In your memoir, you open up about many childhood traumas. What chapter of your past was the most emotionally challenging to return to?
The sexual abuse [Nadiya was sexually assaulted by a relative at the age of five while living in Bangladesh]. That was the hardest thing to write about because I went from telling just my husband and a few of my sisters to the whole country. I wrote it in, then I wrote it out, then I wrote it back in. I did that about six times. I had to step back and ask myself why I was doing it and the answer was ‘because you are not alone in this, there are people out there who have suffered just like you and who have kept quiet for so long’. I don’t want justice, I want a voice. I want to be able to say ‘this has happened to me and it’s happened to many people and we need to be able to talk about it’. With abuse there’s a shame attached to it and that shame stops us from talking and sharing. It’s definitely shaped the person I’ve become and the less I talk about it, the more I become a part of the problem.
Was writing the book like therapy?
Honestly, it’s something I’ve carried with me for over two decades. To be able to talk about it means it opens doors for many other people to talk about it too and it has. I went on tour and the first date, I had reams of women and men telling me [about their abuse] for the first time.
Were you prepared for such a responsibility?
No. I knew there would be loads of people who would relate to it but I didn’t imagine that I’d be at a book signing and crying. We were literally crying the whole time. There’s more to be done. It can’t end here. The whole point of writing that into the book was about saying ‘it’s not just about my voice, it’s about everyone else’s voice’.
Can you foresee one day launching a Nadiya Hussain Foundation?
Absolutely, I can definitely see something like that in the pipeline. The more I do this, I feel like I’m putting that white spirit in the fire because it just keeps burning and burning. I want to put more of my efforts into something like that.
Your book also details how you were bullied at school as a ten year old. What would you like to tell your ten year old self?
Even if I told ten-year-old Nadiya ‘it’s going to be okay, one day’, I don’t think she would have believed me because, by then, she’d already been so damaged and broken. I wouldn’t actually say anything to her, I’d just hug her. She needed comfort.
You’ve since endured online abuse in your adult life but when did you last encounter someone who reminded you that the world is a wonderful place?
That’s a lovely question because I never get asked that. I posted a sweet picture of myself with my dad on Instagram recently and somebody said ‘thank you for posting that picture, it really reminded me of my dad’. She said her dad had passed away a few years ago and seeing my picture had reminded her of him and that she had a prayer in her heart for her own dad. I get people on social media all the time who are absolutely lovely.
Best childhood holiday?
We only ever went to Bangladesh on holiday. When I was ten, the year before my grandad died, we stayed out there for eight months. Those were the days schools didn’t fine you for taking your kids out of school. We initially went for four weeks and it turned into two months, six months, then eight. Out there, I learnt my grandad’s trade - how to grow rice. He was a rice farmer and I also learned how to look after his 150 buffalos who all, on command, would walk and stop as I asked them to.
What was your childhood nickname and do you still have it?
Noddy because I liked the little man with red and yellow car and also because I was a teacher’s pet. I would say ‘yes’ to everything. Not much has changed. I’m not very good at saying ‘no’, which isn’t great as an adult. Later, everyone started to call me Nods and now that’s changed to Nads.
Who did you have a teenage crush on?
The Backstreet Boys. In my head, I was going to marry all five. The week I was meant to be in the audience watching Strictly and could not make it, The Backstreet Boys happened to be on. Honestly, I’ve never been more gutted in my life!
Your biggest fashion mistake?
I’m 5ft 1 and [in the past I] thought ‘I’m going to wear shoes that I’m comfortable in, not heels just because I want to appear taller’. I posted a couple of pictures of myself [to social media] where I wasn’t wearing heels and there at least one comment said ‘oh my goodness, you’re really short’. Then I felt self conscious so I’ve gone completely full circle. I now wear heels everywhere I go. There have been certain outfits that have been destroyed by my flat shoes. Sometimes I’ll go for a couple of inches, sometimes five! Now I think ‘why am I putting myself through this?’.
How often do you check your email?
I’m anal about clearing out my emails. This summer I put my nephew to work with unsubscribing me from all the rubbish. He spent a week at my house and unsubscribed from everything. It’s changed my life. I check my emails obsessively and if I’ve done something and it’s been actioned, I delete. I now only have three emails that need actioning before the end of the week. Tidy emails mean tidy mind.
Medicine or alternative medicine?
Alternative medicine, always. I’m not big on having paracetamol and popping pills but I love aromatherapy and oils. When I’m stressed I’ll put lavender oil in my bath, when I’ve got back pain or cramps, magnesium oil is really good in the local area, for toothache cloves are great.
Aromatherapy - what is it good for?
Last time you laughed till you cried?
