‘I’m Muslim, Bangla, British. But most of all I’m a mum’: Great British Bake Off champion NADIYA HUSSAIN on how life has changed since leaving the tent
Housewife superstar and poster girl for multiculturalism, NADIYA HUSSAIN’s life has changed beyond recognition in the past year. So how is the Bake Off champion coping? She talks about family, food and falling in love with her husband after they were married
NADIYA WEARS RED SCARF, Brooks Brothers. BLUE SCARF, Aspinal of London. SHIRT, Really Wild. DRESS, Issey Miyake
Nadiya Hussain is moving house and was packing boxes into the early hours the night before we meet. ‘I lost all sense of time. Eventually, my husband said, “Aren’t you supposed to be up at five to go to London?”’
At some point in the night she wrote ‘Blu-Tack’ on the notebook beside her pillow. This morning, she can’t remember why – a feeling familiar to anyone running a home, with three children and a job. ‘Life is just go, go, go,’ she says.
On barely three hours’ sleep, Nadiya is somehow still bubbling with energy. In the (almost) year since she won The Great British Bake Off, life has changed beyond all recognition.
She is about to publish her second cookbook, has made a TV documentary about her roots, baked a 90th birthday cake for the Queen, reported for The One Show, been a guest panellist on Loose Women, is writing the first of three novels and is going to be a judge on the new series of Junior Bake Off.
Stepping on to the public stage has prompted a seismic shift in her private life, too. She and her husband Abdal have moved away from their families, something ‘unheard of’ in the Bengali community Nadiya comes from.
SCARF, Brooks Brothers. SHIRT, Really Wild. DRESS, Zuria Dor. JEWELLERY, Pebble London
After more than ten years of living with, then near Abdal’s parents in Leeds, the family moved to a rented home in Milton Keynes eight months ago and have now bought a house. They share childcare and chores (Abdal does most of the ironing).
Though she still buys her clothes at Primark and her headscarves at street markets, Nadiya, 31, the hesitant housewife whose Bake Off victory speech – ‘I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again’ – moved many to tears, has morphed into a poised and eloquent woman.
She has definitely found her feet in her dizzying new world, but the determination that shines out now was there long before she appeared on TV. What enabled her to fly was the most important decision of her life: marrying Abdal. ‘He’s ambitious, clever. Together we’re fearless,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t have done any of this without such a supportive husband.’
Her USP is that she ties two key strands of modern Britain – celebrity culture and multiculturalism – in one neat bow. She speaks Bengali and cleaves to her headscarf, yet she loves the British traditions of cake and tea. She was the first Muslim woman many viewers got to know – albeit through the TV screen – and her charm won her a legion of fans.
She is said to have done more for interracial understanding than decades of legislation but, to her, it comes naturally. ‘I don’t think about it consciously, it is who I am,’ she says. ‘There are loads of layers to me: I’m a Muslim, I’m Bangla, I’m British…but most of all I am a mum and nothing matters more than that.’
Nadiya with her husband Abdal at the Yorkshire Awards
Given her background, the ease with which Nadiya deals with the wider world (including a fan who followed her into the loo at a shopping centre wanting a selfie) seems extraordinary.
She is one of six children and was brought up in Luton, where she went to a school full of girls from a similar background. She had no white friends until she moved to sixth form college. At home the family spoke Bengali – ‘I did it for GCSE. It’s been no use to me since but my dad was happy’ – and her mother would make at least six curries a day.
‘Food was important. People like my parents came to this country without friends or anything familiar; cooking was their way of re-creating a piece of home,’ she says. ‘I didn’t experience a fish finger until I was 17 when I got a car and learned how to get to Tesco. I’d rather my children had a mixture. My mum says, “Why don’t you just give them curry?” but I want them to learn other cuisines.’
If she had ambitions as a teenager, duty meant setting them aside. She applied to university and won a place to study psychology at King’s College, London, but acquiesced without resentment or argument when her parents said she could not leave home.
