NADIYA HUSSAIN TALKS TO NATHALIE WHITTLE ABOUT ANXIETY, THE REALITIES OF AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE, AND HER NEW TV FOODIE ADVENTURE
Bake Off CURED MY PANIC ATTACKS, NOW I’M HAPPY AND FEARLESS
Before I meet Nadiya, 32, I wonder if post- Bake Off life might have changed the woman who charmed us with her “big fat British wedding cake”, those facial expressions and that tear-jerking victory speech. After all, she’s since baked a cake for the Queen, presented a documentary about Bangladesh, written three books and been named one of the most influential people in Britain. But Nadiya has hardly changed. She tells me about the first time a stranger recognised her in the street. “This guy said, ‘I know you,’ and I looked at him blankly. Then he said, ‘That’s it, you work at H&M!’ and I said, ‘Yes!’ You can hardly say you’re from Bake Off, can you!” It’s clear however that Nadiya’s now a self-assured, quietly confident woman, and she has two more TV series, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure and The Big Family Cooking Showdown, plus two more books on the way. She lives with her husband, IT worker Abdal, and their three children, Musa, 10, Dawud, nine, and Maryam, six, in Milton Keynes.
THE NEW NADIYA
When I think back to pre- Bake Off
Nadiya, I hardly recognise her. I’D SUFFERED FROM PANIC DISORDER [RECURRING PANIC ATTACKS] FROM THE AGE OF SEVEN, AND THERE I WAS AT 30, HAVING SPENT
THE PAST 10 YEARS AT HOME WITH THE KIDS, USING THEM AS A SECURITY BLANKET WHEREVER I WENT – I NEEDED A BROWN BAG JUST TO GET ON THE TRAIN ON MY OWN.
The big turning point happened behind
the scenes during week six. I’D BEEN USING SHOCK THERAPY TO HELP MY ANXIETY – WHERE YOU SNAP AN ELASTIC BAND ON YOUR WRIST TO TAKE YOU OUT OF YOUR OWN HEAD – FOR NEARLY TWO DECADES, AND MY BAND SNAPPED WHILE I WAS BAKING. I’D FORGOTTEN TO PACK MY SPARE BANDS, SO I SENT THE RUNNER ON A MAD HUNT TO FIND ANYTHING THAT RESEMBLED ONE. WHEN HE DIDN’T FIND ONE, IT FORCED ME TO STOP AND SAY, “YOU KNOW WHAT, I DON’T NEED THIS.” I’M NOT SAYING I’M CURED – HAVING PANIC DISORDER IS LIKE LIVING WITH A MONSTER
WHO REARS HIS HEAD EVERY NOW AND AGAIN – BUT I’M NOT LETTING IT TAKE OVER MY LIFE ANY MORE. AND, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I HAVEN’T WORN AN ELASTIC BAND SINCE.
BAKING FOR THE QUEEN
When I got the email asking if I’d make a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday last
year, I thought it was a hoax. WHY WOULD SHE WANT ME TO MAKE HER BIRTHDAY CAKE? IT FELT COMPLETELY SURREAL. ON THE DAY, I WAS TAKEN INTO A TINY BACK ROOM IN THE WINDSOR GUILDHALL AND GIVEN A WOBBLY TABLE TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE ON – LET’S JUST SAY IT WAS A BIT TRICKY! THEN DURING THE PRESENTATION, THE QUEEN SAID TO PRINCE PHILIP, “THIS IS THE YOUNG LADY WHO WON THE BAKING COMPETITION,” AND I THOUGHT, “GET IN, YOU’VE MADE IT NOW – THE QUEEN JUST INTRODUCED YOU TO PRINCE PHILIP!”
AND HE SAID, “YES, DEAR, I KNOW WHO SHE IS, BUT WHAT FLAVOUR IS THE CAKE?” BRILLIANT.
HOPES AND DREAMS
Getting my own cookery show, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure, feels a bit like
a wild dream. AS A KID, I’D PERFORM PRETEND COOKERY SHOWS TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THEN THEY’D GET BORED, SO
I’D LINE UP ALL MY TEDDIES AND PILLOWS
AND USE THEM INSTEAD. FORTUNATELY, THIS SHOW IS A LITTLE MORE SOPHISTICATED! YOU’LL SEE ME TRAVEL ACROSS THE UK MEETING LOTS OF INNOVATORS OF FOOD – PEOPLE WHO’VE COME UP WITH EXCITING WAYS OF USING DIFFERENT INGREDIENTS AND NEW WAYS OF GROWING THINGS – AND I’LL BE CREATING MY OWN RECIPES TOO. I DON’T WANT TO SPOIL ANYTHING, BUT ONE THING I CAN TELL YOU IS I’VE NOW BEEN ON A BOAT WITH A CRAB FISHERMAN… AND I DEFINITELY DON’T HAVE SEA LEGS!