Any time I’m laughing, it’s usually at my dad. He’s lived in this country since he was six or seven so he doesn’t have a really strong accent but sometimes he doesn’t know how to say words. Instead of saying determined he’ll say deter-mind. How can you not laugh at that? We don’t tell him he’s said it wrong because if we do, he’ll correct himself. We like to have a cackle at him!
What was the last public complaint or protest you made?
I’m not a complainer. I’m one of those people who, if I get completely the wrong order in a restaurant, I’ll eat it. I ask for scrambled eggs but I’ll eat them poached. I think it’s because my husband’s completely the opposite. If something isn’t right, he’ll say ‘you need to fix that’. I don’t like making a scene and it’s become worse since I’ve done this job. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a mean person so I stay quiet.
Is all your success since winning GBBO hard to believe?
Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I can’t quite believe that I do this job but I don’t want to just cook and write. That’s the fun part of my job but there’s definitely a responsibility to women [and] to immigrant families. If you’d asked me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been comfortable talking about the fact that my parents are immigrants. Now, I’m proud of my parents, I’m proud that me and my husband both come from immigrant families and were raised in two very different worlds but, also, equally the same. We should be proud of where we came from and not try to hide that away. It’s not about blending in, it’s about standing out.
What’s been your biggest pinch-me celebrity encounter to date?
I was at Good Morning Britain last week and Andi Peters knocked on my dressing room door and said ‘I just wanted to come and say ‘hi’’. I thought ‘that’s really Andi Peters! How on earth am I in the same room as Andi Peters?!’ We’ve all grown up with kids’ TV and Andi Peters and, by the way, can I just say, he’s not aged a moment! He looks amazing.
Any Hollywood A-lister moments to mention?
I did meet Arnold Schwarzenegger on The Graham Norton Show. He didn’t know who I was - that’s always humbling! - and it was lovely because we’d been chatting away on the couch for a while and, by the end of it, he came up to me, gave me a little kiss, held my hand and said ‘your book sounds wonderful and I hope it does really well’. I grew up watching him so that was surreal! I [also] met Carrie Fisher before she died. That was crazy.
Are you still close to Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry?
No. It’s safe to say we’re not friends. I think people assume that when you come off [a show] like that, that you become part of this celebrity world and you’re friends. I’m very much good friends with Netflix and the more I do this, the more I’m comfortable being at home. I don’t enjoy socialising as much. I’ve only seen Paul once since Bake Off, that was four years ago. I always see Mary at events and every time she recognises my husband before she’s even seen me and that says everything about her. [One time] I’d gone off and she said [to my husband] ‘I hope that she gets to do what I’m doing for as long as I’m doing it’.
Do you hope that too?
Yeah, absolutely. I think I would have answered very differently a few years ago because I was so afraid of doing this. I didn’t feel like I ever fitted in and, the truth is, I don’t think I will ever fit. I’ve made peace with that. I want to be me and say ‘it’s okay to be different, to be bilingual, brown, Muslim and stop to pray in the middle of filming and shooting’. I’ve grown so much since [Bake Off]. I have wobbly moments where I don’t believe that I deserve this or I should be here but in those moments when I’m struggling, my husband’s wonderful. He always says ‘you were born to do this’. He’s my biggest cheerleader.
No wonder you re-married him last year, 14 years after you were wed in an arranged marriage!
[laughs] I’m the annoying person that sits in a group of women and while they’re all slagging off their husbands, I’m sat there quietly. He’s literally perfect!
Is there anything you struggle to bake or cook?
About fourteen years ago I tried [to make] macarons and it was like hell. It was a disaster. I had about eleven goes before I got them right. It was trial and error and I hated them for a long time but I enjoy making them now. I’ve got them down now!
Are there any other TV shows that would tempt you?
I was asked to do Strictly and I said ‘no’. There’s too much physical contact for my liking and everyone talks about the Strictly curse more than they talk about Strictly. Before you know it, somebody sees something that isn’t there and I don’t like the thought of that. The jungle, however, I quite like the idea of. We come from a village in Bangladesh and you have to get mucky and get used to snakes and insects and flooding and fires, so the jungle? I wouldn’t say no.
Sky-diving in might be a bit of a test!
I’m happy to fly in first class and just turn up in the camp but I don’t know about jumping out of a plane! But that’s what I like about the show, it challenges your fears. Another reason why I would do it is because I’d have to give up my phone, which I’d love to do for a few weeks.
And you’d be the most amazing cook in there!
I have a feeling that’s what would happen, they would give me the cooking duties!
What single thing would make getting older easier?
In our culture, we’ve been raised to really value and respect our elders. Even if my kids text me just once a day, that will make getting older easier. We don’t expect our kids to live with us forever or with us in Milton Keynes, but checking in on us occasionally to make sure we’re alive, that’s all we want from them as parents!.
Finding My Voice and My Monster & Me by Nadiya Hussain are out now and available for a discount on the Saga Bookshop.