Born in Luton in 1984, Nadiya Hussain is one of the best-loved winners of The Great British Bake Off. Catapulted from obscurity to primetime favourite in 2015, she has since baked a three-tiered orange drizzle cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday, fronted cookery shows such as Nadiya’s British Food Adventure and the documentary Anxiety and Me, and published multiple books. She lives in Milton Keynes with her husband, two sons and her daughter, Maryam, 11. She releases Nadiya Loves, a range of cookware and bakeware products, available from John Lewis and Prestige, this month.
This was a photo from an Italian restaurant – it was the first time we all went to dinner after I won Bake Off. There were a lot of firsts that night: it was where Maryam first had deep-fried whitebait, which she loved, and it was the first time she’d worn lipstick. She said: “Mummy, please could you wear the same colour as me?” I felt I should capture that memory.
The pose here is very indicative of our relationship; Maryam is attached to me like you wouldn’t believe. Ever since she was little, she was very clingy. It irritated a lot of people because they never got their own opportunity to enjoy her. For a while she was happy to stay over at her cousins’ houses, especially when I was away a lot for work. But now it’s come full circle – partly to do with the pandemic, partly because she is full of hormones and something is changing in her dramatically.
Motherhood is a bizarre thing. It gives a lot but it takes so much from you, too. It’s why my husband submitted my application to Bake Off without me knowing: I had become so reliant on the comfort of my family and stopped doing things for myself.
I’ll never forget the moment when I left the house for the audition. It was the first time I’d been on a train, and the first time I’d been in a taxi on my own. I ended up getting lost and arrived five hours late – but I still got there. And I am so glad I did. When your life revolves around your children, you stop taking risks. I needed someone to say: “You have to take those risks to be able to have a bigger world, because your world is small. There is more out there.”
Growing up in an Asian community around Bangladeshi folk, I was not raised with praise or to know my worth; it was survival for the most part. I suppose that’s what I want to do differently with Maryam. I want to raise my daughter to believe that she is much more than she thinks she is; she is not always going to be judged like her counterparts, and there will be prejudice. I am ready to hold her up and remind her she is wonderful and growing every day, and doesn’t have to put pressure on herself to be perfect. I didn’t have that encouragement, but she will. That said, she is a tween and is very much being told to wind her neck in.
At the moment she wants to be a psychotherapist. We always have these deep and meaningful conversations about life, often when I’m about to go to bed. We talk very openly in our house about my mental health issues, my anxiety and PTSD, and she has said she wants to help people who are struggling. She also says she wants to make jewellery and dog biscuits, so who knows!
One of her passions is musical theatre. When I saw her perform, she was the only person on stage who was not white, and for me that was a lovely moment. In my job I occupy a space that is often taken up by Caucasian middle-aged men. It’s quite daunting, as a 5ft 1in Muslim woman, to walk into an environment that wasn’t created for me – whether it’s a world of media or publishing – as there’s an element of having to prove myself all the time. The burden weighs heavily on my mind, but representing is something that needs doing. Especially as a role model for Maryam.
I am scarily introverted and I need pushing out of the house sometimes. The longest I’ve been away from Maryam was three and a half weeks. By day 10, the crew and I were all flagging – missing our comforts. Then, on day 12, something happens and you just stop missing home. That’s the point at which you need to do your job, then go home. Otherwise you’ll never go back. You realise there is a life outside your own family and you think, I quite like this actually!
It’s great getting back to my children after shooting for long periods. On a Sunday, Maryam and I like to have pamper days. I call it a maintenance bath – we do our nails and we put oil in our hair. She loves to bake cookies at the weekend, but she rarely cooks with me. She’ll have a stir but she likes to do her own thing – she is independent and stubborn like her mother. The kitchen is the one space where we don’t do much together. But we are very much side by side.
My earliest memories of Mum are when she used to drive me to school. We had a long journey and she would play music in the car, like Backstreet Boys and Mario, and she would sing along. It was a fun way to start the day.
Mum says I am cheeky, and I agree. I’d describe her as decently strict, but we always get on well, and she has given me loads of confidence.
I love being with Mum, and I don’t mind what we are doing as long as it’s just me and her. Especially when we are shopping. People will come up to us and say hello – sometimes I don’t like it because I’m trying to spend time with her, but most people are really kind, so it’s nice to see that. It is strange having a famous mum, but none of my friends have asked for her autograph.
One of my favourite memories of Mum is going to the final of the Bake Off. All I remember from the day was that the tent was really big, and I felt so happy when she won. Mum didn’t have much hope, but I did, so I wasn’t surprised when they said her name. It was weird seeing her face on TV for the first time. I was nervous for her but part of me wanted her to be kicked out, so I could see her again.