NOT many people knew who Kat Copeland was when she left the region to join Team GB at the Olympics a few weeks ago. How her life has changed.

As the athlete pulled up outside her parents’ home in Stokesley , North Yorkshire last night there were passing wellwishers queuing up to congratulate her. Friendly as always, Kat chatted to all of them.

A huge banner welcoming her home hung from the family’s cream period cottage, where they moved from Ingleby Barwick last September.

Only 24 hours previously, Kat had been getting ready for the Olympic closing ceremony, where she would watch the Spice Girls perform and stand shoulderto- shoulder with the likes of Mo Farah and Victoria Pendleton.

Now she was stepping out of the car in leafy Levenside, her mother holding her arms out for a well-deserved hug.

Last night, the family were celebrating her brother Finlay’s 14th birthday, with Kat determined not to overshadow his big day.

And today she will be learning about curbing her speed on the roads rather than trying to increase it on the water as she attends a driver’s speed awareness course in Teesside to avert three points on her licence after she was caught for speeding.

But what now for the former Yarm School pupil, who revealed she is considering giving up competitive rowing in favour of a biology degree at Newcastle University?

Her mum came in to listen at this point. “Even I don’t know what she has planned,”

says Penny, with a smile. “I’m interested; but whatever makes her happy is fine by me.”

This time last year Kat – known as Kate to her family – decided to enrol on a degree in biology at Durham University.

Within six weeks, she knew she had made the wrong decision and changed her mind.

“I know it was the right decision at the time because I just couldn’t balance the degree with the rowing,” she says. “But I still feel like I need to have a degree under my belt.

“I haven’t really thought about the future for the past two weeks because I decided I would just have a good time in the Olympic village and not worry too much about it all.”

Since her win Kat has met Sylvester Stallone and, much to her delight, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

“She’s absolutely gorgeous,”

says Kat. “I missed meeting her once and I was so disappointed, but then she came with Harry to meet us. She was lovely.”

Kat was disappointed not to have been in the Olympic stadium for the first part of the closing ceremony, when Emeli Sande was singing on Sunday night – “I think she’s amazing”

– but enjoyed the Spice Girls’ performance.

“We were right up against one of the ramps, so we couldn’t see the stage that well but one of the Spice Girls drove right past us,” she says, excitedly.

After the closing ceremony she returned to the Olympic village, where there were parties going on into the small hours in the apartment courtyards.

Due to the excitement, she hadn’t slept much on Sunday night and got the afternoon train back to Darlington station yesterday afternoon.

On her way back to Stokesley, she stopped off at Ingleby Barwick, where she grew up, to see her father, Derek, briefly at work at the family’s veterinary practice before a quick visit to see the postbox in the town painted gold in her honour.

There has been some controversy – and an e-petition – to have the gold postbox in Stokes-ley, but Kat says she feels it is right that it is in Ingleby Barwick, where she grew up and lived until last year.

During her visit to see it, she was stopped by a fan wanting her to hold her baby for a picture.

“That’s the strangest thing,”

she says. “It’s lovely, but people keep giving me small children to hold since I won.”

Kat says she has been overwhelmed by the many cards and messages of support – and wanted to say a huge public thank-you to everyone.

Before she left London, she had to give in her Olympic medal for repairs as the ribbon was becoming a little frayed.

“I was really upset having to give it over,”

she says. “I keep worrying that I won’t get it back. It’s huge though – it really gives you neck ache wearing it. But I didn’t want to take it off.”

For now though, she is planning some quiet time to decide what to do next. And rumour has it she quite enjoys a good rummage around in Boyes, in Stokesley, for bargains.