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TV review: Nadiya: Anxiety and Me, and 15 Days

24 May 2019

BBC/RawTV/Phil Sharp

Nadiya Hussain

Nadiya Hussain

WHEN Nadiya Hussain won The Great British Bake-Off in 2015, it seemed like a watershed moment for our national diversity and inclusion: a practising Muslim first-generation Bangladeshi immigrant beating all comers in a peculiarly British art and craft, and doing so with modesty, grace, and good humour. This was an enlarging of who belongs here, what they find here to value and wish to share, and the significant contribution they make.

But, in Nadiya: Anxiety and Me (BBC1, Wednesday of last week), one of several TV contributions to Mental Health Awareness Week, she revealed the darker side of her story. Her brilliant cookery, she reckons, is a cover-up, a manic activity to keep at bay the crippling anxiety that threatens to overwhelm her.

She spoke about the constant pressure to be perfect, enhanced nowadays by unsleeping social media, to manage every moment of her life to reduce the possibility of failure. The film was her attempt, finally, to speak publicly about her condition (even her sisters had no idea), in the hope that she might thereby find a cure, and, perhaps more importantly, encourage the five million people diagnosed with chronic anxiety to seek help.

Cognitive behavioural therapy did indeed help: it revealed a range of childhood traumas — including a particularly vile act of bullying at her primary school which still haunts her, and her siblings’ life-threatening diseases — that would blight anyone’s life. The therapy encouraged her to face up to exactly what she avoids — making a spontaneous train journey to London; wearing her spectacles on stage so that she can, for the first time, see the audience that terrifies her — to confront the existential malevolence of her anxieties, to discover that they are not going to destroy her. On the contrary, she can destroy them.

Bravo to Channel 5 for presenting a drama series with a top-flight cast: 15 Days (Monday to Thursday of last week), an English version of S4C’s month-long Welsh original 35 Diwrnod. Unfortunately, it reinforced the convention that the principality’s predominant mode is familial rivalry, intergenerational hatred, incest, and violence, played out in gloomy ancestral homes haunted by unresolved tragedy.

Suspense was maintained by a reverse timeline: we started with the shocking image of a young man dying from gunshot wounds, then worked backwards: who could have done such a deed? By the end, we realised that almost every member of the clan had a motive, and the piling-up hatred and violence became so extreme, so baroque, as to verge on farcical. Traumatic incidents were passed over as soon as they happened, to make space for the next one. All the characters nursed a lifetime of lies and abuse.

The most skilled therapist would be hard put to devise strategies to heal this sorry family.

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