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From fame and family to mashed potato sandwiches, a morning spent with Nadiya Hussain is fascinating, inspiring and always entertaining.

It’s a rare talent that can walk into a room and captivate their audience for an hour, armed simply with a smile and easy charm. But Nadiya Hussain, best known as the 2015 winner of The Great British Bake Off, had Engine’s Great Portland Street office spellbound during a captivating appearance this week.

Since winning, Nadiya has gone on to write books, film cookery shows and documentaries and become recognised as one of the most influential people in the UK – all while juggling the demands of raising a family and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

It’s her ability to achieve these successes while keeping her success firmly in perspective that has seen Nadiya catapulted into stardom and bona fide “national treasure” status. What’s more, as a British Muslim woman with Bangladeshi heritage, Nadiya serves as a role model and inspiration to millions of people across the UK – a role which isn’t always easy but is of undeniable importance.

From the inspiring to the entertaining, and the downright bizarre - here are five things we learnt from our morning with the Bake Off star:

1. Don’t let people stand in the way of your dreams.

As a child Nadiya dreamt of a career in archaeology, but she was told by a teacher this was impossible because her parents “weren’t rich enough”. She was later forbidden to attend university by her family, and names this among her biggest regrets. However, she later went on to pursue a childhood studies degree and even attended one exam with her ten-day old baby in tow (“They had to check the baby grow to make sure I wasn’t cheating!”). Her trademark determination has paid off, so much so that when one person asked her young son what his mum does, he replied, “my mummy lives her dreams.”

2. As parents, we need to drop our standards.

Nadiya counts her pre-Bake Off self among the stay-at-home parents who pressure themselves to have the perfect children, viewing their sons and daughters as reflections of themselves. But her success and the demands that come with it have given her a different perspective on what’s actually important when it comes to parenting – and when it’s ok to settle for less than perfection. Despite being famous for her culinary skills, there is nothing wrong with fish fingers but Nadiya’s favourite comfort food would have to be mashed potato (instant, not homemade), mayonnaise and tomato soup mixed together. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…

3. “I’m Muslim, I’m brown and I’m proud.”

On British television, public figures from ethnic minority backgrounds are in short supply, but Nadiya has embraced her role as a voice for Muslim women and a role model for many – despite the often difficult experience this presents on Twitter. “I will stay here for as long as we need representation, until someone kicks me out,” she said.

4. Do what makes you happy.

Happiness is completely subjective – and for Nadiya, writing was never part of a bid for fame and fortune: it was a way of finding peace and pleasure. “I’ve always written and put it in a box under my suitcase - I never had a reason to write, but I wrote because it made me happy,” she said. Pursuing her own interests is what has led Nadiya to her remarkable career spanning television, documentary making, writing, and public speaking.

5. Try and find a balance (but avoid the swimming run at all costs).

Being a public figure takes up a lot of time, however making time for family is essential. Nadiya puts her work aside when her children return from school, allowing her to cook their meals, and as much as possible protects her weekends for family time. Fame does have some advantages, however – specifically when it comes to swimming lessons. “I call my agent and ask if we can arrange anything at all for Thursday evenings,” she joked. “Forgive me for not wanting to pick up wet, chlorine smelling towels.” Who would blame her?


Aaron Gardner