As Bake Off enters its 2015 final, Radio Times spoke to Nadiya to find out more about the contestant who has consistently impressed Paul and Mary with her creations in the kitchen…
The 30-year-old full-time mum lives in Leeds with her husband, an IT specialist, and their three children, aged nine, eight and four. She is also studying for an Open University degree in childhood and youth studies.
Nadiya, how did you manage to practise all the recipes?
I would get the children to bed and then I’d practise until about two or three in the morning. I would do the same recipe every day until I got it right. I couldn’t do it in the day as I had all the housework to do – but once the kids were in bed and I had nobody bothering me or asking me for things, I could focus completely on what I had to do.
Do you have a good kitchen?
It’s a big kitchen with an area devoted to preparation and utensils. It’s the place where we spend most of our time, we always gravitate towards the kitchen. I’ve always been an enthusiastic cook. I grew up in a family where cooking was a must, but I picked up baking at school.
My first experience was aged 12, at Challney High School in Luton. I had to make puff pastry in my first class. I remember my teacher Mrs Marshall saying I was really good. I got so into it that when Mrs Marshall used to prepare for her next class at lunchtime I would sneak in and watch her. She never minded. Eventually she said I could give her a hand. Over four years I got quite good.
I love making British classics, things that Mrs Marshall taught me. I wonder if she has been watching Bake Off, because she was definitely the person who inspired me.
Did you put on any weight?
I did. I put on half a stone! Which I’m still struggling to get off, actually.
What made you apply?
I was too afraid to apply, but my husband encouraged me. He said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” So I did it. I’m amazed I’ve got so far on the show. As the weeks went by my confidence improved, although I think I have the sort of face that always looks really nervous.
Is baking in your family?
My family is from Bangladesh, and we don’t really have desserts in our culture. If there are sweet things to eat, they are eaten as a snack beforehand. But once I started to make desserts, crumbles and pies at home, it caught on. Now my family always expect one!
How are you coping with fame?
Life has changed since Bake Off. Everywhere I go, people stop me to take pictures. It makes a one-hour trip take about three hours. My husband has become a very good photographer! He’s enjoying it so much, too. It’s been really nice, actually.
Has everyone’s response been positive?
Originally, I was a bit nervous that perhaps people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake. But I hope that week by week people have realised that I can bake – and just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean that I am not into bunting, cake and tea.
I’m just as British as anyone else, and I hope I have proved that. I think the show is a fantastic representation of British society today. The feedback I have had reveals how accepting people are of different cultures and religions. Now people know who I am, I can see how tolerant and accepting British society is.