A Muslim woman winning the very British competition? A hijabi on the covers of glossy magazines? A British Bangladeshi becoming the ‘Nation’s Sweetheart’? Impossible? At least that’s what she thought, but since her victory in the Great British Bake Off Nadiya Hussain learnt and showed us that she can and she will. Her life might have changed dramatically, but her priorities stayed the same. Meet the heroine in a headscarf. And an apron.
Klaudia Khan: Your victory in the Great British Bake Off has been celebrated by Muslim women – I still remember the euphoria on the social media when it was announced that you were the winner. Even before you became the laureate you showed everyone that ‘Hijabi can do it’ and we believed that we can and we will. You have been also described as ‘the ultimate symbol of modern, multicultural Britain.’ So, how does it feel to be a role model?
Nadiya Hussain: It was quite a poignant moment for me when I won. As a mother of three I dedicated all of my time to my children and family. Whilst it was the best job I have ever done and will ever do, in the process I lost my confidence. The process of the show allowed me to find that inner confidence again. My biggest job is to be a role model for my children and that’s what I strive for. Being a role model for anyone else in any way is an added bonus.
KK: Who was your role model when you grew up?
NH: I have grown up with many strong characters in my family. But my role model is my little sister. She is younger than me by a few years. But she has grown up in such difficult circumstances* from such a young age, yet continues to smile, be funny and see the bright side of life. She teaches me everyday that life is to be lived regardless of the cards we were dealt.
KK: There is a lot being expected of you, as being probably the biggest hijabi celebrity around right now many people feel that you are out there somehow representing them. And it’s not only Muslims that feel this way, but also stay-at-home mums, Asians, people striving for unity in multicultural Britain… How do you handle the pressure? Have you got your own objectives as a spokesperson for Muslim women in the UK?
NH: I am all of those things, a Muslim, a Bangladeshi, a wife, a woman and a stay at home mum. I find it an honour and privilege that people can relate to me in any way. I don’t feel pressure. I am all of the above but what I am not, is perfect. I can only be the best version of me whatever that is and I think it’s important for everyone to be the best versions of themselves. Being a mum is the biggest role for me and the most important role. If my children can look up to me then I will feel my job is done.
KK: In the interview for The Guardian you revealed that your children have become cupcake connoisseurs. Do you have family baking time? Have you introduced any culinary traditions to your family? What’s cooking in your kitchen for ‘Eid and during Ramadhan?
NH: My kids absolutely love being in the kitchen. It’s the heart of our home and they are very confident bakers and cooks. They keep better and better with time. During ‘Eid and Ramadhan we love cooking up feasts especially 20 minutes before iftar, that’s when the real magic happens. Speed and mayhem!
KK: Your cakes and bakes look lovely masha Allah, and you and your family, too, look fit and healthy. Now, I imagine there is always a dessert on the table at your home. How do you stay in shape?
NH: We always have cake, biscuits and many other delights adorning our work top surfaces. We try and balance it all with light exercise. This includes my children too. I like to do a light run in the morning and we try to go cycling every day. My husband loves cake so much he used to run 7 miles every day!
KK: You have published your very own cookbook and your collection of recipes for children is to be released in September, insha Allah. But, there have been rumours that you have also written a novel about four sisters of the Amir family living in the British countryside and being the only Muslims in the village. Could you tell me a bit more about that? When is your novel going to be published? What has been your inspiration for the story?
NH: The book is to be published early 2017. I love writing and have worked with a team to write a fun book with real life issues. It’s been a joy to write in so many different forms.
KK: You are a woman of many talents: you are a mum and a homemaker, you bake, you write and you do a TV show. How do you find time for it all?
NH: The transition hasn’t been easy. We have made massive changes. But my husband and I, along with my family, work through it to make it work. Our kids are our ultimate priority so we always make sure that they are looked after and most importantly, happy. I try my best to get home for bedtime every night. But when I have time off we just eat, play, pray and have fun.
KK: Now that baking has become your job, what do you do for fun?
NH: Believe it or not I still bake to relax. Baking for work and pleasure are two different things. But I still enjoy both in their different forms. I also love reading and these days I’m happy just to have quiet dinner in front of the TV after a bubble bath.
*(Nadiya’s sister Yasmin has a heart valve defect)
Klaudia Khan is a Muslim mother, who strives to be a good example for her daughters insha Allah.