SCARF, Aspinal of London. COAT, J JS Lee. DRESS, Marni. SHOES (just seen), Paul Andrew. BRACELETS, Pebble London
‘I thought, “OK, I’ll get married, have kids and do something later,”’ she says. She got a job as an administrator in a medical centre, arranging home visits for patients, and, at 19, married Abdal. It’s hard to imagine the gamble involved in entering into an arranged marriage, but Nadiya accepted it without question. ‘My parents, aunts and uncles had all had arranged marriages so it was completely normal,’ she says.
Her father, a restaurateur, showed her photographs of Abdal, the son of a business associate in Leeds. She rang his mobile number and for six months they talked. She asked the computer sciences graduate everything she could think of: what was his ten-year life plan and what would happen if she was unable to have children. ‘If I like you I’ll stay, and if I don’t I’ll leave,’ he replied – she’s still not sure whether he was trying to make her laugh or being brutally honest.
They got engaged the first time they met in person and were married three weeks later near her father’s village in Bangladesh, with only their fathers present because they needed to keep the wedding costs down (tradition demands giving alms to the poor on marriage and the only way they could afford to do that was by marrying with no guests – not even their brothers and sisters).
Nadiya moved into Abdal’s family home in Leeds with seven suitcases: ‘It’s only then you think, “Wow, I’ve got to share a life with this person.” He hadn’t made any wardrobe space for me and I was absolutely gutted. We’d been married for ten days and he said, “You don’t need all those shoes.”’
Nadiya with her fellow finalists Ian (left) and Tamal
A year on from the wedding, Musa, now nine, was born, followed by their second son, Dawud, now eight. ‘By the time Musa was three months old I was pregnant again. I was, like, “I’m not going anywhere, you’re not going anywhere, we both want kids, let’s get on with it,”’ she says. ‘Of course, it wasn’t easy, but I went in thinking, “I’m going to make this work.” Two years and two kids later I looked at him one day and thought, “You know what? I quite like you.”’
Their first kiss was ‘awkward’, but they turned out to be a brilliant match. If Abdal had decided Nadiya’s place was in the home, that’s where she would have stayed, but it was he who recognised her potential.
‘He is not someone who sits at home. He moved away to study at 18 and that’s not usual for us. He goes hiking, he does extreme sports. He’s ambitious and he could see ambition in me,’ she says. ‘I was determined my children would be the best they could be, so they ate well, I took them out, I read them bedtime stories. I put so much into it sometimes I didn’t even have time to brush my hair.’
The children could read English and Arabic before they went to school. Nadiya began an Open University degree in child development but stopped when Maryam, now five, was born, as it was too much of a distraction. And all that time she was baking – a love she picked up from a teacher at school. She was content, and she started putting on weight: three-and-a-half stone on her tiny frame (she is just under 5ft).
‘I’d say to Abdal, “Am I fat?” And he’d say, “No, you’re not, you’re beautiful,” but I knew things weren’t right,’ she says. ‘One day I looked at a photo of myself and I thought, “I need to overhaul my life!”’ The first thing she did was ring her mother and tell her she wasn’t going to visit for three months. ‘Her way of love is food. If you turn up at her house and don’t eat she gets upset.’
She bought a buggy, put Maryam in it – ‘with food, juice, crayons’ – and started running ten miles a day. She must have been a sight, pounding the streets with her headscarf and baby, but she laughs at the memory.
‘I didn’t care. When I go for something I do it in a big way.’ Three months later, she visited her mother three-and-a-half stone lighter. ‘It was the first thing I’d done for myself since having the kids,’ she says. ‘And that was it – suddenly I felt I could do anything.’
It was Abdal, famously, who persuaded her to try for Bake Off, filling out the application form so there was only the technical section for her to complete. The night she won, with the spectacular wedding cake she’d dreamed of but didn’t have at her own wedding – lemon drizzle draped in a ‘sari’ in the British colours of red, white and blue – Bake Off pulled in a record 14.5 million viewers.
