ENTERTAINMENT
13/02/2021 06:00 GMT | Updated 13/02/2021 08:44 GMT

Great British Bake Off Winner Nadiya Hussain Says It's OK To Not Be OK During The Pandemic

"We’ve had a year of complete uncertainty, and it’s been really hard to navigate through all of that."

A year into a seemingly never-ending pandemic, there’s something calming and reassuring about watching someone complete a process from start to finish. In an episode of Nadiya Bakes – which just debuted in the US on Netflix after airing on the BBC last autumn – Nadiya Hussain makes a pull-apart pizza loaf, putting the flavours and textures of pizza into a bread loaf. As she demonstrates how to roll the dough into tearable segments and assemble them, she assures us that it’s totally fine if it’s a little messy.

“Don’t worry if it feels like it’s coming apart,” she says. “You made this dough. It’s your dough. Own it.”

Nadiya’s warmth, accessibility and candour first shone through in 2015, when she won The Great British Bake Off and blazed trails for Muslim and South Asian women on TV and in the food industry. In the years since, she has become a prolific author and hosted baking and cooking shows, including The Big Family Cooking Showdown and Nadiya’s Time To Eat. She has also used her fame to talk honestly about important issues that don’t get discussed enough, especially in marginalised communities, such as dealing with anxiety and imposter syndrome.

In an interview with HuffPost below, Nadiya talked about what she misses about the Before Times and the importance of expressing how we’re really feeling right now (we may or may not have admitted that we were both wearing pyjama bottoms below our Zoom screens).

I was just reading something about the “pandemic wall,” which I’ve been feeling a lot lately. Like, we’re almost a year into this. When is it going to end?

I totally get it. I mean, I keep thinking about, what was I doing this time last year? I was free this time last year — like, I was free to go anywhere. Freedom feels so far away. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is. I was going to ask how you’re doing, or I guess a better way of phrasing it: How are you holding up?

I mean, I could give you the honest answer, or I could lie to you. But I think I’ll give you the honest answer because I think we are all so used to just saying, “Yeah, I’m OK. I’m OK.” But the truth is no, no, nobody is. None of us are. Not really. You know, we’ve had a year of complete uncertainty, and it’s been really hard to navigate through all of that. I have really good days, and I have terrible days, and I have days in between. But I feel so fortunate that I live in my house with my cat and my husband and my children — I mean, they don’t go in that order of priority. I just happened to say the cat first. But I’m so lucky that I have that, and we have the space to kind of go off into our own spaces, and that’s nice. So I feel really fortunate and really lucky, but really missing human contact. Really missing hugs.

Same. Are there things that you’ve been doing to cope, like things that have brought you at least some temporary comfort? I follow you on Instagram, and I know sometimes you’ll post a picture of your knitting or something you’ve read recently.

Doing things outside of cooking and being in the kitchen has been really good for me because normally I’d just be in the kitchen, going at it, just cooking, baking, testing recipes. And it’s actually allowed me to just step back and do other things that I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time, whether that’s knitting or embroidery or just, like, redecorating a room. So doing those things has really helped. But what I’ve really enjoyed doing is going on Instagram and sharing — occasionally, I’ll get these nuggets of information or a feeling, and by sharing those feelings, I feel less alone. Does that make sense?

Yeah.

I feel less alone by sharing some of my anxieties or sharing a random tip. I find that’s really helped me to connect with other people outside, where I want to socialise and I want to meet people. That’s really allowed me to connect in a way that I didn’t expect to. I think people really appreciate the honesty because I’ve had really good days, and I have really bad days. A couple of days ago, I posted something about just calling someone random on your phone book. Just get in there and just call someone — and I did that. And it made me feel really good because I spoke to somebody I wouldn’t normally, so that’s really nice. So just sharing those little nuggets of useless information really helps, and I can hold myself accountable when I watch some of those back and say, “Right, come on. You were happy once. Let’s do this.” Yeah, that helps.

Speaking of the pandemic, I noticed while watching [your most recent show, Nadiya Bakes] how you included little bits of you trying to figure out how to share your bakes with the crew in a safe, socially distanced way. I liked how you gave us that little peek behind the camera. What was it like shooting this under Covid protocols?

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to get to the point where we were actually filming because, of course, there were so many rules in place. We had to make sure that we were following all of those rules, and I’ve got to say, the team worked amazingly to get to a point where we were out there filming. Even though we were in a bubble, we still socially distanced, we stayed away from each other, we got tested every few days. It was all really, really well-put-together, and I didn’t feel unsafe for a second. And at the end of that, during a pandemic, we were able to create a beautiful, beautiful bit of television. 

