The reigning queen of cakes, Nadiya Hussain, who triumphed on the Great British Bake Off, has been hailed by commentators and fans alike for representing modern-day Britain and furthering the cause of race relations better than any politicians.
Her take on a cheesecake featuring a can of levitating pop, her expressive facial expressions and funny one-liners, all helped the hijab-wearing, Bangladeshi mother-of-three win over the hearts of a nation, with the prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne both rooting for her.
Nadiya is the first Asian Muslim to win the coveted crown. Despite her initial fears about being dismissed by viewers as a “Muslim in a headscarf”, Nadiya has become the face of multicultural Britain.
In the final, watched by 14 million viewers – the biggest for a TV show this year – the 30-year-old was joined by Tamal Ray, a gay trainee anaesthetist who was a huge hit with fans, and Ian Cumming.
Judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, the latest series of the quintessentially British show which sees contestants bake their way to a place in the final with a series of challenges, was criticised by some in the rightwing press as being too politically correct.
With two British Asians in the final, as well as a Lithuanian body builder and a Filipino nurse, this year’s BBC programme was the most diverse yet.
A day after she won, Nadiya’s fans, or #Nadiyators as they call themselves on social media, turned out in force to meet the self-deprecating champion at a book signing in Waterstones in central London last Thursday (8).
Molly Claire, who travelled to the capital from Dover for the signing with her younger sister Lydia, told Eastern Eye: “I think it’s more interesting if you get a range of people. It’s fair to say there probably was some engineering to have it more reflective of Britain.
“It is called the Great British Bake Off and the make-up was reflective of modern Britain and that works really well. Any accusations they are only there for that [PC reasons] is obviously nonsense. Nadiya was the best baker.
“Lidi relates to her in a lot of ways because she [Nadiya] didn’t expect to win. She didn’t expect that she was going to achieve this and she [Lidi] relates to that a lot. It’s that lack of confidence in saying you are capable of doing great things, even the little people.”
Nadiya, who grew up in Luton before moving to Leeds after she got married, said: “I’m a mishmash of everything. I’m a Muslim, I’m British, I’m Bangladeshi, I’m a woman, a mother, a wife. All of those make me what I am.”
For the final, the 4ft 11in baker made a lemon drizzle cake decorated with a red, white and blue wedding sari. She said: “I’ve had 10 years at home. Now I would love to do something where my kids can see that mum’s not just mum, she’s out there and she can do it.”
After she was awarded the trophy, Nadiya said: “I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say ‘I can’t do it’. I’m never gonna say ‘maybe’. I’m never gonna say ‘I don’t think I can’. I can and I will.”
She added later: “I’m both a domestic goddess and an alpha female, although I probably wouldn’t have said that a year ago.”
Ahead of the final, Nadiya said: “Just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean I am not into bunting, cake and tea. I’m as British as anyone else.”
In an opinion piece, journalist and commentator Yasmin Alibhai Brown said as a liberal Muslim woman, she was initially put off by Nadiya’s headscarf and severe look.
“Yet by winning the show with such grace, humour and dignity, Nadiya has done more to further the cause of Asian women – and men – than countless government policies, think-tanks, initiatives and councils put together have achieved in the past half-century.
“This couldn’t be more timely because intolerance and suspicion of Muslims is rising as British-born jihadis plot atrocities against the country they call home.
“But prejudice was helpless before Nadiya’s charm and talent. Bubbly, witty, intelligent, determined and modest, she’s become an accidental heroine.”
Dedicated blogs were affectionately created devoted to Nadiya’s quirky facial expressions and witty asides.
“I am so excited I could streak down this river,” she once said after a particularly successful week.
Nadiya’s “big fat British wedding cake” was decorated with jewels from her own wedding for the finale showstopper. She also pulled off perfect iced buns and took first place in the mille-feuille technical challenge.
It was her husband of 10 years, Abdal, who persuaded Nadiya to apply for the show and stayed up with her until the early hours as she perfected her cakes after her children had gone to bed. She even spent hours baking while fasting for Ramadan over the summer.
The Bake Off champion is one of six siblings. Her parents moved to Britain from Bangladesh in the 1970s, to escape a life of poverty and war. Nadiya was raised by her mother while her father Jamir Ali worked in a local Bangladeshi restaurant.
Even though she didn’t grow up eating puddings, she learnt about them through TV cookery shows and began baking in home economics classes in school. She later took two jobs to help her parents buy a house once she had left school.