Nadiya watched the episode with her fellow finalists Tamal and Ian as they had to appear on Bake Off’s sister show An Extra Slice afterwards. She then went home and watched it with her family. ‘It was weird. I had to keep leaving the room because it was so intense,’ she says.
Her new book, Bake Me a Story, is inspired by her children. It is a gorgeous mix of recipes and fairy tales with a distinctly modern twist – Rapunzel locked in a tower block, Cinderella slaving away in a DIY shop (see page 32) – and all the stories include scrumptious-sounding recipes.
Her children have always loved books. ‘They’re massive readers. They’ll turn up in the kitchen with a book while I’m cooking and say, “Mum, please, just one chapter.” They’re like puppies, sitting on the floor pleading, so I have to turn everything off and read to them.
I tested all the stories on them and it was such fun. You can follow a recipe, then read while it’s in the oven, or read the story then cook – whatever works for you. It’s such an interactive way of storytelling: I only have to make gingerbread for my daughter to want to read The Gingerbread Man.’ The children all love baking – and eating – her cakes.
Left: Nadiya with her husband Abdal and children (from left) Maryam, Musa and Dawud. Right: with Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood at the National Television Awards
The book has plunged Nadiya into another exhausting round of publicity: today, after arriving at the studio for make-up just before 8am (on that three hours’ sleep), she’s not expecting to finish until after 10pm. Abdal’s willingness to be a ‘new man’ – still highly unusual in the Bengali community – is what makes it work.
‘I got home late yesterday and he’d built all the [new, Ikea] furniture and cleaned the kitchen. Everything was immaculate,’ she says. ‘The kids were in bed – all I had to do was go upstairs and say goodnight.’
But there’s a cultural twist to this, too: ‘The difference between him and some men is that he doesn’t do all that because he loves me – though he does – but because he’s got a duty to look after the house when I’m not there. That also goes for the children: they vacuum and put the bins out. I don’t pay them for chores because it’s their house as much as mine.’
The first thing she does when she gets home is take off the headscarf. Underneath, her hair is waist-length and very curly. She could easily walk down the street without being recognised – though she never would. Bengali traditions remain important to her, even as she steers her family into modern Britain.
Her husband and father can see her hair, but the headscarf goes back on if her brothers-in-law visit. She observes Ramadan and says it is ‘easy’ to fast if you put your mind to it (that determination again), even while cooking for the children and testing recipes.
This Eid (the festival at the end of Ramadan) was her quietest ever because she was so busy. She and Abdal stayed the night at his parents’ house, then drove down to her family for a few hours, then back to their rented home to start packing for the move. ‘Usually I’d put a trail of sweets from the children’s bedrooms to their Eid presents, but it was too chaotic. I’ll make it up to them next year,’ she says.
She has rarely experienced racism, just a bit of ‘shoving at the bus stop’ as a teenager and ‘some negativity’ on Twitter at the end of Bake Off. A policeman was briefly stationed outside her house in Leeds, ‘but when I look back, it was just a storm in a teacup’.
Things are changing in the Bengali community. Two of Nadiya’s sisters have been allowed to choose their own husbands rather than have arranged marriages. And if an arranged marriage breaks down, ‘that’s much more accepted than it was a decade ago’.
Nadiya baking on This Morning with hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield
The move to Milton Keynes was ostensibly so Nadiya could travel to London more easily, but is also part of a wider trend of ‘internal migration’ in which young couples such as Nadiya and Abdal are moving away from extended inner-city families into the suburbs.
Nadiya’s family is close by – her mother and sisters help with childcare – but they are a 30-minute drive away and she obviously relishes this independence. ‘We live on the edge of town and the children’s school is just down the road. They cycle to school – I used to have to drive them six miles – and the pace is slow. It’s just what we wanted.’
The perfect way to celebrate this new, green and pleasant life would be with a traditional English wedding. Nadiya says she would still love to have a ‘proper’ wedding with all their brothers and sisters.