I’d love to work with Mary (Berry), Mel (Giedroyc) and Sue (Perkins) again, but I’m afraid the rumours of a TV show
aren’t true… yet! I’VE SEEN MARY A LOT SINCE Bake Off THOUGH, AND THE LAST TIME SHE SAID, “I DON’T DO SOCIAL MEDIA AND I DON’T DO TEXTING, BUT I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY.” THAT WAS LOVELY. >>
I’d love to sit here and tell you that I have a plan, but I don’t – I’m winging
it, mostly. WHAT I’VE LEARNED OVER THE PAST TWO YEARS IS THAT IT’S OK TO BE SCARED – I’M NOT AFRAID OF BEING AFRAID ANY MORE. SO IF SOMEBODY SAYS, “WOULD YOU LIKE TO JUMP OUT OF A PLANE?” AND IT SCARES THE LIFE OUT OF ME, I’LL DO IT ANYWAY. SERIOUSLY THOUGH… PLEASE DON’T ASK ME TO JUMP OUT OF A PLANE!
LOVE AND LUCK
Growing up in Luton with Bangladeshi parents meant there was a lot of conflict
when I was growing up. MY DAD WORKED AS A WAITER IN A RESTAURANT AND MY MUM STAYED AT HOME, AND THEY WERE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO RECREATE THE BANGLADESH THEY LEFT BEHIND IN THEIR TWENTIES, SUCH AS PAYING ABOVE THE ODDS FOR EXOTIC VEGETABLES, AND MY BROTHERS, SISTERS AND I WOULD BE SAYING, “COME ON, WHY NOT JUST GO TO TESCO?” THEY WERE VERY TRADITIONAL AND THERE WAS THIS REAL FEAR OF GIRLS GOING OFF TO UNIVERSITY TOO (NONE OF US WENT), SO THEY TRIED REALLY HARD TO PROTECT US, WHICH BECAME SUFFOCATING. I DON’T RESENT THEM FOR SOME OF THE DECISIONS THEY MADE THOUGH BECAUSE I NOW KNOW THAT THEY DID IT BECAUSE THEY WERE AFRAID.
It was actually me who asked my dad to
find me a husband. I WAS 20 AT THE TIME AND, BACK THEN, I DIDN’T KNOW MY OWN MIND – DOES ANYONE AT THAT AGE? IF I’M HONEST, I DID IT BECAUSE I WAS LAZY, AND I THOUGHT I’D STRUGGLE TO FIND A HUSBAND AS I WASN’T VERY GOOD AT TALKING TO PEOPLE. SO DAD ENDED UP CHOOSING THE SON OF ONE OF HIS BEST FRIENDS, AND WHEN I MET HIM FOR THE FIRST TIME, I THOUGHT HE HAD A LOVELY FACE, A LOVELY REAR END AND A GOOD JOB – AND THAT, FOR ME, WAS ENOUGH FOR MARRIAGE. HOW NAIVE I WAS!
My first day of married life was awkward
– of course it was. I’D ONLY MET THIS MAN ONCE BEFORE AND SUDDENLY HE WAS MY HUSBAND AND WE WERE LIVING TOGETHER – WE WERE BOTH INCREDIBLY NERVOUS. I LEARNED VERY QUICKLY THAT MARRIAGE IS HARD AND IT TAKES SO MUCH WORK BECAUSE THIS IS THE ONLY PERSON IN YOUR FAMILY THAT YOU HAVE NO BIOLOGICAL CONNECTION TO – THERE’S NOTHING TO SAY THAT YOU CAN’T PART WAYS TOMORROW AND NEVER SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN. YOU DON’T HAVE THAT DEFAULT ANSWER OF, “WELL, WE’RE KIND OF RELATED BY BLOOD.”
It took two years and two kids later to realise, “Wow, I actually really love this
guy.” IN MANY WAYS I FEEL I GOT LUCKY WITH ABDAL, BUT ONE THING I DO KNOW ABOUT ARRANGED MARRIAGES IS THAT THEY FORCE YOU TO GROW TOGETHER – AND ABDAL AND I HAVE GROWN SO MUCH TOGETHER THAT WE COULDN’T BE WITHOUT EACH OTHER NOW.
