“How are you finding life as a journalist? Do you find people dislike you?” Nadiya Hussain asks as I take out my notebook and set up my voice recorder. Um. The interviewee has become the interviewer, going straight in with the blunt questions.
The Great British Bake Off champion presses on: “Obviously some people have a preconceived idea of what journalists are like, and then suddenly just go ‘snap’, don’t they? That’s what I’m going to do today, be really mean to you.”
She cackles wildly, and I laugh along too, because Nadiya is the least mean celebrity you could ever hope to meet.
The first time I interviewed her was the day after her Bake Off victory, when approximately 263 journalists and photographers were trying to get a slice of Nadiya while fans queued around the block for a book signing. But she still found time to answer my questions: yes, she was delighted that she could finally get her trophy out from under her bed. No, she didn’t know what would come next.
She appeared tense and a little overwhelmed by her sudden fame, but 18 months on, the 32-year-old seems at ease, even though her life is impossibly busy. Having battled a panic disorder since before the Bake Off, she has been careful to look after herself: “I’ve become better at coping with it, and this last year has been really busy – but I’ve learnt to balance home and children and work and friendships and family.”
When Nadiya walked into the Bake Off tent, she was a stay-at-home mum with two sons, one daughter and a love of baking. Since walking out, she’s released a cookbook and a children’s book, hosted the Junior Bake Off, been to Bangladesh to film The Chronicles of Nadiya, baked the Queen a birthday cake, become a columnist for the Times, and made appearances on The One Show and Loose Women.
Oh, and now she’s written a novel, The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters.
Does she ever miss the relative tranquillity of her pre-Bake Off days?
“I think I’ll always feel slightly bereft,” she admits. “If I’d known, if somebody had told me: just enjoy your sleep right now, because come 2015 you are not sleeping or eating very well, living on chocolate, then I would probably have slept a little bit more.
“Every now and again I think, ‘Oh, I used to do this or I used to do that.’ But god – you know, what I’ve done in the last year is a dream come true. I am living my dream.”
Nadiya Hussain: “I’m a better mum now than I was five years ago”
She adds: “I think as humans we get to a point in our life, we think, ‘Why am I here, why did god put me on this earth?’ I remember having children, and thinking, ‘This is why, because I’m meant to be a mum.’
“But after Bake Off and after the things that I’ve done over this last year – god, I’m a lot better mum now than I was five, six years ago, because my kids get to see me work and be happy and raise them and still feed them.
“And they eat so much cake. I mean, come on! Luckiest kids ever, right?”
TV shows are full of clichéd ‘journeys’, but Nadiya’s growing confidence and her triumph in the 2015 final left viewers sobbing. Even Mary Berry was left watery-eyed. In one of the most memorable victory speeches in entertainment TV history, Nadiya choked: “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say, ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.”
It’s a moment that touched many Bake Off fans, but Nadiya insists: “I didn’t go on there to inspire anyone.”
She explains: “I had my own issues. I was nervous, I’ve got panic disorder, so that’s something that I’ll have forever and I’ll forever feel those anxieties. But I needed to do something for me outside of my husband and children, and just something on my own, and I knew that was important.
“So the fact that I meet so many people and get so many tweets from people saying, ‘You inspired us’ – I didn’t expect any of that to happen, but the fact that it has is a great thing, because I know how hard it is to break barriers and to be able to say that some have been broken means that somebody behind me won’t have to jump those hurdles, and that’s really important.
“I hope that I’ve knocked a couple of hurdles down for a few people and made that run-up a little bit easier for them.”
Instead of pitting bakers against each other and goading them into saying horrid things, The Great British Bake Off has (thus far) maintained a spirit of astonishingly friendly competition in the tent.
This is, it turns out, completely genuine – and so long-lasting that Nadiya recently invited her Bake Off pals round for a festive party that “went on into breakfast”. Guests were instructed to bring desserts, so naturally there was an outrageous quantity of cake to consume.
Despite the fond friends and delightful memories, Nadiya is in no way ready to return to the Bake Off tent. The Christmas specials starred old favourites, from traditionalist Norman to custard-theft-victim Howard, but surprisingly Nadiya says she wasn’t invited.
Would she have accepted if she had been asked? She drops down to a conspiratorial whisper: “No, no.”
“No thanks. It’s just, you need a couple of years to get over the tent,” she explains. “They had a couple of years to get over it before they went back in.”
She adds: “I wouldn’t have had time to put it in, so I’m not saying that I’d never go back in there again; it would be fun to go back.
“But I have been back in the tent as a judge on Junior Bake Off [above]. So I’ve been back, and that in itself was weird because I was on the other side of the benches. So I’ve had my taste of Bake Off, but on the other side as a judge, which was pretty fun.”