The Great Bri­tish Bake Off win­ner on how the show set her on a path of learn­ing – how to present, write a novel, and con­quer panic dis­or­der


It’s safe to say that few TV cook­ing con­tes­tants have par­layed win­ning a show into gen­uine fame as suc­cess­fully as Nadiya Hus­sain.

Nadiya won the sixth sea­son of hit show The Great Bri­tish Bake Off, but that was just the be­gin­ning for the mother-of-three. She’s since be­come an au­thor, a TV host, star of her own up­com­ing cook­ing show, and some­thing of a role model, both for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism and panic dis­or­der. She han­dles it all with prag­ma­tism. ‘It just means I can’t do any­thing stupid,’ she says over a plat­ter of pas­tries at Dubai’s In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal ho­tel, dur­ing the re­cent Emi­rates Air­line Fes­ti­val of Lit­er­a­ture. ‘Which I won’t, be­cause I have three chil­dren. I want to be the best role model I can be to my chil­dren – when you have kids, you try to be a role model and the rest of it just comes nat­u­rally.’

When Fri­day sat down with Nadiya, on the fes­ti­val’s sec­ond day, it was the same morn­ing the UK press had an­nounced that she is to co-host a new cook­ing chal­lenge show, touted as a ri­val to Bake Off. (The show has, some­what ac­ri­mo­niously, moved from the BBC to an­other chan­nel, and of the orig­i­nal cast, only judge Paul Hol­ly­wood is stay­ing with the show.)

On Nadiya’s show, the Big Fam­ily Cook­ing Show­down, 16 fam­i­lies will bat­tle for culi­nary glory. Two-thirds of the first se­ries has al­ready been shot. She calls it ‘a whole other gig; much big­ger’ than any other host­ing she has done. ‘It’s ex­cit­ing be­cause it’s still some­thing I love, still about food, I get to work with [UK TV and ra­dio star] Zoe Ball – but I learn to do some­thing new, too.’

Learn­ing new things was a theme of our con­ver­sa­tion that day; Nadiya comes across as thirsty for new chal­lenges and ex­pe­ri­ences. That could be the re­sult of some­thing else she has learned: How to deal with her panic dis­or­der.

‘It’s one of those things that is go­ing to stay with me for­ever, it’s not go­ing to go away. I have just learned to deal with it a lot bet­ter,’ she says of the con­di­tion, adding that over­com­ing it

was the motivation for tak­ing part in Bake Off. ‘Some­one asked me to de­scribe it and I said it’s like liv­ing with a mon­ster. The dif­fer­ence is the mon­ster isn’t in front of me any­more, he’s be­hind me – I know he’s there, but he’s not in front of me.’ Her hus­band, Ab­dal, who ac­com­pa­nied her to Dubai, is her sup­port – ‘he knows my face and that the mon­ster is creep­ing up on me’ – but learn­ing to deal with it her­self was im­por­tant. Talk­ing about what is be­ing faced helps, too: Nadiya is happy to lead that con­ver­sa­tion.

‘It’s very easy to watch some­one with panic dis­or­der and just say “get a grip, shake it off. It will be fine”. Ac­tu­ally it’s not fine, it’s not OK, there’s a rea­son why that per­son’s scared or feels that. That’s why I talk about it so openly. The first step is to talk about it, be­cause if you do, you can get help. And you are in­form­ing peo­ple around you of what you are suf­fer­ing from, and they can deal with it.’

A trig­ger could be as sim­ple as drop­ping a fork. ‘I could be com­pletely happy and it could set it off.’

Set­ting her­self the chal­lenge of com­pet­ing on a beloved na­tional bak­ing show might seem the an­tithe­sis of treat­ing panic dis­or­der; it has set her on the path to fame, pub­lic ap­pear­ances – and be­ing a poster girl for the con­di­tion. ‘The fact that I am that face for th­ese peo­ple – it’s a great thing. Is it a re­spon­si­bil­ity? Yeah, it is, but it doesn’t make me feel stressed or un­der pres­sure. It’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity, I have been given it for a rea­son and I should em­brace it and do the best that I can.’

