Nadiya Hussain has got tough house rules after a year in lockdown
‘I make my sons do the ironing – and my daughter do the bins (and no, I don’t pay them!)’: She’s the queen of home baking but, after a year in lockdown, NADIYA HUSSAIN has got some very tough house rules
- Nadiya Hussain said she’s delegated the household chores to her three children
- GBBO star is intent on imbuing children with resourcefulness and self-reliance
- On Sunday, Musa, 14, Dawud, 13, and Maryam, 10, do housework for three hours
There’s something refreshing about Nadiya Hussain’s cheerful, no-nonsense brand of parenting teens.
During lockdown, when hard-pressed parents have lamented their kids’ reluctance to knuckle down, help round the house and do their schoolwork, here’s Nadiya breezily admitting she’s delegated the household chores to her three — gratifyingly diligent — adolescents.
The cook, TV presenter and author — who famously won The Great British Bake Off in 2015 — is intent on imbuing her children with the resourcefulness and self-reliance that propelled her, one of six children of Bangladeshi immigrants, from a modest home in Luton on to the national stage and into Debrett’s ‘500 most influential people in Britain’ list.
But while Nadiya was expected to conform to a gender stereotype — her parents arranged her marriage and assumed she’d stay at home and raise her children — her own sons Musa, 14, and Dawud, 13, and daughter Maryam, ten, are confined by no such boundaries.
The Great British Bake Off 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain said she’s delegated the household chores to her three children during lockdown
‘Musa loves baking,’ she says. ‘Dawud is great at eating and happiest doing the dishes. And, on Sunday, all three children do the housework for three hours. They hoover and dust, and that means moving everything and putting it back again, not dusting round things,’ she says crisply.
‘They wipe the skirting boards, do their own washing and even clean the washing machine filter. The boys know how to iron their shirts, cuffs and collars. I haven’t ironed for years!
‘My little girl knows Friday is bin day. Everyone mucks in. We have a Sunday playlist — the kids love 1980s music: Queen, Cyndi Lauper, Wham! — and that puts a spring in their step.
‘I can’t pretend they love cleaning, but I refuse to get a cleaner — I’m not willing to pay someone else to do it — and they have to learn that the house doesn’t clean itself.’
Is this how they earn their pocket money? I wonder.
No!’ she cries. ‘They don’t get paid to clean. And, of course, they do resist at times and look for excuses to go bike riding, instead. But the only time they get out of it is if they’re poorly.’
If Nadiya’s household regime sounds draconian, her briskness is leavened by humour: she is warm, funny and forthright; as bracingly invigorating as a sea breeze. Her smile dazzles and her skin is enviably smooth.
Nadiya revealed that Musa, 14, and Dawud, 13, and daughter Maryam, ten, spend three hours on a Sunday doing the housework as they listen to a 1980s playlist (Nadiya is pictured with her husband Abdal and children in 2016)
Today, she wears a peach headscarf and a sweatshirt emblazoned with the Beatles’ lyric: All You Need Is Love.
She possesses that blend of firmness and affection all good parents aspire to. She says her boys have ‘cracked on with home schooling without batting an eyelid’, while Maryam has needed a little more encouragement.
There has been home baking — of course — and the family’s four chickens have provided up to half a dozen eggs a day.
‘But the kids get through as many as 15 every day. They’re so versatile — you can have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner.’
I wonder if the boys, on the cusp of tricky teenage years, are showing any signs of rebellion.
‘Well, we get one-word answers; noises instead of actual sentences,’ she laughs. Girlfriends? ‘Who knows? I always say, “Concentrate on your education.” I want them to know free education is a blessing. As the daughter of an immigrant, I didn’t take education for granted.’
While she won a place at university to study psychology, her parents refused to let her leave home — they decreed that she could take a degree, but only if she stayed in Luton.
The cook said she has a ‘coming out of lockdown outfit’ which include dusky pink mules from Next – she’s just picked her favourite shoes from the store in a range called Nadiya’s Forever Comfort Shoe Edit
Instead, she studied part-time with the Open University after she’d become a mum. Her own experience has sharpened her determination that her three make the most of every academic opportunity.
‘For my husband, Abdal, going to university was a big part of his growing into manhood. We want our kids to live away from home, gain their independence, work hard towards a career they really want. They’re smart, resilient, capable children.’
She’s not planning to mope around when they’re off, forging their own lives, either.
