“I know now why my husband was so desperate for me to do it,” says Nadiya Hussain, remembering life before The Great British Bake Off. “I was the most scared person in the world. I didn’t know how to use a train.”
Since becoming GBBO champion last year, Nadiya has shown a way with words as impressive as her clever cakes and bakes. Reflective, funny, often touching, sometimes surprising, her observations challenge preconceptions and prejudices, quietly but insistently.
In an interview this week for the Radio Times, she talks of the “stigma attached to arranged marriages and being a housewife”. It was Abdal, her husband of 11 years, who encouraged her to enter Bake Off after years of looking after their three young children. Now 31-year-old Nadiya is no longer a train-fearing Leeds housewife but a very British modern-day celebrity. Her first cookbook Nadiya’s Kitchen is out this Thursday. There’s a children’s cookbook to follow, and she is writing a novel.
A regular on Loose Women, she has been named by Debrett’s as one of 2016’s most influential people, and has said she might like a clothing and maybe a beauty line, as she makes her own scrubs (I do hope Marks & Spencer is on this).
Best of all, her own BBC1 travel and cookery show will air later this year. Called The Chronicles of Nadiya, she will visit her birthplace in Luton and her ancestral home in Bangladesh while cooking for friends and family.
In her own quiet manner, without preaching, Nadiya tells it like it is, little nuggets shedding light and wisdom that we can all benefit from. She may be famed for her food but she fasts regularly, she explains, not only during Ramadan but also occasionally in accordance with an Islamic version of the 5:2 diet, on two days of the week. “It means your system gets a rest,” she says, pointing out a rule that a third of the stomach should be food, a third water and a third empty. Advice that instantly makes more sense than a thousand diet books. Finally, I might give the 5:2 a go.
When she entered Bake Off, Nadiya thought she would be dismissed as “a Muslim in a headscarf”. She wasn’t, she won, and now she isn’t scared of anything, not even trains. On the night of the Orlando massacre, she tweeted: “My prayers are with the victims and their families.”
Through simple, thoughtful words, Nadiya Hussain transcends boxes and boundaries. She has the warmth, intelligence and now confidence to connect with everyone. With characteristic directness, she says there’s a sell-by date after winning Bake Off. For once, I think she’s wrong. Nadiya is one reality star who deserves an unlimited shelf life.