Rebecca Nicholson reports on an interview with the famous cook, five years after winning Bake Off- how she’d love to just talk about baking and cookbooks. But then there’s diversity in TV, mental health, the pandemic…
Nadiya Hussain has never published a baking book. She has never fronted her own baking show before either, having had her life changed by appearing on the big one, the one which put her under the national spotlight as she transformed from a shy, uncertain home cook into a Great British Bake Off winner, the best-loved winner in the history of the series. Now, after five years of fame, her career, which has encompassed books, documentaries, cooking shows, a memoir, an MBE, and much, much more, has come full circle, and she is ready to focus on baking again. Surely someone has tried to get a baking book out of her before this?
“It was my choice. I chose not to go straight into baking,” she says. She is in her conservatory at home in Milton Keynes, the week before her three children are due to go back to school. It doubles up as both her home office and the cats’ room; her son is drawing at the kitchen table. Ordinarily, she’d be out in the world, meeting people, and she misses it terribly. “I really miss people. I miss hugging people. Even a handshake would be nice right now. I always overrun on everything, because I’m talking about something else. Shoes, a flavour, it could be anything.” I’m not even wearing shoes, I tell her. “I mean, I put on a bra just for you today,” she grins. She got up late, for her, because she’s been staying up into the early hours, watching Schitt’s Creek in bed. Not that you’d know it. She is as lively and warm as you’d expect from her on-screen persona, happy to dole out advice to this terrible home baker, but she has a pleasing, simmering defiance to her too, that has evolved since her 2015 TV debut.
Her new book and series, Nadiya Bakes, had been planned for a while, but have turned out to be more timely than expected, not just for Hussain, but for the large numbers of people who turned to their scales and ovens during lockdown. “It’s the thing that gives me comfort when I’m suffering with anxiety, especially over lockdown,” she says. Hussain has been open about her mental health, and made a moving documentary called Anxiety and Mefor the BBC about it in 2019. Lockdown made it difficult for her to focus. “Baking is the thing that allows you to focus, because you’ve got someone telling you exactly what you need to do and when you’re doing it. And at the end of it you get cake.”Many members of Hussain’s family have been working all year. Her sister works at a school, with children who don’t speak English as their first language. Another sister works as a doctor’s receptionist, another at a pharmacy. Her mother, in her 50s, works in a factory cleaning hospital linen. “I’ve been really worried for my mum, because I almost expect her to come away getting sick. And she’s been really well, I have to say.” Her mother keeps asking her not to tell people that she works in a factory, that it must be embarrassing for her. “And I’m like, Mum, no. Without her, and her colleagues and her factory, hospitals would not have clean linen. She tells us not to talk about it, but we find any excuse to talk about it, because she’s a key part of keeping this country running and we’re really proud of her.”
An interview published in the Guardian, from the Observer, by Rebecca Nicholson.