‘When they’ve flown the nest, I’m going to travel through Europe with Abdal for a year in a sports car,’ she says, adding mischievously, ‘A very impractical one.’
Lockdown, I say, must have been a challenge for her. In February, she made a BBC documentary, Nadiya: Anxiety And Me, and her memoir, Finding My Voice, charts the merciless bullying at school that was the root cause of subsequent panic attacks. Her head was dunked in the boys’ loo, fingers were shut into doorjambs.
She also wrote about a horrific sexual assault that happened in Bangladesh when she was a young child. She did not understand its implications until much later, in a school biology lesson. When she did so, she vomited in the science lab sink. ‘I’d love to say, “Yes, I’ve been fine,” but it’s been really, really tough,’ she admits now.
‘One of the things I realised that I miss is the routine of getting up and dressed, choosing clothes and shoes to wear.
‘I missed going on the school run, missed my chats at the school gates; missed just going to get a loaf of bread. Then there was a point when I thought, “I love wearing my pyjamas.”’
Nadiya also spoke about what she missed most during lockdown was the school run, chatting at the school gates, and going to get a loaf of bread
It’s the first anniversary of the first lockdown when we speak. ‘It’s weird we’re talking today,’ she says, thoughtfully, ‘[when at last] there is light at the end of the tunnel.’
She recognises the paradox, however, that having yearned for the comfort of routine, structure and these small social interactions, she is now having to steel herself to go out into the world and face them again.
‘I felt I was handling the panic attacks better before lockdown but, over the past year, I’ve had a few more,’ she admits. ‘Like many people, I’m really nervous about coming out of lockdown. I’ll have to find a new way of dealing with anxiety, the panic.
‘Things like going back on the train, meeting new people; book signings. I worry about all that.’
Intent on being upbeat, she rallies and beams.
‘But we’re doing so well!’ she says. ‘We have vaccines. Let’s look on the positive side!’
In her childhood and teens, she was critical of her appearance and I ask if she has, at 36, finally realised she’s beautiful.
‘Well, I’m definitely getting better at being kinder to myself,’ she admits. ‘But you do get sucked into the social media thing, the idea that there is such a thing as perfection and it can be achieved.
‘Of course, I look at myself, pull and tug at my face: “Should I be doing this or that?” I’d never say never to Botox. I don’t know what I’ll do in the next ten, 15 years. But I feel very grateful for every birthday that comes around. I’ve lived another year!
In her childhood and teens, she was critical of her appearance and now says that she is ‘definitely getting better at being kind to’ herself, although admits: ‘But you do get sucked into the social media thing, the idea that there is such a thing as perfection and it can be achieved’
‘During this past year, I’ve learned to love myself and not be so self-critical. That’s been really important.
‘I still get asked: “How can you stay slim and bake cakes?” Men wouldn’t be asked that question. It makes me self-conscious, but I have to be careful not to fall down that particular rabbit hole. I don’t want the children to become critical of their appearance.
‘Like everyone, I worry about fitting into my jeans, but this past year our minds and bodies have been thrashed around in the spin cycle. We mustn’t get caught up in that “get bikini ready by July”. For goodness sake, why? Our bodies have kept us alive in lockdown. Our minds have been through so much.
‘We shouldn’t be putting our bodies through torture. We should be celebrating what they’ve done for us.’
She’s longing, like so many, to see family again, to visit her Mum and Granny. (There have been only fleeting garden visits over the past year.) ‘I’ve got a coming-out-of-lockdown outfit: a lovely grey dress, dusky pink mules from Next [she’s just picked her favourite shoes from the store in a range called Nadiya’s Forever Comfort Shoe Edit], and a beautiful scarf.’
Is she yearning to get back into heels, or wedded to her comfy lockdown flats? ‘Really, you can have function and fashion at the same time. They don’t have to be separate,’ she says.
She admits that, for years, she recycled the same six pairs of black ballet pumps, but now recognises: ‘When you meet someone, the first thing they look at are your feet. Shoes make a big impression.’
She is petite — 5 ft 1 in tall — with a fine, sculpted jawline, a flawless smile and the most fabulous eyebrows.
She and Abdal, 39, a technical manager for an IT company, make a handsome couple. They were married in a traditional ceremony in Bangladesh when she was 20.
Before their wedding, they’d seen each other only twice; once for ten minutes with her siblings acting as chaperones, the other time for the short religious ceremony before her father, Jamir Ali, a chef and restaurateur, gave her away.
