A stunned Harrogate woman has spent a year at the centre of a media storm after unexpectedly being named the world’s greatest conker champion.
Former Harrogate Grammar School student Sophie Knox entered the World Conker Championships as a joke with a friend last year. And won.
“We wanted to do something different,” she said. “We thought about cheese-rolling, and pea-shooting. But the conker competition was closest. So off we went. And won.”
The competition had invited fancy dress, she said, so her and her friend Natasha Naylor, from York, went as the Pink Panther and Bugs Bunny.
“We turned up ready for a fun day but everybody was wearing tweed and wellies,” she said. “It was a nightmare. They were all taking it really seriously.”
Sophie, from Lynton Gardens, runs an online pet store in Harrogate called Pets Perfect. And without ever having played conkers before, the 31-year-old soon found herself up on stage against the world’s greatest champions.
“That was my first ever game of conkers,” she said. “I just kept winning. And soon they were all knocked out.
“ I don’t think you can call it a natural talent. It was more luck. And it was definitely a surprise.”
Not only was her win a surprise, but the attention that came with it.
“Suddenly, the world’s press were there,” she said. “There was a guy from the Independent waiting to interview me. Chris Evans, the Guardian.
“I had a friend in Australia call me up to say I was on breakfast TV. I was even on telly in Japan, with subtitles.
“It’s been a mad year.”
In recent months, in readiness for the 2014 championships, Sophie has been brushing up on her conker-championship knowledge.
“There are very strict rules,” she said. “They have a ruler and will measure your string - it has to be eight inches from knuckle to nut.”
And there’s no time to prepare a competitive advantage.
“They hand you a bag, and it’s a lucky dip which conker you get. You’re not allowed to put it in vinegar.”
The 2013 world champion travelled down to Northamptonshire on Sunday to defend her title. Sadly, and despite her best efforts, her chance at life-long glory ended here.
“I got a crack in my nut,” she said. “It was a bad seed. It was battered off the string at sudden death.
“I was knocked out in the first round. And I lost to a man dressed as a bumble-bee.”