Hometown hero and dog-showing star Melanie Raymond admitted the nerves ‘melted away’ when she stepped onto the green carpet to grab Best in Show Crufts glory with Australian Shepherd Viking.

The 46-year-old, who lives in Solihull fewer than five miles away from the NEC Birmingham, trumped more than 18,000 showing dogs who competed across four spectacular days in the Midlands. Three-year-old Viking was awarded the dog show’s top honour by judge Ann Ingram after trumping every canine in the Pastoral Group on Saturday.

Pressure was mounting on one of the pre-event favourites - co-owned by Raymond, John Shaw and Kerry Kirtley - but the winning handler insisted he kept his cool to come out on top.

She said: “It’s amazing, pinch me, it’s one of those things as a handler, breeder, owner, that we all want to win and so many people don’t get to win it – it’s fabulous.

“This has been the toughest Crufts ever, everyone was backing him and rooting for him so it was tough.

“I’ve got bags under my eyes, I’ve had very many sleepless nights.

“Once you get in the ring, it goes, it’s the build up that’s the scary bit but once you’re in there, everything melts away and I love showing.

“I live in Solihull, it’s quicker for me to walk than drive here, it’s brilliant and my friends all come and stay – what a great experience.”

Viking toppled reserve Zen, a Jack Russell Terrier, to the ultimate prize under the Sunday night NEC lights, a dog who hails from Japan and was handled by Kao Miichi and Hiroshi Tsukuki.

Raymond won Best in Group with Beagle Maximus 15 years ago, when she was pregnant with her son, Gabriel, as the emotion flooded out of her when she went one better this year.

Viking will now retire from showing in the UK, but the champion owner has not ruled out a bout abroad.

She said: “Whether I do any shows abroad, I don’t know yet.

“Of all the dog shows in the world it does not get better than Crufts, I’ve won the group here once before.

“To have gone all the way now it was amazing.

“Fifteen years ago, I had to borrow my mum’s showing suits because I couldn’t fit into my own as I was pregnant.

“The green carpet, the atmosphere and the committee – The Kennel Club and the Crufts Committee put on an amazing event, it’s really hard to put on such a flawless dog show.

“Everyone loves it and it’s the one that everyone wants to win.”

Crufts, run by The Kennel Club, is a unique celebration of happy, healthy dogs and of the loving relationship that they enjoy with their owners. Crufts was held from 7-10 March 2024 at the NEC Birmingham. Viewers can catch up with highlights on Channel 4, and for further information visit: http://crufts.org.uk