Interview: Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain has her fingers in new pies

Nadiya Hussain.
Nadiya Hussain.
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Nearly two years since Bake Off changed her life, Nadiya Hussain has her fingers in new pies, including a debut novel. Hannah Stephenson reports.

Since winning The Great British Bake Off in 2015, while she was living in Leeds, star baker Nadiya Hussain has been pretty busy.

The 32-year-old mother-of-three has presented an acclaimed two-part documentary about Bangladesh, her parents’ homeland (last year’s The Chronicles Of Nadiya), written cookbooks, been a guest panellist on Loose Women and has just brought out her debut novel, The Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters, the first of three.

You sense there’s definitely a pre-Bake Off Hussain – the wide-eyed, nervous, unconfident cook – and a fearless, businesslike post-Bake Off Hussain, recently described as one of the most influential people in Britain. She’s moved from Leeds to Milton Keynes with her family since appearing in the popular series, and is now living the dream.

She still watches Bake Off, and can’t understand why there’s been such a fuss about its move to Channel 4. “There are going to be adverts and they’re worried about the format changing but do you know what; what’s wrong with change? I’ll still watch it.”

She distances herself from the controversy over Mary Berry, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins quitting, and the fact Paul Hollywood has not.

“It’s his choice. He felt that for his family and for his life, the right thing to do was to move with Bake Off. What’s wrong with that? Good for him.” She says Channel 4 hasn’t approached her to be a presenter or judge in the next series and, in any case, she’s too busy to take on that sort of commitment at the moment.

Right now, she’s focusing on writing. Her first ghostwritten novel, The Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters, is a contemporary story about four Muslim sisters of Bangladeshi parents, growing up in a quaint English village.

Each has her own problems. Fatima is overweight and trying to pass her driving test; Bubblee is the feisty, rebellious artist who wants to get away from family tradition; Farah is the put-upon housewife and Mae is coping with burgeoning YouTube stardom.

The problems they face are ones many families will relate to, regardless of religion, although there’s an emphasis on finding husbands for the unmarried sisters.

“The girls are first-generation British, which is something I can relate to, and I’m one of four sisters,” she says. “My parents are immigrants. This was an opportunity to write a story about the things that I grew up with, or the things that are quite common in a community I’ve grown up in.”

Hussain grew up in Luton in a Bangladeshi community where her father ran a chain of curry houses. He isn’t your typical Bangladeshi dad, she observes.

“He’s very open-minded. His attitude is, you guys do what you want to do. I was the one who didn’t fancy finding a husband, so I asked my dad to do that for me. I thought an arranged marriage would be fun.”

At 20, she married IT consultant Abdal – the son of a good friend of her father’s – in a huge Islamic ceremony. But she says had she not wanted an arranged marriage, her parents wouldn’t have minded.

“I’m very lucky – I know arranged marriage doesn’t always work. I found it strange at first. I’d just turned 20. I think I was a sensible 20-year-old. I learned in the first two or three years of marriage that I’m very persistent. I’m a fighter and like to make things work.”

Now she’s looking to tie the knot again, in a different way. “I didn’t know my husband very well 12 years ago. I’d like to do it because I like him, I love him, and I’d like to do it in a way I would have done it, had I not had an arranged marriage.”

She’s writing two more cookbooks, has begun work on the next novel, and has more TV projects on the cards. But, of course, she still finds time to bake. “Right now, there’s a frangipane tart, a Christmas cake, ginger biscuits, a ginger cake and vegetable rolls on my work top. I don’t know what I’m going to do with any of it.”

The Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain is published by HQ, priced £12.99.