Five years on from becoming Bake Off champ, former stay- at-home mum Nadiya Hussain has blossomed into a celebrity chef, successful novelist, role model and all-round national treasure.
Nadiya’s bubbly personality and skill with a spatula have endeared her to millions. Her success is, in part, due to her relatability. As good as her life seems – she is happily married to Abdal and they have three children together – Nadiya is also open about her mental-health struggles.
A combination of factors from Nadiya’s childhood, including racist bullying at school and having two siblings who were in and out of hospital, left her with anxiety and panic disorder.
But baking has always helped Nadiya through the tough times, and so she turned to her mixing bowls when
she experienced increased anxiety during lockdown.
‘We went into isolation before everybody else because both my boys, Musa, 14, and Dawud, 13, have asthma, so we were panicked and stressed out because nobody understood the severity of Covid-19,’ she explains. ‘My natural reaction is to bake, and that’s what I did. But even baking couldn’t relieve the stress of something we had never experienced in our lives. Nothing really helped because what I was doing was baking, then eating and feeling bad. It was going full circle.’
Work did help, however. Nadiya is about to release her latest cookbook, Nadiya Bakes. ‘It’s my first-ever baking book, which surprised some people, since I’m known for The Great British Bake Off,’ she laughs.
In July, she filmed the accompanying TV series, with the format rejigged, to take account of social distancing.
She’s lucky to have a panel of ready-made taste-testers at home in Milton Keynes. ‘I try everything out on my kids and, over the past five years, they’ve become really good,’ she says. ‘If my little girl Maryam, 10, doesn’t like something, she’ll be, “Mum, that can’t go in the book yet”. The kids are usually right. And, when I’m testing recipes, they get to have chocolate tart for breakfast. They love it!’
But there’s no chance of Nadiya’s children being spoilt by their famous mum. On the contrary, Nadiya insists that every Sunday morning the whole family cleans the house for two-and-a-half hours. ‘I’m happy for anyone who wants a cleaner, but it’s not for me. I want my kids to know that when we make a mess, we have to clean it up,’ she explains. ‘We have a cleaning soundtrack we whack on, and all five of us get on with it. I knew when I started this three years ago, and the kids hated me for it, that I would look back years later and say it was one of the best things I ever did because they have to learn to be self-sufficient.’
Nadiya admits she suffers the same working-mum guilt as any other hard-working parent, but lockdown eased her guilt a bit. ‘As a mum, I feel I’ve neglected the little things – like playing cards with the kids – because I’ve got work to do,’ she admits. ‘Lockdown has given me five months of being able to really love the bits of my life I’ve neglected for a long time, and that’s my children – making eye contact with them in the morning rather than just rushing downstairs saying, “I’ve got to do this or that”.
‘We’ve all changed a bit and become a team. Now, when I fall asleep on the couch, my 14-year-old will put a blanket on me. Isn’t that special?’
Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain (£22, Michael Joseph) is out now. The TV show, Nadiya Bakes, airs on BBC2 this month.