Moving house comes near the top of the list of life’s most stressful moments, so it’s no wonder that Nigella Lawson has been looking a little tense in recent paparazzi pictures of her near her new $10 million West London home.
“But she’s not unhappy – far from it,” says a friend from her days at Oxford University. “She’s phenomenally busy, what with work, doing up the house and getting her kids through a difficult time. In fact, she truly believes that this is a fresh start and her new home symbolises that. This is about her – and not before time.”
A recent Facebook post showing off the pink kitchen she has installed sums up Nigella’s positive new mood. “Two words: pink sink!” she wrote. “Another happy-making one: mine!” The word “mine” is the key to her upbeat attitude.
After nursing first husband John Diamond through terminal cancer, then enduring a nightmare marriage to Charles Saatchi, she has been telling friends, “It’s time I thought about what I really want. It’s time for a bit more me and a bit less them.” She adds, “In life, you have to concentrate on the present, rather than fretting about the past or worrying about the future. Easier said than done, believe me, but cooking helps you learn that.”
This new approach was in evidence over Christmas, when Nigella holidayed in Thailand, not bothering with her usual glamorous appearance. When a photograph of her bare face and frizzy hair drew gasps, she shrugged it off.
“I did go to Thailand rather than spending Christmas lying on my bed reading at home...Doing nothing was the very opposite of tedium [and] infused with restorative calm,” she said. Later she shared her “dreamy, pleasurable memory” with her 1.3 million Facebook and 715,000 Twitter followers, giving happy details of what she ate while she was away.
The role food plays in her life is another thing that has changed. During her divorce, and a court case alleging that two former personal assistants had defrauded her and her ex-husband, she confessed to comfort eating “an awful lot of chocolate”.
Her new, slimmer figure is less a consequence of stress-induced weight-loss and more to do with a change in her attitude to eating. “Food is a pleasure for me and I am greedy,” she says. “But I’d rather have a bit of something delicious than a lot of something dull. I feel that cooking is a way of strengthening oneself. Being able to sustain oneself is the skill of a survivor. And I am no victim but very much a survivor.”
That applies to her professional as well as her personal life. Although her US television show The Taste is said to be under threat after a mere three million people tuned in on New Year’s Day (previous audiences have been nearer the seven million mark), the Nigella effect is as strong as ever.
The $270 red dress she chose for the launch of The Taste was such a hit that its designers, London-based Diva Catwalk, reported, “Our phone lines and the internet have gone into meltdown. She only has to wear a dress once for there to be a deluge in orders.” Her food recommendations have a similar effect, with supermarkets experiencing a doubling in sales of everything from goose fat to muesli in the wake of a Nigella endorsement.
Another recent and successful launch is her range of china and stoneware, which is called “Gingham” and is part of her $14 million cookware and homeware business. That is exactly what her old friends say she deserves.
Nigella has had enough real pain in her life to earn good fortune with interest,” says historian Simon Schama. He goes on to analyse her appeal – “It’s her deep well of authentic, unstuffy friendliness. That’s what her cooking is about – if I can do this, so can you and stuff the protocol along with the turkey.” As for the domestic goddess, she is learning to use cooking as a metaphor for life. “Acknowledge your mistakes and work out how to rectify them,” she advises. “It is in rectifying your mistakes that you actually go on to make something that is really your own.”
Words by: Kate Russell