Maryam is bubbling over with excitement at the prospect of helping to choose a wedding dress, even though at the moment her mother is too busy to set a date. But if Nadiya says it’s going to happen you can bet that, sooner or later, it will.
Cinderella, the party and the pumpkins
An exclusive extract from Nadiya’s new book
Cinderella lived in a big house with her gran, her great-auntie, her mum, her stepdad, her two stepsisters, two parrots, the cat and the pregnant dog.
Since she was a little girl, Cinderella had known that if she wanted something, she would have to go out and get it herself. So she went to college in the mornings, worked in a DIY shop in the afternoons and had an evening job cleaning plates in a restaurant.
The rest of Cinderella’s family were lazy, so when she got home there would be more work to do. When she eventually made it to bed, poor Cinders had to share it with the dog.
One night her stepsisters came in, waving their phones about. The town hall was throwing a massive party on Friday. Cinderella realised she was working an extra shift at the shop so she sent an email to her boss to ask for the time off.
The next morning, Cinderella checked her messages and her heart sank. ‘I cannot give you the night off. I need you to prepare for the screwdriver sale we’re having on Saturday.’ Cinderella would not be going to the party.
When Friday came, Cinders watched her stepsisters put on their beautiful dresses and lipstick. Then they stepped into their pink limousine as Cinderella trudged off to the bus stop. Once Cinderella got to work she decided to distract herself from thinking about the party, so she polished every screwdriver in the shop.
The doorbell rang as someone came in. It was the boss’s wife: ‘I told my husband to give you the time off but he’d already told the other staff they could go to the party, so I’m here to make sure you don’t miss out. Just think of me as your fairy godmother.’
And she whipped out a silvery dress and a pair of jewel-encrusted shoes. ‘I’ll take over until closing time. Just make sure you are back by then as I don’t know the code to set the alarm.’
Everyone stared as Cinderella walked into the party in her shimmering dress. But Cinders was starving so went straight to the buffet. She reached for the last pumpkin flapjack…and bashed hands with a young man who was also reaching for it.
Cinderella looked up into a pair of kind dark brown eyes. ‘It’s yours,’ the young man said. ‘But only in exchange for a dance.
She didn’t argue. They danced until Cinderella remembered that she had to get back to close the shop. She dashed off in such a rush she didn’t say goodbye. He was really sad until he noticed she’d dropped a cap with the name of a DIY shop on it.
The next afternoon, Cinderella was slumped at the counter, counting screwdrivers, thinking about dancing and the lovely young man. The bell tinkled. Then a bag of flapjacks landed on the counter.
‘They’re yours,’ said the young man, as he gently put Cinderella’s cap back on her head. ‘But only if you promise to dance with me always.’
Pumpkin and Spice Flapjacks
Makes 9 squares
100g golden syrup
100g soft light brown sugar
125g unsalted butter, softened
250g rolled porridge oats
75g pumpkin seeds
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground star anise (you will need a grinder)
¼ tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
♥ Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas 6. Line a 20cm square baking tin with greaseproof paper.
♥ Combine the syrup, sugar, butter, oats, pumpkin seeds, spices and salt in a large bowl and mix until they all come together.
♥ Press into the tin with the back of a spoon, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown all over.
♥ Remove from the oven then turn out of the tin and leave to cool for 20 minutes.
♥ Cut into squares once completely cooled.
This is an edited extract from Bake Me a Story by Nadiya Hussain, to be published by Hodder Children’s Books on 8 September, price £14.99. To pre-order a copy for £10.49 (a 30 per cent discount) until 11 September, visit you-bookshop.co.uk.
Nadiya will be speaking at the YOU Book Day on 5 November. For more information, visit youbookevent.eventbrite.co.uk
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-3755085/I-m-Muslim-Bangla-British-m-mum-Great-British-Bake-champion-NADIYA-HUSSAIN-life-changed-leaving-tent.html#ixzz4JCVe8YNt
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