Our lives have changed so much over the past two years and our saviour has
been talking through it. I KNOW IT MUST BE HARD FOR HIM – I WAS AT HOME FOR 10 YEARS AND SUDDENLY I’M NOT THERE ANY MORE AND HE HAS A FULL-TIME JOB IN IT, WHILE LOOKING AFTER THE KIDS IN-BETWEEN. AND WE DON’T AGREE ON EVERYTHING
– IN FACT, WE PROBABLY DON’T AGREE ON ANYTHING – BUT EVEN WHEN WE’RE BOTH COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED, HE SAYS, “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS, I AM NOT GOING TO GO THROUGH ONE MORE SLAMMED CUPBOARD, NADIYA!” – AND THAT HAS DEFINITELY MADE OUR RELATIONSHIP STRONGER. One of our favourite things to do together is to put on an 80s playlist – lots of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Boy George – and hang out in the kitchen. HE’S AWFUL IN THE KITCHEN – HE’S ONE OF THOSE COOKS WHO ASKS DAFT QUESTIONS LIKE, “HOW MANY GRAMS IS A TEASPOON OF SALT?” AND THEN I LOSE IT AND I’M OFF. SO IT USUALLY ENDS UP WITH ME DOING ALL THE COOKING AND CLEANING, AND HIM AND OUR LITTLE GIRL DANCING AROUND THE DINING TABLE!
The funny thing about Bake Off is that I spent 10 weeks on TV while Abdal got about four seconds on there, yet everyone was saying, “Oh, look at Nadiya’s husband,
isn’t he handsome!” HE LOVED IT. IT HASN’T STOPPED EITHER. JUST THE OTHER NIGHT HE SAID TO ME, “I STILL GET MESSAGES FROM WOMEN ON TWITTER, ASKING IF I’D MEET UP WITH THEM – WHAT KIND OF A MAN DO THEY THINK I AM!” IT DOESN’T BOTHER ME BECAUSE I KNOW IT MAKES HIM FEEL GOOD… HE’S STILL GOT IT!
I have to admit, I wouldn’t want my own children to have an arranged marriage. IF THEY CHOOSE IT, I WON’T STOP THEM, BUT I THINK FINDING SOMEBODY YOURSELF HELPS YOU TO LEARN A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR OWN STRENGTH. THAT’S SO IMPORTANT, ISN’T IT? AND THE REALITY IS THAT I’D RATHER SPEND MY LATTER YEARS GOING ON CRUISES AND ROAD TRIPS THAN FINDING PARTNERS FOR MY CHILDREN! My daughter, who’s only six, is already disagreeing with everything I say and my dad says, “Karma my dear, karma!” I WANT ALL THREE OF MY KIDS TO HAVE EVERY OPPORTUNITY I DIDN’T HAVE – I WANT THEM TO GO TO UNIVERSITY AND I WANT THEM TO MAKE MISTAKES BECAUSE THEY’LL LEARN FROM THEM – AND I’LL ALWAYS BE HERE
WITH A BEDROOM AT HOME FOR THEM.
One of the things I do worry about for
them is racial abuse. I’VE EXPERIENCED IT MY WHOLE LIFE – VERBAL ABUSE ON THE STREET AND, MORE RECENTLY, COMMENTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA –
AND IT KILLS ME ON THE INSIDE KNOWING THAT ONE DAY THEY’LL HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT TOO. I
TRY NOT TO BALANCE THE SCALES WITH NEGATIVITY AND INSTEAD I WALK AWAY SMILING AND THINKING, “I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU FOR BEING SUCH A HORRIBLE, NEGATIVE PERSON.” THEN I THINK, “OH, I WISH I’D SAID
THIS OR THAT” – WE ALL DO THAT SOMETIMES, DON’T WE? A LOT OF PEOPLE WON’T ADMIT THEY’VE EXPERIENCED RACIAL ABUSE, BUT I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT IT. WE MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO ERADICATE IT, BUT WE CAN LEARN HOW TO IMPROVE IT.
RULES AND RELIGION
A lot of people think wearing my headscarf – a hijab – is restrictive, but actually it makes me feel incredibly
liberated. IT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT WAS EVER ENFORCED ON ME; MY PARENTS
WEREN’T PARTICULARLY RELIGIOUS WHEN I WAS GROWING UP AND MY MUM DIDN’T WEAR ONE, THOUGH SHE DOES NOW. BUT IT’S A CHOICE I MADE WHEN I WAS 14 BECAUSE I DISCOVERED ISLAM – AND IT WAS THE FIRST RELIGIOUS “ACT” I MADE. IT MEANS I CAN’T REMEMBER EVER FEELING THE WIND GO THROUGH MY HAIR, BUT DO I MISS IT? NO, BECAUSE I FEEL SPECIAL IN MY HIJAB AND
THIS IS WHO I AM NOW – AND THAT WILL NEVER CHANGE. AND IF MY DAUGHTER DECIDES SHE WANTS TO – OR DOESN’T WANT TO – WEAR ONE? THAT’S HER CHOICE TO MAKE TOO.
