Hussain, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mom of Bangladeshi background, beat fellow finalists, anesthesiologist-in-training Tamal Ray and travel photographer Ian Cumming, as a record 14.5 million viewers tuned in to watch her victory on Wednesday evening.
Everyone from London’s bookies to Prime Minister David Cameron (who rushed home from a Conservative party conference in Manchester to watch) loudly favored Hussain ahead of the final competition in which the impressively calm baker sailed through, wowing the judges with her iced buns, mille feuille and gorgeously decorated lemon drizzle wedding cake.
This is the sixth season of the Great British Bake Off, which first aired on BBC Two in the summer of 2010. The show’s premise is a bake-off between a dozen amateurs chosen from applicants from all over Britain, who compete in a bright, airy kitchen housed in a massive white tent pitched in a field somewhere in the British countryside.
Each episode involves three baking challenges: the signature bake (a tried-and-true recipe); the technical challenge (a surprise recipe the bakers are usually unfamiliar with); and the showstopper (a baking masterpiece meant to show off all the bakers’ skills). Each week there is a different theme, from cake to bread to pastry and beyond. And each week one competitor rises above the rest to be crowned “star baker,” while one crashes and burns and is asked to leave the show.
Since the show’s inception, it has been hosted by entertainers Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who do their best to use their pun-filled humor to bring levity when things heat up. Judges are Mary Berry, a British cookery legend, and Paul Hollywood, a professional baker with a thick Liverpudlian accent and intimidating ice blue eyes.
The show’s success has reached far beyond the British Isles, with versions broadcast in 17 different countries around the world.
The diminutive Hussain’s Bake Off start was rather inauspicious, but she soon found her footing and starting turning out creative, delicious and technically masterful dishes. She charmed the judges with items like her edible giant peacock centerpiece and floating soda pop can dessert.
At times, her creativity took her close to the edge, or what the Bake Off hosts and judges refer to as the “drop zone.” Fortunately, she was able to recover from missteps such as her gag-inducing peppermint and bubblegum flavored eclairs.
Weeks before the finale, Hussain had already baked her way into the hearts of her fellow countrymen. Viewers fell in love with her plentiful quirky facial expressions, self-deprecating sense of humor, and bubbly personality — all caught on camera both inside the tent and during the cut-away interviews with the bakers. Blogs and fansites dedicated to Hussain’s facial expressions abound.
Some see Hussain’s popularity and victory as signs of strong acceptance of diversity in today’s Britain.
“Nadiya’s popularity has demonstrated how the vast majority of people in Britain embrace diversity and inclusivity, and are certainly not going to dismiss her based on religion, race or attire. That an Asian Muslim woman in a headscarf can win a thoroughly British competition proves that ‘Britishness’ is a broader and more open concept than some would like us to think. It proves that whether you choose to wear a headscarf, a turban or a bowler hat, Britain is not limited by homogeneity but strengthened by diversity,” wrote Remona Aly in the Guardian.
Indeed, Hussain’s often ended each episode of the Bake Off with her hijab and long sleeves covered in flour and flecked with bits of royal icing. However, her modest attire obviously did not get in the way of her baking her cake and eating it too. As the winner of the Bake Off, she can expect lucrative opportunities to be coming her way soon.