Star baker Nadiya rises to a novel challenge

Nadiya Hussain.
Nadiya Hussain.

Star baker Nadiya Hussain has an unusual method of managing panic attacks.

“When I was on Bake Off, I used to have an elastic band around my wrist and used it for shock therapy, where you ping the elastic band which reminds you of where you are and that you’ll be fine.

“I wore it up to about week six, when it pinged off! I remember asking one of the researchers to find me an elastic band, and after that I used to carry spares.”

She had a panic disorder long before appearing on Bake Off, she admits.

“I could just have palpitations and feel sick and that could be it, or I could feel like I can’t breathe any more and someone’s watching me. That still happens, even to this day.

‘‘It isn’t any less of a problem than it was. It will always be there. To me, it’s like having a monster that hangs around with you and is always behind you.”

Since winning Bake Off in 2015, the 32-year-old mother-of-three has presented an acclaimed two-part documentary about Bangladesh, her parents’ homeland (last year’s The Chronicles Of Nadiya), written cookbooks, been a guest panellist on Loose Women and has just brought out her debut novel, The Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters, the first of three.

She doesn’t have the elastic band around her wrist any more, but says she still wears it every now and again.

“When I did the Queen’s 90th birthday cake, it was ping, ping, ping!” she recalls, smiling.

You sense there’s definitely a pre-Bake Off Hussain - the wide-eyed, nervous, unconfident cook - and a fearless, businesslike post-Bake Off Hussain, recently described as one of the most influential people in Britain.

Her first ghostwritten novel, The Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters, is a contemporary story about four Muslim sisters of Bangladeshi parents, growing up in a quaint English village.

Each has her own problems. Fatima is overweight and trying to pass her driving test; Bubblee is the feisty, rebellious artist who wants to get away from family tradition; Farah is the put-upon housewife and Mae is coping with burgeoning YouTube stardom.

The problems they face are ones many families will relate to, regardless of religion, although there’s an emphasis on finding husbands for the unmarried sisters.

Hussain grew up in Luton, Bedfordshire, in a Bangladeshi community where her father ran a chain of curry houses. He isn’t your typical Bangladeshi dad, she observes.

“He’s very open-minded.

‘‘His attitude is, you guys do what you want to do. I was the one who didn’t fancy finding a husband, so I asked my dad to do that for me.

‘‘I thought an arranged marriage would be fun.”

At 20, she married IT consultant Abdal - the son of a good friend of her father’s - in a huge Islamic ceremony. But she says had she not wanted an arranged marriage, her parents wouldn’t have minded.

“I’m very lucky - I know arranged marriage doesn’t always work.

‘‘I found it strange at first. I’d just turned 20. I think I was a sensible 20-year-old.’’

lThe Secret Lives Of The Amir Sisters by Nadiya Hussain is published by HQ, priced £12.99