The early years of her marriage were not propitious: uprooted from her family and living exactly 163.7miles away from Luton in Leeds, in a rented room at her in-laws’ house, Nadiya was miserable, prey to those panic attacks, beset by desperation.
The famous baker didn’t learn to bake at home as her mother Asma Begum declared that they ‘don’t bake cakes’. But Nadiya’s first attempt at making – a Madeira cake – was a success and said that Abdal has eaten cake every day since they married
She remembers, in her memoir, the first time she met Abdal’s parents; the searing heat of their gas fire; her jittery nerves: ‘I was sweating profusely. I didn’t know whether I wanted to cry or to vomit.’
Homesickness assailed her; at her lowest point she even hoped for death. But cooking became her salvation and her path to Abdal’s heart. He pronounced her curries ‘delicious’.
Then, when Musa was a newborn — and they were living in their own two-bedroom terrace in Leeds — Nadiya baked her first-ever cake.
Baking wasn’t a skill she’d learnt at home. ‘We don’t bake cakes,’ declared her mother, Asma Begum, who, although a superb cook in Bengali tradition, never used her oven other than as a cupboard. (An aunt stored tea towels in hers.)
But Nadiya’s first attempt at baking — she produced a Madeira cake — was a success. ‘Abdal has eaten cake every day of our married life since,’ she says.
It was he who suggested she enter Bake Off.
During the triumphant final she baked 16 iced buns, a raspberry-flavoured mille-feuille and a multi-layered cake she called ‘My Big Fat British Wedding Cake’.
In fact, she went on to marry Abdal again, in 2018, in a ceremony that affirmed their love. Today, living ‘down South’ in Milton Keynes, they share the amiable affection of the comfortably wedded.
Abdal has garnered his own fan club since his brief appearance in the Bake Off final but, when I ask if Nadiya minds, she laughs: ‘Whenever someone says something appreciative about him on social media, I think it’s hilarious. It just makes me cackle!’
While their marriage-at-first-sight has clearly bloomed into a love-match, she does not want arranged marriages for their children; not, it emerges, because she has any objection to them in principle, though. ‘I just don’t have time!’ she shrieks. ‘When they’re ready to get married, I’d like to think they’ll know themselves well enough to make the right choices.’
Her children seem well-adjusted, equable, hard-working. I wonder if she worries that they could be bullied, as she was?
‘I do, and I ask the question all the time; check in on them to make sure they’re OK.
‘I’m really open with them about my own anxieties as a child and they understand that these things can happen.’
Nadiya also revealed that before the Covid-19 pandemic, she saw Mary Berry ‘all the time’ who would ‘jump in for a hug’ when they bumped into each other at events, admitting that she misses Mary’s hugs
She was also racially abused, the recipient of vile insults.
‘We discuss things a lot as a family and I feel safe in the knowledge that my children would talk about racism, too. The best tool is being open about everything, having conversations.’
We also talk about her elevation to the power list: does the responsibility weigh heavily on her?
‘I do understand the importance of representation,’ she says. ‘Growing up, I didn’t see people like myself writing books or on mainstream media and TV.’
So established is she in the nation’s affections (she was elevated to MBE in 2019 for services to culinary arts and broadcasting), she was even asked to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday.
I ask how her children reacted and she says, ‘My daughter said, “You’ve already baked cakes for Mary Berry.” And I said, “But she’s not the Queen.”
‘Maryam said, “She is. She’s the Queen of Baking.” ’
Pre-Covid, ‘I saw Mary all the time. And whenever we went to events, she’d jump in for a hug.
‘Mary’s hugs … Oh, I miss them,’ she sighs.
Fame has brought wide recognition. Even going to the shops can be punctuated by requests for selfies and conversations.
‘People stop me and we have a chat, and it’s lovely, but if I’m with the kids I tend to say no to photos. You have to keep some sort of balance for them.
‘Now, when we go out with our masks on, people don’t recognise me — until I speak. Then they know me by my voice and say, “Oh my God, it’s Nadiya!”
‘Maryam enjoys being recognised. The boys genuinely couldn’t care less. They’re not bothered about what I do.’
Author, columnist, TV personality, cook and cake-baker extraordinaire: in six short years Nadiya has won a place in the nation’s heart. But to her children, she’s just Mum.
‘They’re not impressed. It’s all just a job to them,’ she smiles.
The Nadiya Forever Comfort Shoe Edit is on sale now at next.co.uk/women/ nadiya-hussain-footwear.
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