Life has changed for Nadiya Hussain. In every possible way. She now has an arrangement with her kids' school to arrive later to reduce the chaos that surrounds pick up. She only won The Great British Bake Off in August last year but it seems life will never be the same again. “I definitely don't feel like the same person. Up until the point where I won I still felt like this nervous cowering mum, who was desperate to go home to her children. Which I was. Winning,” she says, “still feels like a blur.”
Meeting Nadiya today she’s utterly charming, funny and clearly a very focused and determined woman. You wouldn’t believe she had so little confidence before. “I was 21 when I first became a mum. I’d married a man I’d only really spoken to a handful of times. I was getting used to him plus two babies in two years. I sort of lost myself.”
It was her husband Abdul who encouraged her to enter the competition. “He wanted us to break away for a bit and realise there is life outside of us.” And then she went and won it. Now she has a newspaper column, regularly appears on TV and has made her first TV series, the brilliantly named ‘Chronicles of Nadiya’, where she goes back to her culinary roots in Bangladesh. Just before heading off, Nadiya got the biggest phone call of her baking life. “When my agent told me I'd been asked to bake the Queen's cake I thought it was a hoax! “On the day I hadn’t noticed Prince Philip was there I was so fixated on the Queen. When she introduced me, I was like ‘OH my gosh, the Queen just introduced ME.’ She said, ‘This is the young lady who won Bake Off,’ and he said, ‘Yes dear, I know who she is, but what flavour is the cake?’"
Not everyone liked the cake. Nadiya laughs. She’s clearly getting used to fame and all that comes with it. “I realised quickly you have to have thick skin to L if h “ I realised quickly you have to have thick skin to be in this business and that you are going to be picked apart either for wearing the wrong headscarf or shopping at Primark. ” be in this business and that you are going to be picked apart either for wearing the wrong headscarf or shopping in Primark. But the positive side is good. When you meet people who are really proud of you, it is just so lovely.” Family life has also changed. Her house is filled with cakes her kids and husband can’t eat as they need to be photographed. “It's funny, they tend to just go and get an apple now. I’m always trying to give my cakes to all our neighbours.” As for Nadiya she lost three and a half stone before Bake Off. It must be so tough, surrounded by cakes. “I try and run 4K every morning. I hate every second but I run so that I can eat.”
She’s got an arrangement with her husband that requires give and take. “One of us will always put more into family life than the other. It was 70/30 me before and now it is definitely 70/30 the other way around. He’s an amazing guy.” Her conversation is peppered with stories of Abdul. She had an arranged marriage with him 10 years ago. “Being a Bangladeshi girl, I struggled because I have dark skin. My dad and I are very honest to each other and he used to say to me, ‘I love you, you are my child but the truth is that I’m struggling to find you a husband.’ Nadiya finds this very funny. “It took a while but it has worked out.”
Her children won’t be having arranged marriages. “Absolutely not,” she screams. “It’s the hardest thing in the world. We got married and he didn't even make any wardrobe space for me,” she laughs. “I was really annoyed. And it’s something I'm always going to hold against him.” But it seems as if Abdul is a new man as well. “He even does the laundry now.”
Nadiya has clearly become a role model for modern Muslims. “When I first went into it, I didn't really think about being Muslim. I was a bit nervous about having a headscarf and I realised I was the first person with a hijab to go on to Bake Off. I did worry about how people were going to take me but to come out and win and become the representation of modern Muslim society is a good thing. I’m just one of hundreds of thousands of women, who feel comfortable portraying their faith outwardly. If I am a role model or an image of that then I’m glad and I hope more will follow.” I am feeling weirdly emotional saying goodbye. She’s a charming woman and you just know she’s going to go from strength to strength. There is something about her that makes me feel proud.
Nadiya’s Kitchen by Nadiya Hussain £20 Penguin