Well so much has happened…
I was the little curly haired girl who would sit in defiance when all the other kids in class would talk about how to wreak havoc with the supply teacher. I would sit and hide under my curly hair and say ‘no’.
Not much has changed since then; I still have a habit of saying no, but mostly to my long suffering dad. But a lot has changed too…
I have since had 3 of my own children who, not too dissimilar to my 10 year old self, all know their minds very well. So when I complain to my dad that the kids don’t listen, he looks at me with eyes that read ‘karma my dear’.
I was born in Luton in 1984, on Christmas Day. That was my claim to fame when I was younger. My eyes lit up when someone asked ‘when is your birthday?’ the answer at the tip of my tongue. Doesn’t have the same effect anymore now I am in my 30’s. My kids however still have some mileage with it ‘so people celebrate your birthday and Jesus’ birthday’? ‘Yes they do’ is my answer.
I grew up in a house with my mum and dad, and 5 siblings. Believe me, being one of six kept our home lively. I have two older sisters, a younger sister and 2 younger brothers. There was always someone to talk to. There was always someone to fight with. The best thing was, that there was always someone. What I did learn about myself very early on was that I didn’t want to have 6 kids!
I went to a primary school nearby and then went onto an all girl’s high school and came out with GCSE’s to be proud of. I went on to study A Levels in college and studied Religious Studies, English Language and Psychology in the hope someday to become a social worker. I made it into university but never had the opportunity to go and so decided to get two jobs and loved the world of work. It meant freedom of money and mind!
Unexpected as it was I met my husband in early 2005. I don’t know why at 20 I thought I was ready to get married, but I had met my prince charming and that’s what fairy tales were all about. You meet your prince and figure the rest of it out. Well that’s what we did anyway! Abdal and I got married in the summer of 2005 and moved from my home in Luton to Leeds. My only regret was that I should have checked on a map how far Leeds really was from Luton.
We learnt so much about each other. He learnt I wanted to bake, so he bought me an oven and I learnt that he loved cake. A lot of cake! So I baked for him every single day!
Just after our first wedding anniversary we had our first baby boy, Musa and then the following year we had our second baby boy, Dawud. They may have been the busiest 2 years of my life or at least I thought they were. I didn’t really know what I had in store over the coming years.
We moved several times in Leeds in pursuit of a better life for the children. I decided to do an Open University degree while pregnant with my third baby and finally had my baby girl, Maryam (or the pink one as we like to call her) in 2010. We didn’t know it but she completed our family. I worked at my degree through the night feeds, the nappy changes, the nursery runs and the long days. Life progressed but my desire to get my degree never left me so when the kids went to bed I worked on my degree and when I felt stressed I baked. I was baking my way through my degree on my path to become a social worker.
I remember forcing my husband to sit through tons of cookery shows and despite the grimace on his face, he did what all good husbands do, he told me he’s only watching because there’s nothing else on the Tele. We watched our first series of Bake Off and got hooked. I would sit quietly and observe techniques and get familiar with alien baking terms. He would sit through each episode and shout at the box ‘Nadiya you can do that’! And I would ignore him.
We watched 4 series in the same way until one day he presented me with a downloaded application form for the Great British Bake Off Series 6. After an evening of after school activities, mad rush for dinner, bath time and a tower of ironing, I gave him one look and said ‘no way’.
For over 20 years I suffered with panic disorder and he was the one who saw the worst of it, the lowest of the low. He was the one who propped me up every time I willed myself to fail. ‘I think you should do this.’ He said. ‘Your wings were clipped somewhere along the way but I think it’s time for you to fly’. So I entered Bake Off because he was right. I had lost myself in the madness that is life, I was everything, a daughter, a sister, a wife a mother but I still was nowhere near finding me.
I warned him that he would have to be with me when I fail and he would be that sad soul who would have to pick up the pieces. He promised he would be there but told me ‘you will not fail’. Packed and ready to film my first episode it became a day of many firsts for me. First time in a taxi alone, first time on a train alone, first time on the underground alone, first time without my husband to help, first time without my kids. My anxiety mounted, I perspired through the missed trains, the sweaty pits and the quiet tears. But I got there.
Every week I filmed and every week I thought I was the next one to leave. There were some near misses but somehow in the blink of an eye, there I was in the final. I had conquered so many irrational fears I felt like me again, the fearless 10 year old who defied her peers and said ‘no’. I didn’t need to win to find me anymore. I wasn’t reliant on a paper bag medication or even the comfort of having my children with me. But when they announced that I’d won the Great British Bake Off 2015, it all became a blur. All I remember is handing the trophy back to Paul and saying ‘are you sure you haven’t made a mistake?’
Life has changed considerably since then; we made the biggest long jump and moved south. I have since been so busy my feet have not touched the ground. I don’t know if I can still call myself a stay at home mum anymore but it feels like I am still one but with the added bonus of doing the most amazing job. I don’t have a title but when anyone asks my kids ‘what does mummy do?’ they always respond with ‘she lives her dreams’. So I suppose that is exactly what I’m doing.
I haven’t conquered my panic, but I never will. What I have done is fight it every day. With a left hook here and a jab there I have accomplished so much more than I ever imagined. I have written my first cook book Nadiya’s Kitchen, my first cookbook for children, Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story and my first fiction novel The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters. I have judged Junior Bake Off and fronted my own 2 part documentary in Bangladesh The Chronicles of Nadiya. I write a weekly column for The Times. It seems wild and unreal. But no matter how much I pinch myself it’s there. Real!
As if that wasn’t keeping me busy enough I have had a phenomenal few months doing it all again! I have written my second cookbook, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure tied in with my first ever cookery series for BBC2. I have written my second kids cookbook Nadiya’s Bake me a Festive Story and I am writing my second novel. In amongst all of that I have filmed a new cookery show for BBC2, The Big Family Cooking Showdown where I present alongside my friend Zoe Ball. Still between all that I love writing my weekly column for The Times.
Who knew? I certainly didn’t have a clue. All I am certain of is that I am grateful. For the opportunities and for the adventure that is my life.
I am firm believer that nothing is forever. I want to believe I will do this forever. But for everyday that I do it I will treat it like it’s my last, with gumption, with energy and with love.
Here’s for today, so we may live to dream tomorrow x