Nadiya Hussain says the responsibility she feels to challenge the lack of diversity in TV can be “exhausting”

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Lauren Geall
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Nadiya Hussain

Speaking in a new interview, Great British Bake Off star Nadiya Hussain spoke about the struggles she has faced in creating space for herself in the predominantly white TV industry – and opened up about how the responsibility she feels to challenge racism can be “exhausting”.

Nadiya Hussain isn’t one to stay silent when it comes to conversations about racism and diversity in the entertainment industry – but that doesn’t mean doing so is at all easy. 

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian to talk about her new book and series, Nadiya Bakes, The Great British Bake Off winner explained how the responsibility she feels to start conversations and push for greater diversity can be draining – and that she hasn’t always wanted to start these “uncomfortable” conversations.

“What I’ve learned in the past five years is that the change I want to see, I have to see in myself first,” Hussain explains. “I am a brown Muslim woman, working in a very male-dominated, Caucasian industry. And if you’d asked me five years ago, what does it feel like to be a Muslim, I wouldn’t have entertained it.”

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She continues: “Five years ago, I wouldn’t have had these conversations, because they would have made me uncomfortable, because part of me wants to be a part of the white, middle-aged, Caucasian industry. I want to just blend in. But the truth is, I’m never going to blend in.

“They will always tower over me, they will always be whiter than me, and they will be more English than I am, and they’re men. I will never, ever blend in. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that, rather than trying to blend in, I’m going to create space.”

Although people have repeatedly told her there “isn’t a problem” when it comes to diversity in the cookery and publishing industries, Hussain says she will continue to call out problems where she sees them and start conversations – and hopes her efforts will encourage more people to acknowledge that these problems exist and take action.

Nadiya Hussain
Nadiya Hussain is always a joy to watch.

“I’ve had conversations with people who have said: ‘oh, you know, I have Black friends. I’m not racist.’ That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be having this conversation!” she says.

“That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. I suppose for me it will always be more than just a job. And it’s really tiring,” she continues.

“I’d love to [only talk about her cookbooks and television shows], because that would be the easy way. But I also understand the responsibility of needing to talk about these things. It comes with great responsibility, but it’s also quite exhausting at the same time.”

This isn’t the first time Hussain has spoken out about how she’s struggled to feel like she belongs in the TV industry because of the glaring lack of diversity.

Speaking to Radio Times earlier this year, she said talking about racism had always been difficult for her, because she feared doing so would jeopardise her career.

“I now work in an industry that’s very much middle-aged, Caucasian, male, and there I am – a five-foot-one Muslim brown girl, and it’s not my world,” she said. “If I ever feel like I’m complaining about anything, I have this god-awful fear that nobody will want to work with me ever again. So, I’m really scared.”

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As she reflects on her five years in the television industry, it’s clear that, despite this fear, Hussain isn’t going to stop creating space for herself – and in doing so, is paving the way for those who want to follow in her footsteps.

“Now people say to me, ‘My daughter wants to do exactly what you’re doing,” she told the Radio Times. “And that is a lovely thing to hear.”

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.