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Nadiya Hussain: A Letter To My Teenage Daughter

Bake Off winner and TV chef Nadiya Hussain remembers being a “little dreamer” when she was a young girl – but says things changed when she became a teenager. Now a mother of three, she was asked by the BBC podcast Dear Daughter to write a personal letter to her youngest child.

Here, Nadiya reflects on how her childhood shaped her – ending with the words she composed for her 13-year-old.

From the moment she was born, I realised I was not prepared to bring a daughter into this world who would ever think that she was less than anyone else.

She is my youngest child. I have two sons as well – they are 16 and 17.

I knew growing up as brown Muslim boys would be hard for them both – but they have not had to deal with the hurdles and challenges facing my daughter.

There is an affirmation that I’ve taught them all – but especially her: “Elbows out.”

You need to make space for yourself wherever you go.

Now she is a teenager, I don’t want my daughter to lose the big dreams and bold ambitions that I lost as a girl.

At school, in Luton in the early 1990s, I remember learning about world leaders in history.

“That’s what I want to be,” I thought. “I’m going to become prime minister.”

But then somebody would say: “Well, have you ever seen a brown prime minister?”

And that particular dream would be squashed.

It makes you think how far we have come today.

Image source, PA Media

Image caption, Queen Elizabeth II cuts the cake Nadiya baked for her 90th birthday

As I approached the age my daughter is now, Nadiya the dreamer was disappearing.

I could see that the path ahead of me was to be different to that of my brothers.

There was a hierarchy in my family – and men were always at the top.

My brothers had freedom, they could socialise, and they could get an education.

Although I worked hard in my A-levels and wanted to go to university, my mum told me there was absolutely no way.

“You’re a girl, you need to get married,” she said.

I felt as though the person who once had been so lively was disappearing.

But now, when I look back, I am proud of who I have become. I think my children are too.

Nadiya speaks to Namulanta Kombo about the letter she has written to her 13-year-old daughter.

When I was a little girl, I never saw anyone like me on a TV cookery show.

OK, I might not be prime minister, but thanks to my passion for baking, I have become a British Bangladeshi in the public eye.

Baking built my confidence and helped me cope with my anxiety – I have PTSD and panic disorder. It helped me make connections with people, through the sharing of food.

Maybe the big dreams of Nadiya, the little girl, weren’t so unrealistic after all.

Both my daughter and eldest son love baking. My second son does the dishes. My husband on the other hand is a terrible cook. Once, as he was boiling eggs, they exploded and hit the ceiling.

My daughter is very smart, conscientious and kind. She rolls her eyes sometimes when I give her advice – but I know she is really listening deep down.

When I sent this letter to my daughter on her phone, she asked if we could frame it and put it in her room.

“Absolutely, we’ll frame it,” I said. I never want to lose our lines of communication.

My letter to my daughter:

This is your Ma, though when I speak, I know you do not listen. Not really. You shrug. You dismiss, you reel in disgust, as I suggest that I may know better. You look at me and all you see is your mother. The Woman, the person you have known your whole life.

You see what is stood in front of you, though often bedraggled. I am here. I am your mother. That is all you see. Not the person that came before her. Let me tell you a little bit about that little girl.

That girl, well, she was nothing like your mother. This girl, she was wild. She had great thoughts and even greater dreams. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. She spoke about how she felt. She spoke about change. She preached about fairness. Even at her tender age. She knew where she wanted to be. Despite the blockades that life had in store for her.

Sometimes I daydream and wonder where that little girl went. How did she disappear out of plain sight so fast? Then I look at you and realise you are that little girl. Same, but entirely different. Fierce, bold and bright, like your mother before you.

This is your Ma. Though even when I speak, I know you do not listen. Just know that the little girl inside me that I once was, and I once lost, is holding your hand. And we won’t lose another little girl ever again. Let your fire always be fierce. May your purpose guide you. Be the brightest shining light.