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24 September 2023

Nadiya Hussain’s Q&A: “Some of my happiest moments happened during lockdown”

The chef and television presenter on Alicia Keys, the joy of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! and escaping social media.

By New Statesman

Nadiya Hussain was born in Luton in 1984. Best known as the 2015 winner of The Great British Bake Off, she is now a BBC television presenter and the author of bestselling cookbooks. She was awarded an MBE in 2020.

What’s your earliest memory?

Crying hysterically to go home from nursery school. I was manhandled by a teacher and watched my mum cry as she was escorted out. 

Who are your heroes?

As a child, I loved Muhammad Ali. My dad followed his story and still loves to read about him, even though he is no longer with us. He had a name that felt familiar, and he was a strong man who my dad admired, and I guess I just loved who my dad loved. As an adult, my hero is my maternal grandma. She has had a tough life but is still with us, slower but lively in many ways. She is still so intuitive – she knows me by the way I knock on the door.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, is beautifully written. It was a welcome read, given the anti-immigrant rhetoric going around in the media. It made me feel pride in being an immigrant.

Which political figure do you look up to?

There is not one political figure, past or present, that I look up to.

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THANK YOU

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would have loved to have lived in Bangladesh in the 1940s to see what it was like to live through the partition. It is something my nan speaks about with fear and sadness. She was quite alone at the time. I wish I could have been there to see what it was like.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! It’s the one thing that my husband and I watch with our girl, and we absolutely love it.

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Who would paint your portrait?

I dream of the day Curtis Holder can do portraits of me and my family. He is my favourite artist ever. 

What’s your theme tune?

Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

This saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “Wealth is not having many possessions but rather wealth is feeling sufficiency in the soul.” I follow and remember this when I am bogged down with material goals and a busy life, and remind myself that it is more important to feed my soul than myself.

What’s currently bugging you?

My front gate is broken, and I still haven’t fixed it.

What single thing would make your life better?

A lot more sunshine. Sunshine makes everything better.

When were you happiest?

Some of my happiest moments happened during lockdown. I was forced to spend months together at home, with my family, but I valued having that time with my children in the safety of our home.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would have been a social worker.

Are we all doomed?

No way. Move away from social media more often, walk away from the screen, get into nature, read a book, learn, talk to someone you don’t know, have a cold shower. We are not doomed. We have a beautiful world, full of amazing people. We need to look after it and ourselves.

Nadiya’s Simple Spices” is published by Michael Joseph. Nadiya Hussain will appear at Cheltenham Literary Festival on 10 October. Tickets: cheltenhamfestivals.com

[See also: Inside a cupboard, I found the solace of solitude]

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This article appears in the 27 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Right Power List