week and helping to prepare it.
"Get cookbooks out, if they're older use the internet to search for recipes and look at the cupboards together to discuss what you already have. As for preparation, even if they just scrub a potato they'll be more likely to enjoy the meal and ultimately to hoover the lot up. And let's be honest, clean plates are the aim of most parents."
Whatever happens in the final on Tuesday 4 October at 8pm on BBC2, Holly surely has a bright future ahead of her in cooking. She is a delightful human being and I for one think that it is about time that reality TV actually recognised those who work hard, learn a craft, develop it and then reap the rewards.
You can discover new and exciting recipes on Holly's website: http://www.recipesfromanormalmum.com
You can also follow Holly on twitter: http://twitter.com/hollybellmummy
Follow Dominic Stevenson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dom_stevenson