The baker and cook – she stresses that she makes all kinds of food, not only cakes – has an ap­proach to learn­ing that wouldn’t be out of place in a man­age­ment book: Don’t stop un­til you fail, so you can learn from your mis­takes. It was in­tended for deal­ing with the frus­tra­tions of bak­ing, but is a pretty good life motto, too.

‘The more things go wrong, the more you learn what you’ve done wrong,’ she says.

‘Dur­ing Bake Off, if I was bak­ing or prac­tis­ing some­thing and it went right ev­ery sin­gle time, I would bake un­til it went wrong. I knew how to rec­tify that mis­take in the house, so if it went wrong in the tent, I knew how to fix it. This is how my brain works. The more you make mis­takes… you should take that as a learn­ing process. I mean, yes, you’ll have spent 20 quid on in­gre­di­ents but never mind… I think it’s all about learn­ing.’

Bak­ing never stops in her house­hold; there are four cake stands that are filled at all times, feed­ing fam­ily and friends, in­clud­ing her ‘des­per­ately loyal’ chil­dren, who wouldn’t watch the last sea­son of Bake Off, which was won by Candice Brown, be­cause their mum wasn’t in it. Nadiya was dis­ap­pointed, be­cause watch­ing the show was some­thing they had al­ways shared. She is loyal to the show, whether it’s on BBC or, now, Chan­nel 4. Candice’s win was not some­thing Nadiya saw com­ing; her money was on Ben­jam­ina. Then again, she says, ‘I al­ways call it and I’m al­ways wrong’ – in­clud­ing the year she took part.

Will she watch the new ver­sion, which will be hosted by Sandi Toksvig and Noel Field­ing? ‘Ab­so­lutely. I love the show and it’s been a part of my life for the last five-six years. It’s fun [to watch] but kind of hard, be­cause you know what they are go­ing through.’

Let’s hope she finds the time in be­tween the two TV shows she has in the works with the BBC. In ad­di­tion to Show­down, there’s a cook­ing show she is car­ry­ing on her own shoul­ders. The eight-episode Nadiya’s Bri­tish Food Ad­ven­ture, air­ing this sum­mer, sees her tour­ing the UK to find the best pro­duc­ers and food, then cook­ing her own ver­sions.

It’s a long way from play­ing with her sis­ters and teddy bears. ‘As a child I would pre­tend I have my own cook­ery show and I would play out for my sis­ters, who would get bored, and then I would line my ted­dies up and cook to them. This is dif­fer­ent be­cause I get to cook and real peo­ple are go­ing to watch it, which is go­ing to be great. In my mind I am go­ing to pre­tend I am

Bake Off was for ‘SELF­ISH rea­sons. I had panic dis­or­der and I wanted to fix that. I was so AT­TACHED to my chil­dren and hus­band, I needed to come out of my COM­FORT zone’

cook­ing to my teddy bears.’

De­spite her games, ‘I can’t even say that [the cook­ery show is] a dream come true. I never even dreamt of do­ing any­thing like it.’ Go­ing on Bake Off was for ‘my own self­ish rea­sons, I sup­pose, be­cause I had panic dis­or­der and I wanted to fix that. I was so at­tached to my chil­dren and my hus­band and my life I ac­tu­ally needed to come out of my com­fort zone’.

Writ­ing, too, was a youth­ful pur­suit with­out ex­pec­ta­tions. She has two cook­books, in­clud­ing one, Bake Me A Story, aimed at chil­dren, and a novel, Se­cret Lives of the Amir Sis­ters .A sec­ond novel is in the works.

She started writ­ing when she was seven, won a poetry con­test, and got the bug. ‘The novel ‘scared the life out of me. I had done A-level English lan­guage, writ­ing 7,000-word mono­logues, short sto­ries… and then it dawned on my that I have to write 80,000 words.’ It was tricky, but she worked with a team and ‘learned how to write. ‘An­other thing I have learned.’

Now it’s your turn to cook like a Bake Off win­ner. Turn the page for three of Nadiya Hus­sain’s scrump­tious – and royal – recipes

‘This was prob­a­bly one of my proud­est mo­ments,’ says Nadiya of bak­ing for El­iz­a­beth II. Above, her first novel

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