SHAFAQNA – As the first female Muslim contestant on British reality TV culinary series The Great British Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain naturally attracted a lot of attention.
And even more so since winning the sixth season which aired in the UK last October, where she beat 11 other amateur bakers competing each week in signature, technical and showstopper challenges.
The 31-year-old mother of three children aged nine, eight and five, who is a British citizen of Bangladeshi descent, has become a food columnist, TV show panelist and author, with two cookbooks due later this year.
The Great British Bake Off 6 is currently airing on BBC Lifestyle (StarHub Ch 432) on Wednesdays at 7.10pm. The finale airs on April 27.
“I was concerned about my hijab, and was afraid people would pre-judge me and think I couldn’t bake,” Nadiya told The New Paper over the phone from her home in Milton Keynes, England.
“But me being Muslim did not in any way restrict me on the show. All the ingredients, like powdered gelatine, were halal, so it was never an issue.”
Despite having to fast during Ramadan for the show’s final few weeks of filming, Nadiya took it in her stride.
“It was hot in the Bake Off tent, but I was running on adrenaline and didn’t need food or water.
“I didn’t even get to taste my bakes, but I’m used to that. If I tasted everything I made, I would be the size of a house!”
Nadiya gained a legion of fans for her impressive creations, quirky facial expressions and inspiring winner’s speech.
“I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it… I can and I will,” she declared during the finale, moving the show’s judge Mary Berry to tears.
Still, Nadiya attracted her fair share of haters because of her faith.
“A lot of people commented online that I shouldn’t have won, because I’m Muslim and not British enough,” she said. “They think a British person cannot wear a hijab or turban.
“It did upset me, and I was more sad than angry. I was born and raised in the UK, and I feel absolutely British.”
As people around her were concerned for her safety due to anti-Islamic threats on Twitter, the police even went to the Hussains’ home for a few days to check on them, but Nadiya remained unfazed.
“We had a great time when the police came, actually,” she said. “I even baked for them every day.”
She admitted she has gone from being a shy, anxious person to a confident woman as a result of being on The Great British Bake Off.
“I was a housewife for about 10 years, and used to be afraid of going on public transport and leaving the house without my husband or children. I used them as a crutch, I think.
“It was my husband who encouraged me to apply for the show. He said, ‘You’re a really good baker, and you need to do this for yourself’.”
During the final episode, Nadiya’s husband Abdal, a 34-year-old IT professional, also caught the eye of several viewers who described him as a “stone cold hottie” and a “dreamboat”.
“It was a bit unfair, because I won and he ended up getting all this attention from women,” she joked. “It would’ve been easier if he had just been ugly.
“He got a massive shock, but we’re used to the attention now. I understand people’s need to give their opinions on social media, and I don’t mind sharing some of the limelight with him.”
Ultimately, Nadiya is grateful for the chance to inspire others through her win.
“I came into the competition as an individual, but I’ve ended up representing Muslims, Bengalis and stay-at-home mums.
“I am so happy now because I feel like I’m finally the mum I wanted to be. Now when I tell my kids to have confidence in themselves, and not to be afraid of being Muslim or brown-skinned, I can really mean it.”