It was fun. It was really good fun, because normally I would have my children on set, or my husband and my family, eating with me. And it was really lovely because we got to break that fourth wall and turn the camera on everyone. Like, it’s weird because when people watch me, I think they forget that I’m looking back at six or seven different people when I’m filming it. None of [the crew] like being on camera, so it’s really funny because they’re all, like, hiding. And the reality is, they’re the ones that eat the cake, not me.

Something I liked about both Nadiya Bakes and Nadiya’s Time to Eat is that you’re really focused on providing practical tips and hacks, and you use a lot of ingredients that people probably already have in their kitchen, which is especially helpful right now, when so many people are struggling. Is that idea of accessibility and practicality something you think about a lot when you’re developing your recipes?

I would love to say that it’s, like, a really well-thought-out process. But it’s just the way I cook. I grew up in a working-class family, and saving and not wasting and being frugal was a part of everyday life. I think more and more people, as we are becoming more conscious of the environment and of our carbon footprint and how wasteful we can be, I think the more conscious we are of that, the more recipes like this and books like this become interesting to people. You can do all of those things — eat really well and save money and save time, and I think that’s a common theme throughout every recipe and every book that I write.

These days, it has been tough to get fresh produce and fresh ingredients because we’ve had to try to limit our grocery shopping and make things stretch longer.

It’s terrible for me because before any of this, I would go to the Asian supermarket and I would pick up okra and eddoes and Scotch bonnets and all the other kinds of ingredients that I wouldn’t find in a big supermarket. I really, really miss being able to just go to an Asian supermarket and pick up all the bits, and I totally took that for granted. I wish I could just live on beans on toast for the rest of my life, but I just can’t. So when I get an opportunity to go to those supermarkets, I buy as much as I can to keep me going and freeze what I can. It’s tough, but it does allow you to be a little bit more creative. Sometimes, I just open the freezer and say, “What can I get out of the freezer, and what can I cook today?” 

What else are you working on right now? Anything exciting in the future that you can talk about?

I don’t know what I can talk about and what I can’t talk about because I have no sense of time. At the moment, I’m just constantly writing recipes and testing recipes — as long as I’m doing cookery shows and I’m writing cookbooks, which is absolutely my first love. The pandemic has meant that we’ve all had to slow down just a little bit, and it made me realise that I have been working very hard for the last five years, so it’s been really nice to be able to work but still be at home at the same time. To be sitting here and be able to do this in my pyjamas. Can I say this? Bottom half is pyjamas, and this top half is [points at her jumper].

Me too, me too. I will admit that, too.

Yep. I am not about being fully dressed. I don’t know how I’m ever going to wear a pair of jeans ever again. I’m all about the elasticated waistband. I’m really hopeful that one day, that faster pace will come back. But for now, I’m really enjoying the slower pace.

John Stillwell/Pool via AP
Queen Elizabeth II cuts into a birthday cake baked by Nadiya Hussain, left, during the queen's 90th birthday celebration in April 2016.

Something I’ve always really admired about you is that I also come from a background where my parents are immigrants, and I grew up not really being encouraged to speak up and talk about how I was feeling, whether it’s anxiety or imposter syndrome. In those moments when you’re feeling a lack of confidence, how do you remind yourself that you can do this, you belong in this room, you’re doing great?

I totally hear you. I get that because, you know, I didn’t grow up in a family where we were celebrated or encouraged. It was just, you get on. You get on because I think growing up in an immigrant household, it was always about survival. It wasn’t about goals and achievements and being bigger or better. It was just survival. And I think it’s been a massive shift for me as a grownup, to come out of survival mode sometimes and say, “Actually, you don’t have to be surviving. You don’t have to be in survival mode all the time. You can actually enjoy what you do. You can actually be proud of your achievements.” 

That’s always been something that I’ve really struggled with. But it’s something that I’ve had to fight myself on because I have children, and I want them to learn that, yes, you can be in survival mode, but you can also be proud of what you achieve. In those moments when I feel like I don’t belong in a room, I have to kind of step back and realise that I have no option. I can’t always be in survival mode. I have to sometimes believe that I am good at what I do. I have to believe that I am meant to be in this industry, because the sooner I believe that, the sooner my children will believe that in themselves. 

The one thing I don’t want to be is a dishonest parent, because I’m really open to being vulnerable with my kids. They see my vulnerabilities, but they equally see a lioness as well. They see vulnerable, but they also see that I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. In those moments when I feel really vulnerable, I also remind myself that, “Hey, those kids are watching, remember?” So I’m like, “Hey, actually, I can do this.” And so whether I’m faking it or whether I’m telling the truth, eventually I hear myself.

This interview originally appeared on the US version of HuffPost and has been adapted for a UK audience. It was originally edited for clarity and length.