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Why Nadiya Hussain has forgiven her parents for stopping her going to university

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Kayleigh Dray
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Nadiya Hussain

“They were scared that I was going out into this big wide world and it would corrupt me,” recalls Nadiya Hussain.

Nadiya Hussain became an overnight household name when she was crowned the winner of The Great British Bake Off in October 2015.

Since then, she has published multiple books, fronted several cooking shows, and become a household name. Indeed, the mother-of-three was even named by Debrett’s as one of 2018’s most influential people.

However, sitting down with top food critic Jay Rayner for his Out To Lunch podcast, Hussain revealed that she didn’t have the easiest start to her career, as her parents – fearful of what might happen if they allowed their daughter to go out into the world without them – told her she wasn’t allowed to go to university.

“My parents were so distressed at the thought of me going to university they just said you can’t go,” she recalled during her conversation with Rayner. “In our family, nobody had been to university so they were really afraid… they were scared that I was going out into this big wide world and it would corrupt me.”

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Hussain continued: “At the time as an 18-year-old, I didn’t see that. At the time I was really annoyed at them. I wasn’t angry, because I kind of knew it was coming and I have grown up in a community where the men do things differently to the women. I was never surprised once; I knew it was coming. I just thought I’d get away with it, but I didn’t.

“They just said you can’t go, and I gave up and then that’s when I got a job, head down, just continued working as I didn’t have a focus… I had really wanted to go to university. But now, having actually explored my parent’s immigration story, how they got here and the challenges that they faced I don’t hold that against them.”

She added: “Yes, I wish they had been braver just to allow me to see the world, but they were in a country that wasn’t theirs, and they were scared.”

In the same interview, Hussain touched upon her arranged marriage to husband Abdal, noting that many have incorrectly assumed that the couple were forced to wed.

“When people hear ‘arranged’, they think ‘forced’, and they are two very different thing,” she explained. “You must not mistake the two. Arranged is arranged and you get to pick them apart until you find the best person and it doesn’t always work out. Forced is a very different thing.”

Of course, Hussain’s marriage has been a happy and loving one – so much so that she remarried her husband in December 2018.

Writing on Instagram at the time, the Bake Off winner said: “Nothing fancy just love. No frills. Just us. We did it again. I do. I always will. I would do it all over again.”

In a tweet to his wife, Abdal wrote: “You can’t run away from me now. I love you to infinity and beyond Xxx.”

However, the couple have been dogged by online abuse from people who feel that the dynamics of their relationship are all wrong – particularly with regards to the fact that Hussain, not Abdal, is the primary breadwinner.

“In all cultures men are seen as the breadwinners,” Hussain told Rayner. “They are the one that brings the bacon home I suppose, and the world doesn’t work like that [we don’t do things like that].

“But it just isn’t like that anymore. Women work, men work and it’s a partnership and it’s a combination.”

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Of course, Hussain has been subjected to countless racist attacks herself on social media – so much so that she has, on occasion, been left feeling fearful for herself and her family.

“It’s really scary to be a Muslim right now,” she previously admitted. “Sometimes my kids will say, ‘Mummy, do people not like Muslims?’”

Speaking to The Times in 2018, Hussain went on to say that, while she used to do her best to ignore people’s misguided hatred and acknowledge the “dignity in silence”, she has now made a point of fighting back against the prejudices she faces.

As such, she’s made a point of using her position in the public eye to defend herself, as well as others.

“I have to justify my existence all the time,” she said.

“I’m a little bit of everything. I’m brown. I’m Muslim. I cover my hair. I claim to be British at the same time so I get abuse from every angle.

“I’m never a good enough Muslim. I’m not a good enough Brit. I’m not a good enough Bangladeshi. I think three years ago I would have just sat there and taken it, but not now.

“Now, I’ll say something.”

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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