Of course there are times when I’m
allowed to take my hijab off. I’M ALLOWED TO SHOW MY HAIR TO WOMEN AND TO MEN I COULDN’T THEORETICALLY MARRY – MY HUSBAND, DAD, SONS, BROTHERS – ALL THOSE I’M
RELATED TO. IT DOES MEAN, THOUGH, THAT IF THE AMAZON DELIVERY GUY TURNS UP, I HAVE TO QUICKLY WHACK IT BACK ON – OR I HAVE TO FIND A HOODIE WITH A DRAWSTRING… IMAGINE OPENING THE DOOR TO THAT SIGHT! Underneath my hijab, my hair is actually long and curly. I GROW IT UNTIL I CAN SIT ON IT, THEN I’LL CHOP IT ALL OFF (I END UP WITH WHAT LOOKS LIKE A MOP!) AND GIVE IT TO A WIG-MAKING CHARITY FOR GIRLS. IT TAKES ABOUT THREE
YEARS TO GROW
OUT COMPLETELY, SO IT’S NOT A QUICK PROCESS. I LOVE THE FACT THAT I DON’T HAVE BAD HAIR DAYS AND I DON’T HAVE TO WASH MY HAIR EVERY DAY, BUT THERE IS ACTUALLY SUCH A THING AS A BAD HIJAB DAY! SOMETIMES, IT WILL JUST KEEP POPPING OFF, WHICH CAN GET QUITE AWKWARD.
TAKING TIME OUT
My three sisters are my lifeline and whenever I have a gap, they’ll text me
saying, “Can we come round now?” AND THEY’LL NEVER TURNING UP EMPTY-HANDED. RECENTLY, ONE OF THEM CAME OVER WITH A LAMP, A MASSIVE POT OF PILAU AND SOME SANDWICH FILLING BECAUSE SHE HAD TOO MUCH. THEN ANOTHER TURNED UP WITH A FISH CURRY AND A CHICKEN CURRY. WE HAD A RIDICULOUS MISHMASH OF CURRY, BROWN RICE AND FATTOUSH – IT WAS BRILLIANT! I’m starting to become one of the “Mums” at the school gates, which I’m enjoying. THE KIDS HAVE ONLY BEEN AT THEIR NEW SCHOOL FOR ABOUT A YEAR, AND WHEN I TURNED UP FOR THE FIRST TIME, NO ONE WANTED TO TALK TO ME – I THINK THEY WERE TOO NERVOUS OR SCARED. BUT I’M STARTING TO FIT IN NOW AND BECOME A PART OF THE “CIRCLE”. THEN AGAIN… WE HAVEN’T HAD A BAKE SALE YET!
There’s something wonderful about not having to put on any shoes and staying in your pyjamas all day, isn’t
there? I LOVE THAT DOWNTIME WHEN ABDAL, THE KIDS AND I ARE ALL ROLLING AROUND ON THE FLOOR PLAYING WITH LEGO OR DOING SOME PAINTING. IT’S HEAVEN.
Now that I eat so much cake, I’m on a constant mission to find ways to enjoy
exercise. THE KIDS AND I ALL HAVE OUR OWN BIKES NOW, SO WE GO CYCLING IN THE WOODS WHILE ABDAL JOGS ALONGSIDE WITH THE KIDS SHOUTING, “KEEP UP, DAD!” ABDAL’S JUST JOINED THE SAME GYM AS ME TOO – BUT I HAVE TO ADMIT, IT MEANS I SPEND MOST OF MY TIME ON A TREADMILL WAVING AT HIM, WHILE HE’S MOUTHING, “CONCENTRATE!”
NADIYA’S BRITISH FOOD ADVENTURE (Michael Joseph, £20) is out on 13 July; the accompanying eight-part TV series will air on BBC Two in the summer. W&H
NADIYA WITH HUSBAND ABDAL AND THEIR THREE CHILDREN
NADIYA WAS DELIGHTED TO HAVE A CARROT CAKE BAKED FOR HER BY W&H FOOD DIRECTOR JANE – FIND THE RECIPE AT WOMANANDHOME.COM