Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe "remembers nothing" of the week her young daughter returned to England while she remained imprisoned in Iran.

The British-Iranian, who was held prisoner for more than five years, took part in South Hampstead High School's Speak Series event on May 1, which aims to help to shine a light on diverse experiences and perspectives.

Guided by headteacher Anna Paul, with questions from students Olivia Carp and Lois Cameron, Nazanin touched on harrowing memories in isolation, how she survived, and the 'bumpy' road to freedom since returning in March 2022.

Nazanin, who lives in West Hampstead with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella, spent four years in Tehran's Evin Prison falsely accused of spying and a further two under house arrest.

She landed back in Britain in March 2022 after the UK agreed to settle a £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.

Ham & High: South Hampstead High head Anna Paul with Nazanin Zaghari-RatcliffeSouth Hampstead High head Anna Paul with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Image: South Hampstead High School)

Nazanin was born in Iran in 1979 at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, and came to UK in 2007 with a scholarship to study for a masters degree in communication management at London Metropolitan University.

She met Richard through mutual friends and they married in 2009, welcoming Gabriella in 2014.

In March 2016, Nazanin and Gabriella, nearly two, went to Iran for Nowruz, an ancient celebration of spring, but she was arrested at the airport, and immediately thrown in solitary confinement for seven months.

She told the packed hall, in Maresfield Gardens, that the worst moment for her came after she and Richard decided it was in Gabriella's best interest to be with at least one parent.

Ham & High: SHHS head, Anna Paul, sixth formers Olivia Carp and Lois Cameron and Nazanin Zaghari-RatcliffeSHHS head, Anna Paul, sixth formers Olivia Carp and Lois Cameron and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Image: South Hampstead High School)

Nazanin said  said: "I remember when we decided she would go, the first week, I have no recollection of what happened to me when she left.

"I have got notes so luckily I can go back and read them but I don't have any memory, I lived in a coma, I sent my source and energy away with my own hands which was, like I said, a mutual decision, but I didn't have anything else to look forward to." 

She recalled her confusion at being arrested and imprisoned, recalling: "Every time they opened the door, I thought they were coming to tell me "I'm sorry, we've made a mistake, you're not the one that we wanted to arrest so apologise, someone would apologise to me and let me out but it didn't happen."

Bewildered and confused, she lost all sense of time which was exacerbated by artificial light in her cell 24 hours a day.

She said: "I did not know which day of the week it was and sometimes they don't take you out of the cell and you're left on your own.

"You have nothing to do so all you have to worry about is your day, today, because tomorrow might be your freedom day, who knows, but going through that one day was horrific."

Ham & High: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pupils Olivia Carp and Lois Cameron and headteacher Anna PaulNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pupils Olivia Carp and Lois Cameron and headteacher Anna Paul (Image: South Hampstead High School)

Paying tribute to Nazanin's hunger strike and fight to assert herself, headteacher Anna asked: "How did you find that resolve, that courage to keep fighting?"

Nazanin said: "Everybody all of us has something to hold on to when they are desperate, even if you're not religious, it doesn't have to be God, it can be love, it can be energy, something that you can hold on to when you're desperate and for me it was faith."

Nazanin said she needed "some sort of superpower to get through it" and went through a "mental journey" about the world in relation to God. 

She added: "I had a young child. I think my experience in prison would have been different if I didn't have a baby. I wanted to be sane, I wanted to be happy, I wanted to be a good mother to her." 

Home now for two years, she said she's "still humbled" by people whereever she goes. 

"I also still feel freedom is bumpy and complicated," she added. "You have to reconnect back.

"Freedom changes you. I did not pick up the things I had left six years before. I came to a life that had been transformed by Covid.

"My daughter was not two but eight when I came back. I had changed, my husband had changed, West Hampstead had changed.

"I still have a long way to go, I think."