I’ve always been a fan of the Bake Off. Right from the start.
Despite having, at best, moderate baking skills myself. This gingerbread house is by far my greatest triumph. 84% of which is down to the truly remarkable mould. Lakeland at its finest. (And no, this isn’t a sponsored post.)
Regardless, I’ve been a devoted fan. For all of the years. Relishing the prospect of an hour of bunting-loaded telly where the worst that can happen is the theft of some custard, or the inexplicable baking of a royal-icing tennis racket. I held my breath when it shifted to BBC One, and very quickly exhaled when I realised that literally nothing had changed. Not even the jokes.
And so to last night. Where I found myself, along with approximately everyone else in the country, sobbing into my mug of tea as the current series reached its climax. Not in a single-delicate-tear-rolling-down-my-cheek kind of way. Not even just ‘sweaty eyes’, as someone on my Facebook timeline so charmingly described their reaction. Nope. I was full on #uglycrying. Which definitely gets my vote for hashtag of the year.
Not because the series was over. Not because I have to wait another year for the next one. Not even because, as a newly diagnosed gluten and lactose intolerant I could barely even have licked a single bake. None of that.
Or, as she can refer to herself from now-on – ‘the champion.’
Nadiya, who is raising three small children under ten. Who was worried that nobody would warm to her because of her headscarf. Who lost so many of the early technical challenges. And came back fighting. Again. And again. And again.
Rarely do you get the chance to watch someone’s confidence grow so visibly. Without an accompanying plethora of stylists and image makers, a carefully choreographed phone vote or a montage of strategically revealed backstory. Even more rarely do you watch somebody set their mind to a challenge, knuckle down, work hard and realise their potential before your very eyes. For that someone to be an ethnic-minority woman is gold dust.
Much has been made of Nadiya’s ethnicity. Her background. Her heritage. Her headscarf. Mostly thanks to the traditionally delightful readers of the Daily Mail Online who, only this week were crying ‘racism’ and suggesting that if Flora had created a chocolate mosque last week, she might have made it through to the final. Seriously.
The real beauty of the Bake Off is that, by the time the awesome foursome lined up last night, bouquets in hand to announce the winner in front of a tea-party full of friends and family, it didn’t matter where Nadiya’s family came from. What she believed in. Or what she wore. She could have been dancing on the picnic table in a can-can skirt and nobody would have cared. We loved her. As a person. An actual, quirky, brave, determined, cheeky person. The rest is just window-dressing.
And so we watched. And we cheered. And we sobbed.
I held it together for quite a while. When they called her name, I mostly shouted. Quite loudly. And then…
Then she cried. And I wobbled. And then her daughter walked past, telling nobody in particular that “Mummy’s never come first before.” And I was done for.
As, clearly was Mary Berry. In what may well be a Bake Off first.
All that, even before she made the speech that will almost certainly confirm her position as an instant national treasure. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nadiya Hussein:
“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can.
I can and I will.”
We don’t need any more self-help books. We don’t need any more apps. We certainly don’t need any more posters, with motivational quotes plastered over beautiful sunsets. We need role models. Real people. Real women. Facing their nemesis – whether that be puff pastry, depression, or chemical engineering – and succeeding.
People to inspire us. To encourage us. To make us believe that if we put ourselves out there, if we work hard and stay true to ourselves, we might succeed as well.
Which is exactly what the Bake Off, and Nadiya, have given us.
It was never about the cake.