Great British Backlash: The Nadiya Effect

Two weeks ago, a good 15 million of us tuned in to see Nadiya Hussain be hailed as 2015’s winner of The Great British Bake off. In this episode at least, it wasn’t a tight competition - with Nadiya sailing through the final 3 rounds, winning the test of technical skill and impressing Mary Berry and hard-to-please Paul Hollywood throughout. As they stood outside of the Bake Off tent surrounded by family and friends waiting for the winner’s name to be called out, there wasn’t an ounce of suspense in the air. It wasn’t even close. Anyone could have called it.

Nadiya was a strong baker and a big favourite with the public, as well as amongst her fellow bakers in the tent. We're a big fan of her vast array of facial expressions. Iconic.

Whilst her win was mostly met with hats off and congratulations from the general public, there were also viewers who expressed concern with the result – and hostile concern at that. Some claimed that the competition was set up so that the most ‘politically correct’ contestants would win. 30-year-old mother of four Nadiya had shown consistent skill and innovation throughout the series: with ideas ranging from fizzy drink cheesecakes to snake charmer themed breads, and all executed to near perfection. Yet people were convinced that it was all part of a diplomatic plan to promote cultural harmony. In voicing such views, these individuals were reducing a hardworking, passionate and authentic individual to nothing more than her hijab.

This does bud the question as to why religion is coming into the matter in the first place: we are talking about a baking competition here. As its title suggests, the programme is set in a quintessentially British location with Union flag bunting hung from corner to corner. Baking itself is somewhat British, and it’s something all of us can relate to whether you like getting creative, or eating the creations. For this reason, the show is loved across generations and throughout the UK. So why- with Islam being the second most followed religion in Britain- shouldn’t a Muslim woman win the competition? Why is this so shocking to so many?

I'll level with you: I am not the most avid newspaper reader. Yet I, like many, will pick up on stories and see internet posts on particular events. The media is more influential than we may think and it has the potential to shape our views on matters one way or the other. The interlacing nature of television, radio and news stories into our everyday lives makes the effect almost unnoticeable. I struggle to think of a time in which I’ve seen a news story or read an article involving Islam without involving elements of negative connotations.

It’s in this sense that her win is completely refreshing. Even going into the show, Nadiya herself admitted that she was worried people would take one look at her headscarf and doubt her baking skills altogether. Closing the final episode, she told the world how she is never going to put boundaries on herself ever again or say that she can’t do something. She can, and she will. The sweet sincerity that radiates from her personality deserves to be televised, written about, admired… even our favourite Mary Berry teared up whilst congratulating her on the win (along with half those watching…). The merriment was felt by many, and my hope is that the victory of this charming and unarguably talented woman softens the bitter and discriminatory nature of some of the responses to her success. After all, what better platform to demonstrate an exciting 2015 Britain than by enjoying the one thing that unites us all - the joys of food?

Edited by Sarah Holmes