Britain's unlikely heroine

Sweet success for Muslim baking mum

LEFT: Mr Abdal Hussain and his wife Nadiya in a photo on his Facebook page. ABOVE: Mrs Hussain in action during one episode of The Great British Bake Off contest.
ABOVE: Mr Abdal Hussain and his wife Nadiya in a photo on his Facebook page. PHOTOS: ABDAL HUSSAIN/ FACEBOOK, THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF/ FACEBOOK
LEFT: Mr Abdal Hussain and his wife Nadiya in a photo on his Facebook page. ABOVE: Mrs Hussain in action during one episode of The Great British Bake Off contest.
ABOVE: Mrs Hussain in action during one episode of The Great British Bake Off contest.PHOTOS: ABDAL HUSSAIN/ FACEBOOK, THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF/ FACEBOOK

Bake Off winner treats judges' tastebuds, wins hearts of Britons with her wit - and overturns racial stereotypes

LONDON • Britain's melting pot has whipped up a new recipe for success - a headscarf-wearing Muslim mother of three from Leeds with a talent for turning sourdough, and more, into sweet treats .

Mrs Nadiya Jamir Hussain, 30, won the BBC's hit Great British Bake Off television series on Wednesday.

Over 11 weeks, she treated the tastebuds of judges to such concoctions as a fizzy soda pop-flavoured cheesecake, salted caramel, French raspberry mille-feuille, a blue chocolate peacock, and even a mountain of eclairs in the form of a nun.

Then, on the final episode last week, Mrs Hussain topped even those tantalising pastries by producing a cake decorated with a sari in the blue, red and white of Britain's Union Jack.

All that after her initial fears that she would not have a chance simply because viewers might be prejudiced against a contestant with dark skin and traditional attire.

The pint-sized Mrs Hussain, who stands at only 1.5m, admitted feeling "a bit nervous that perhaps people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake".

But she made no mistake where her loyalties lie.

In a recent interview with the Radio Times, she said: "Just because I'm not a stereotypical British person, it doesn't mean I am not into bunting, cake and tea.

"I'm just as British as anyone else and I hope I have proved that."

She certainly has. As viewers cheered her on to victory, her number of followers on Twitter rose to 55,300.

The BBC saw its final show chalk up huge numbers - a record-breaking 14 million tuned in for the final. Among them were Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who tweeted "Go Nadiya!!"

And it was not just her baking that pulled in the growing legion of fans. Mrs Hussain also delighted viewers with witty wisecracks and an array of smiles and other expressions that spawned a Tumblr site called the "Many Faces of Nadiya Appreciation Blog".

By the time the final started, the Muslim Association of Britain had found in Mrs Hussain "an inspiration to many British Muslims, and especially Muslim women".

"I think she's incredibly talented and it's really wonderful to see a British Muslim showcasing the best of Muslim talent in this country," said Ms Zara Mohammed, vice-president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, Agence France-Presse news agency reported.

Born to a Bangladeshi family in Luton, she grew up in the midst of other immigrants. Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, both Hindus and Muslims and many of whom set up thriving businesses, worked hard there to get ahead in Britain. Her own father ran a restaurant, according to The Telegraph.

She attended Challney High School for Girls, where she was known as a hard-working student. There, cookery teacher Jean Marshall encouraged her to try baking traditional British treats like cakes, puddings and pastries.

One neighbour, Ms Dipali Patel, 39, told The Telegraph: "I remember her when she was a schoolgirl and used to bring me the cakes she made for me to taste. Her carrot cake was lovely. And look at her now. On TV! She is such a lovely girl and we are all so proud of her."

More than that, Mrs Hussain is credited with helping overturn stereotypes.

Prior to the airing of the final, Ms Charlotte Higgins, chief culture writer for The Guardian daily, said: "Nadiya is the first British woman who wears a hijab to have occupied such a positive, joyous role in British mass culture."

Sadly , there was at least one brickbat. Even though past Bake Off winners have been exclusively Caucasians, Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell accused the judges of prejudice against a white contestant, Ms Flora Shedden, 19, who baked a chocolate carousel. In an unfortunate choice of words, Ms Platell wrote: "If she'd made a chocolate mosque, she'd have stood a better chance."

However, as the judges made their announcement, a tearful Mrs Hussain could not believe her ears. "There must be some mistake," she said.

Now Mrs Hussain is expected to cash in on her baking fame, as past contestants have. But there was another unexpected winner in the mix too - her 34-year-old husband, Abdal, described by fans as "super hot" when he turned up on the show.

As one viewer who identified herself as Matron tweeted belatedly: "Watched Bake Off final on catch up at 3am, so was too tired to tweet how GORGEOUS Nadiya's husband is. Creamed buns ooh err etc."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'Sweet success for Muslim baking mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe