It’s perhaps unsurprising that if you tell a class full of culinary school students that you are going to meet and chat with Nadiya Hussain they become alternately jealous and excited.
‘You get to meet Nadiya!? Oh wow, you lucky thing.’
‘Can you tell her I love her? Like, really?’
‘Oh my god, and me! Tell her I love her too!’
Anyone familiar with this blog will remember that I spent ten weeks baking along with the 2015 Great British Bake Off and going on (and on, and on, and on…) about how happy I was to see Nadiya do well, how hilarious I found her, how much I adore her, and how much I thought she deserved to win. I’m actually a bit surprised they let me meet her at all, considering it’s clear I was a crazed fangirl and borderline gibbering fawning obsessive.
And yet, they did let me meet her.
My fellow student Tassy and I were given a cheeky five minutes with Nadiya before she did some filming for a TV show at Leiths. It’s not surprising they could only spare her for five minutes: she’s a terrifyingly busy person. Seemingly needing no rest after storming through GBBO, she’s made documentaries, guested on television shows, written for magazines, and put together her own cookbook, as well as meeting and baking for the Queen. She was also very kind and tolerant as I babbled at her nonsensically. Here’s what she had to say about Bake Off, self-confidence, and Benedict Cumberbatch…
So, it’s been a year since Bake Off – what do you think is the most exciting project you’ve worked on since?
Well, I’ve worked on a lot of things. Obviously the cookbook is the thing I’ve worked on the longest, but I think one of the most exciting things I’ve done would have to be baking the Queen’s 90th birthday cake. For me, that’s making history. I can’t believe that I actually got to do it: sometimes I have to pinch myself. It’s probably the most memorable thing that’s happened.
How did you manage to get that commission?
I was actually doing a shoot for my cookbook and my agent called and told me about the email. I was like ‘No, somebody’s pulling your leg, there’s been a mix-up – they want someone who’s a proper baker to do it!’ Then when I realised it was for real I was like ‘…can I say no?!’ But of course, I didn’t want to say no! I was really nervous though; the pressure suddenly just kicked in. It was a big commitment.
Are you still in touch with all your fellow Bake Off contestants?
It’s really hard – we’re twelve very different people! We’ll have a reunion every year, I’m sure. But we do have a group phone chat. Randomly I’ll say ‘How good looking is Benedict Cumberbatch?!’, and then Flora and I will get into a conversation, and everyone else is like ‘Just shut up about Benedict Cumberbatch please both of you’.
You’ve spoken a lot about struggling with confidence – do you think winning Bake Off helped you overcome that?
When I went into Bake Off I didn’t have a lot of confidence, but I don’t think it’s the winning that gave it to me – I think it was the things I had to go through to get through it, week by week. The process of doing things that I wasn’t comfortable with, and doing things alone without my children and my husband, really gave me that confidence. The win was just the cherry on the cake. It was great, but by that point, I already thought ‘Well, I don’t need to be that nervous, anxious person anymore.’
Obviously, you won Bake Off and then became an instant baking celebrity. Were you prepared to be suddenly famous? Have you enjoyed it?
No, I definitely wasn’t prepared for everything that came after Bake Off! I did genuinely think I would fly under the radar and go back to normal life. It’s a new world, and it’s not something I know or recognise or am comfortable with. But I’ve kind of taken everything in my stride, and tried to enjoy it. I know there’s a sell-by date and I know there are going to be more Bake Off contestants, and so I want to enjoy what I’ve got and have no expectations.
Did Mary Berry give you any advice after Bake Off?
She always says ‘Just look after your family’. She’s the grandma you want to adopt. I mean, I have one, but I’d still like her! You can tell she is such a family orientated person and I think we had that in common, being in the spotlight, and having a family to look after.
Desert island dish? Marmite! Marmite crisps! I literally can eat six packets in one go.
Dream dinner party guest? David Attenborough. Every time.
Two kitchen essentials you couldn’t do without? My mixer and a good spatula.
Favourite cuisine to eat? Vietnamese.
Mary or Paul? Neither! I’m not answering that – no way!
At this point, Nadiya was dragged away to do her actual job, but not before letting us get a quick picture with her. Meeting her was definitely one of the most exciting opportunities I got while I was at Leiths, although I am going to have to focus on learning to be a little bit more relaxed and a little bit less starstruck if I ever get to meet any more of my food heroes in the future.