nUday Hussain can date the first time she came to this restaurant – the olive tree, a large vibrant Turkish grill in a prominent corner of Milton Keynes in the 1970s. That was seven years ago, the week her family moved to the new town of Luton, where she grew up. “We were living out of the boxes and needed a fast, halal place,” she says. “But we’ve since been back. Our three kids loved it – they were so jealous when they heard I came here with observer…”
Seven years is the moment when the family’s life is turned upside down when she becomes Nadia undo An instant national hero and treasure. You don’t have to spend five minutes with her to find out why she joined that exclusive group of TV competition veterans – my list stops at Harry Styles, Susan Boyle and she – who have maintained their fame for 15 minutes. It’s a wonderful mix of things. She talks twenty to a dozen as we order her family’s favorites – ‘Hummus because it comes with great bread, sure lamb livers – delicious!
She is physically small, but her smile is big. Determined to resist stereotype. “Obviously, I practice between many different worlds,” she said, early on, answering a question about fame. “You know, I’m a woman, mother, I’m Bangladeshi. I’m Muslim. I’m British. I think there’s an expectation from every society that I raise their flag. In some ways, that means I can’t win. I can make a Cornish pie and some people will say, ‘It’s not authentic’ …and the same if I make a dish from Bangladesh. So I just try to do what I love.”
One of her best memoirs of 2020, search for my voice, Is that undo He hardly gets a mention. Her life struggles, with terrible bullying at school, with aggressive memories of an episode of sexual abuse from a distant family member as a child, with the restraints of parents making sure she tells her what she can’t do (go to college, become a midwife) more than she can, she The challenges you are considering. There is still a long way to go for her to overcome what she calls “panic disorder and PTSD” from those experiences. Before she met Mary Berry, she had taken herself a course at the Open University while working with three children under seven. Cakes and What Happened Since Then – Books, TV Series, Newspaper Column in timesMBE – is just an ongoing general guide to her more private victories.
She says of her mother’s circle: “I grew up around a generation of frugal, hard-working and multitasking women, but I wasn’t raised among happy women. I need my daughter to know she can do all these things, but be happy too. I’ve grown up being told: “You can’t do that, it’s not polite.” That’s been a quiet whisper all my life. I’ve been thinking: Fight it, fight it, fight it. This fight isn’t over for my daughter. I always tell her: If Plan A doesn’t go through, always make sure You are running away from money.”
While we share liver and halloumi she talks to me all day so far. “I always get my work emails out of the way first. It’s been a busy time because I have this new book and I’m finishing my TV series. But I sent out emails by 10 am and then as always I made dinner tonight I made chicken curry with Brussels sprouts using whole chicken. Neck and joints. My sister and her family are coming in later so we’ll eat together. Although maybe not much to me after that lunch.”
She amazed me in her memoirs how shaped by sibling relationships – she has three sisters and two brothers. Are they still close?
“I could write about every member of the family,” she says. “My mom and dad raised me, but they weren’t the ones who listened to me when I cried. My siblings have always been my backbone.”
There seems to be a strong hierarchy among them – Nadia is the third oldest of them. How did her older sisters react to her fame?
“My older sister finds it really funny,” she says. “To this day, when I go to her house—even though she has a dishwasher—she lets her wash for me: You’re not very popular for washing my dishes.”
Are they aligned with that?
She says, “Of course.” “When my sisters come and stay at my house, I will give them my bed and they sleep on the floor. These things are important to me. When I go to my parents’ house, the first thing I do is take out the vacuum cleaner.”
She had an arranged marriage when she was twenty years old. Although she had known about her future husband’s existence for six months, they got engaged on the day they met and were married 10 days later. Are you watching this program Married at first sight?
“All the time. It’s so addictive. People ask me, will you find a husband or wife for your children? Surely impossible! We got lucky. But I didn’t want to raise my children in a family like the one I grew up around, which was often built on duty rather than love.” “.
Although she says that she and her husband are “very different personalities,” they share basic beliefs. “Faith is the end of our family life. When the sun goes down, you know, we close all the curtains and put on the lamps and we all sit down and pray together every day.”
Obviously, the other binding force is meal times. What do you like to cook at the moment?
“My kids love the hangover. I cooked tripe yesterday – I do it in the garage because it’s a bit stinky. We used to do a lot of broth using chicken feet. When they were younger, they loved things like fish pie and lasagna. As they got older, they became much more interested in Bangladeshi cooking.” But: hangovers and endless banana bread. It’s a mix of those two right now.”
In one of the many interrupts for our lunch, a man comes from a nearby table complimenting Nadia on the chocolate cake she made on last night’s TV show. “I cut a very small piece and thought: Can I have the rest?”
“I would love for older English men to come that way,” she says, when he leaves. “When my grandmother came to this country, she was afraid of the English. She would be shocked to see a man like that talking to me so easily. She would keep telling me: Just be grateful and keep your head low.”
This is despite the fact that her granddaughter baked the Queen’s 90th birthday cake. “I’ve met the Queen before,” she says. “The first time, she said to Prince Philip, ‘You know, this is the young woman who won the baking contest.’ I was like: Life was made, right? I always wonder what my grandfather would have thought if he was alive. He worked so hard He is accepted into this country, and almost got killed twice after being beaten up by racist thugs. If I had my MBE while he was alive, would he finally feel like we were accepted?”
We talk a little about her extended family in Bangladesh, who are rice farmers and buffalo farmers. She visits every few years. She says that some of this culture runs in her blood. “The Bangladeshis waste nothing. When you kill an animal, you sell the skin for the skin. Then you carve the skull for decoration. And then you cook every part of it. I like it very much.”
I say, among other things, such as good preparation for I’m famous…she must have been asked?
She laughs. “I asked about all of them. I couldn’t do it strictly Because I think watching it would kill my husband. But I like the idea of the jungle. I’m good with creepy crawling. I love snakes – I just bought my son a blue-tongued squirrel – even though I’ve been bitten in Bangladesh on about 12 occasions.” She stops and smiles. “Of course, I don’t think I’m going to win or anything…” based on evidence of one lunch I certainly wouldn’t bet on her.
Nadia The Daily Bread (Michael Joseph, £25) is now available. To support Guardian and Observer, order your copy from guardianbookshop.com