Nadiya Hussain: The winner bakes it all

Alvin, Ugne, Paul, Dorret, Marie, Ian, Nadiya, Stu, Tamal, Flora, Mat and Sandy in this year's BBC1's cookery contest, The Great British Bake Off. Photo: Mark Bourdillon/PA Wire
Alvin, Ugne, Paul, Dorret, Marie, Ian, Nadiya, Stu, Tamal, Flora, Mat and Sandy in this year's BBC1's cookery contest, The Great British Bake Off. Photo: Mark Bourdillon/PA Wire
  • More than 14 million people watched Nadiya Hussain triumph in The Great British Bake Off. But can winning a television cookery show really change your life? Catherine Scott finds out.
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She was the bookies’ favourite, but Nadiya Hussain never really believed she had a chance of winning The Great British Bake Off. “I kept thinking they had made a mistake,” says the 30-year old mother-of-three. “At every stage throughout the process, from sending in my application form, to getting down to the final 12 and then winning I kept thinking: ‘They are going to ring me and say they’ve got it wrong.’

“When I first walked into the tent I thought someone was going to drag me out and say: ‘What are you doing in here? We’ve made a mistake.’ When I got into the final I kept thinking ‘What’s going on?’ Even when they announced my name and Paul Hollywood came over and said: ‘You’ve won’, I said ‘Are you sure?’”

But it was far from a mistake. And for Nadiya, it has been the old cliché, life-changing. “For me, it was far more than winning a cooking show. It has given me so much confidence, confidence I had lost having been a stay-at-home mum for 10 years. It was my choice and I have loved it, but you start to wonder how you will cope going back into the world of work,” says Nadiya who actually did far more than stay at home and look after her children. In the last decade, she studied for a degree and was an active member of the Bangladeshi community in Leeds. But she experienced what many women who have taken time out of the workplace experience – a lack of confidence in her ability to make it back.

“After not working for ten years it is like going on your first job interview. Even though I love being a mum, when you tell people what you do they often say ‘so you don’t work?’ The more you hear it the more you doubt yourself. So when I went on to Bake Off I did think: ‘I’m just a housewife, how am I going to do this?’ A lot of the time it was me battling myself.”

One person who never doubted Nadiya’s ability was her husband Abdal. It was he who convinced her to enter The Great British Bake Off and it is him who is now helping her to follow her dreams.

“I have got an amazing husband – he kept telling me to believe in myself even when I didn’t. Throughout the 10 weeks of filming Bake Off he did everything at home. And this is a man who doesn’t know how to cook. He told me to go for it. He promised that the children would be fed, clothed and go to school and when I came back from filming the house was tidy, the washing was done and there was a takeaway ordered – well he doesn’t cook. He did put things away in the wrong places – you always know when someone has been in your kitchen – but I told him I didn’t mind if he put the chopping board on his head, he was so amazing. He was constantly reassuring me. He said ‘Just be your usual self and everyone will love you’.”

And Abdal’s support for his wife hasn’t stopped with her winning Bake Off. “He said: ‘Go out and win this and we will move to closer to London, move closer to your family. If you win this we will do what we have to do’.”

And true to his word, the family have just sold their house in Leeds and will move south to Milton Keynes to be closer to Nadiya’s parents and sisters and to make it easier for her to work in London to follow her dreams to do more television work and write a cookery book.

“I have lived in Leeds for 10 years and I love Yorkshire. The people have been so good to me and I will be back up here as much as I can. But Abdal can move with his job and I really want to be closer to my family – I will be able to get some help with childcare for the first time!”

But possibly more important to many people than Nadiya’s personal triumph was the fact she was a trailblazer for the young British Muslim community, although that was never her primary intention.

“I am a baker and I wanted to be seen as a baker,” she says. “The fact I choose to wear a headscarf shouldn’t change that. But if someone wants to say that I am a role model for something then that is fine by me.”

In the main she has received very positive feedback with the exception of a few negative comments on Twitter.

“I don’t take any notice of the negative stuff people say. When it happens I try to remember what I would say to my children if someone said something about them. I would tell them to rise above it, that comments like this don’t define you. Just as my wearing a headscarf doesn’t define me.”

Nadiya was born and grew up in Luton. Her parents were immigrants from Bangladesh but it wasn’t until she started secondary school that she started to bake. “We never used the oven in our house – it was just a place we kept pots and pans. So when I started secondary school and we started cookery I was fascinated.”

She moved to Leeds after marrying Abdal and spent the last decade bringing up Musa, nine, eight-year-old Dawud and Maryam, five, who were all sworn to secrecy after Nadiya’s TV triumph.

“We made the boys sign contracts which they thought was very grown up. But I was worried that the little one might let the cat out of the bag, but thankfully she forgot all about it.”

Since winning Bake Off Nadiya’s life has been manically busy not only doing media interviews but now touring the country giving demonstrations and talks. But she tries to be away from her children as little as possible and it is clear that family is all-important to her.

She will be Bettys in Harrogate later this month for a Cake and Conversation event and will return to the town for the Foodies Festival Christmas in December. “I was so excited to be asked to give a talk at Bettys,” says Nadiya. “I had travelled to Harrogate twice in the past to try and have tea there but it was so busy we could never get in.”

This is very much Nadiya’s moment and she is determined to grab every opportunity that comes her way. She is more than aware that in a year’s time she will be last year’s winner of The Great British Bake Off. But whatever happens she will do her best to grab everything with both hands.

“Winning Bake Off has given me back my confidence, it has really made me believe that it is my time and I can achieve anything I want if I put my mind to it. I loved my life before Bake Off, but life is much better when you believe in yourself. I feel I am a better mum, a better wife and a better person.”

The Yorkshire Post has teamed up with Bettys to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a ticket for two to have exclusive Cake and Conversation with Nadiya Hussain later this month.

The Great British Bake Off winner will share her stories and baking tips as well as answering questions and giving a short demonstration in the Imperial Room at Bettys in Harrogate on November 25, from 12.30 to 3.30pm.

You will have the opportunity to try your hand at decorating some of Bettys’ famous Fondant Fancies under the guidance of Bettys Cookery School tutors.

To be in with a chance of winning answer this simple question: What year did Bettys open its first branch in Harrogate?

Send your answers on a postcard to Bettys Competition, Features Department, Yorkshire Post Newspapers, No 1 Leeds, 24 Whitehall Road, Leeds LS12 1BE. The winner will be the first correct entry chosen at random after the closing date of November 14.

Tickets are for this event only and cannot be transferred. Normal YPN rules apply.

Tickets for the event are £75 per person and due to limited availability interest must be registered by emailing with your name, telephone number and the number of tickets you require or visiting Tickets will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

The price includes Lady Betty Afternoon Tea, a goody bag and treats to take home. Please note that the Imperial Room is located on the first floor and is only accessible by stairs.