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My Fantasy Bookshelf: Nadia Sawalha shares the books which influenced her life and career

The Loose Woman presenter shares all of her favourite reads, including her own new book on home-schooling.

Nadia Sawalha My Fantasy Bookshelf

Presenter, actor and ITV “Loose Woman” Nadia Sawalha has long been a familiar face to our living room TV screens.

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Now, the parent of two has released a timely, honest guide to home-schooling with her husband Mark, as they share their experiences of educating their children outside of mainstream education.

Below, Sawalha shares the books from her life which have had the biggest impact on her and chooses her final Fantasy Bookshelf selection.

Sawalha explains which favourite author she shares with fellow presenter Kaye Adams, the book which opened her eyes to other experiences and why, as a child, she identified so greatly with a fictional horse.

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Which book did you most enjoy reading to your own children?

I really struggled with the story time. I thought it was going to be this magical thing and on Loose Women I once admitted this and the other Loose Women were absolutely shocked and horrified. I found it a bloody nightmare, I was exhausted, but the amount of women that still come up to me to me and say, “I’m so glad that you said that.”

But there were ones that I did enjoy because it was a chance for me to act, things like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Children love that repetitiveness, it gives them the real comfort of absolutely knowing what’s coming next, then that can be transferred when you’re on a walk and you have no sweets left and you have to keep them enthused and entertained.

What was your own favourite book when you were growing up?

I was very lucky as a child because my father is Arabic and he would tell us the stories of The Arabian Nights. My father is one of the greatest storytellers you’ll ever meet and it was magical to us, my dad would take us off on a magic carpet.

It’s a lovely book to have because I was really strongly connected to that part of my culture but the very British side of me absolutely loved Enid Blyton. I used to love the Secret Seven and the Famous Five. I used to be lying in bed reading them and crunching through apples.

If you could gift every child in the world one book, which would it be?

Winnie the Pooh, they are such fantastic stories for children and give us so many fantastic quotes that can be relevant to any man, woman or child. Things like, “sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart,” and “you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

You can escape into this very safe but challenging world, sometimes, for Winnie, but there’s these really good, positive affirmations.

Honey I Home-Schooled the Kids Nadia Sawalha Mark Adderley

Growing up, which character from a book did you most identify with?

Black Beauty had a really big effect on me. I was obsessed with the horse, I would go out and I would gallop like I was a horse and I truly believed I was one. When I would jump I would feel like I was jumping forever. I really felt like I entered the soul of the horse. I know I’m an empath, I’m a rescuer, and I think it began with Black Beauty.

I remember being just so happy and literally escaping into the horse and then I think, as far as I can remember, it was my first window into the cruelty that is in humanity as well. I found it shocking. My god, I sobbed through that book.

Are there any books which inspired the way you wrote, Honey, I Home-Schooled the Kids?

There weren’t books like this and when we first took our children out of school it was incredibly scary. You’re going completely against the tide of the rest of the world it felt and there was nothing; no actual, honest journey of what it’s like.

My husband and I are very different, he has an MA, he’s an English graduate and I left school at 15. I think what is really unique about this book is it’s two people coming from different educational background and investigating how the education system worked and didn’t work in various ways.

What people are doing now is they are not home educating, they are being asked to recreate a school system in their home and pretend to be teachers and that’s not what we did with our children at all.

Which book has inspired you the most?

Nigella Lawson’s first book Domestic Goddess, my sister and I had such a bad girl crush on her. I loved her attitude to food. She gave me confidence being a curvy woman, the confidence that I just loved food and not to be ashamed of it and she inspired me because she always said I’m not a chef, I’m just a cook.

I’ve done five cookery books since then and I really think she inspired me. But it was my mum who gave me all the Cordon Bleu books that started off [my love of cooking].

Are there any books which have changed the way you see the world?

Roots and The Colour Purple really opened my experiences to cruelty. Novels that I love always have to have a theme of cruelty and I was absolutely devastated [by these books] and to this day they still haunt me.

I think because I had such as lovely childhood, they opened me up to other worlds. To understand and realise what terrible depravity and cruelty goes on in the world was a big eye opener.

Roots and The Colour Purple really opened that up to me as well as the incredible ability for the human spirit to survive through the most terrible circumstances.

Loose Women
Nadia Sawalha with her fellow ITV Loose Women presenters at the 2019 National Television Awards.
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Which character would you like to voice most in an audiobook?

One of my favourite books is Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. It’s fantastic, set in London in the late 1930s and it’s actually my husband [Mark] who recommended it to me.

This book is very much about alcoholism […] there are many themes, it covers mental health and the central female character is the most evil woman called Netta. She is exquisitely beautiful, slightly past her prime but exquisitely beautiful – think Vivienne Leigh.

Mark and I were obsessed in wanting to make this a movie because we think it would make the most amazing film. I would love to play her in an audiobook, it would be an honour.

What is the best reading recommendation you’ve ever been given?

Jackie Collins by Kaye Adams who is my fellow Loose Woman, we’re very, very good friends. We both love to read but we always hate what the other one has read. We never, ever agree, but we both share a love of Jackie Collins books.

They were like the original chick books; they were very sexy, they were always set in Hollywood, they were very glamorous.

What was the last book that you read and would you read it again?

I’m not really one for reading a book a second time around. The most recent book I read was Daisy Jones and the Six.

It’s about a ’70s rock band and it was great, really good escapism. There was sex, there was drugs, there was glamour. Beautiful women, misunderstood women, ambitious women. But I wouldn’t read it again, it has to be my classics like Hangover Square that I would go back to.

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Honey, I Home-Schooled the Kids by Nadia Sawalha and Mark Adderley is published by Coronet, £14.99

Read Nadia Sawalha’s Bookshelf

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Micheal Rosen

The Arabian Nights translated by Malcolm Lyons

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Honey I Home-Schooled the Kids by Nadia Sawalha and Mark Adderley

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

Classic French Cookbook by Le Corden Bleu

Roots by Alex Haley 

Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins

Daisy Jones and the Six