Nigella Lucy Lawson (born 6 January 1960) is an English food writer, journalist and broadcaster. Lawson is the daughter of Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Vanessa Salmon, whose family owned the J. Lyons and Co. empire. After graduating from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, Lawson started work as a book reviewer and restaurant critic, later becoming the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986. She then embarked upon a career as a freelance journalist, writing for a number of newspapers and magazines. In 1998, Lawson brought out her first cook book, How to Eat, which sold 300,000 copies and became a bestseller. She went on to write her second book in 2000, How to be a Domestic Goddess, winning her the British Book Award for Author of the Year.
In 1999, she began to host her own cooking show series on Channel 4, Nigella Bites, which was accompanied with another bestselling cook book. The Nigella Bites series won Lawson a Guild of Food Writers Award; however her 2005 ITV daytime chat show was met with a negative critical reaction and was cancelled after attracting low ratings. Lawson hosted the Food Network's Nigella Feasts in the United States in 2006 followed by a three-part BBC Two series, Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, in the United Kingdom. This led to the commissioning of Nigella Express on BBC Two in 2007. Her own cookware range, Living Kitchen, has a value of £7 million, and she has sold more than 3 million cook books worldwide.
Renowned for her flirtatious manner of presenting, Lawson has been called the "queen of food porn". She is neither a trained chef nor cook, and has assumed a distinctly relaxed approach to her cooking.
Her given name originally being thought up by her grandmother, Nigella Lawson is a daughter of Nigel Lawson, a former Conservative MP, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, and Vanessa Salmon (1936–1985), a socialite, "celebrated beauty" and heiress to the J. Lyons & Co. fortune. Her family kept homes in Kensington and Chelsea, and were noted for their luxurious life-style. In the 1960s, Peregrine Worsthorne wrote that Vanessa and her daughters looked "as if they had stepped straight out of a Visconti film set". Lawson's parents divorced in 1980. They both remarried; her father in 1980 to a House of Commons researcher, Therese Maclear (to whom he was married until 2008,) and her mother, in the early 1980s, to philosopher, Sir A.J. Ayer (they remained married until her mother's death). With Lawson's father being a prominent politician, some of the things she found most frustrating were the many judgements and pre-conceptions made about her. There was a time when Lawson did not get on with her father, mostly during her parents' divorce, and she became friendly with her mother only when she reached adulthood. Being unhappy as a child has been attributed, by Lawson, partly to the problematic relationship she had with her mother.
Lawson's school years were difficult; she had to move schools nine times between the ages of 9 and 18, spending some of her childhood in the Welsh town of Higher Kinnerton. "I was just difficult, disruptive, good at school work, but rude, I suspect, and too highly-strung", Lawson reflected. Her father originally chose not to believe the reports of her disruptive behaviour and thought the school had the wrong person. Lawson reluctantly attended a private school in the Midlands and later returned to London's Godolphin and Latymer School sixth form where she began to show skill academically. She worked for many department stores in London, and went on to graduate from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford with a degree in mediæval and modern languages. She also lived in Florence for a period.
Lawson's mother died of liver cancer in Westminster, London, aged 48, when Lawson was 25. Her full-blood siblings are her brother, Dominic, former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, a sister, Horatia and sister Thomasina, who died of breast cancer in 1993 during her early thirties; She has a half-brother Tom, and a half-sister Emily, her father's children by his second wife. Lawson is a cousin to both George Monbiot and Fiona Shackleton through the Salmons.
Taking part in the third series of the BBC family-history documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are?, Lawson sought to uncover some of her family's ancestry. She traced her ancestors to Ashkenazi Jews who originate from eastern Europe and Germany, leaving Lawson surprised not to have Iberian-Sephardi ancestry in the family as she had believed. She also uncovered that her maternal great-great-great grandfather, Coenraad Sammes (later Coleman Joseph), had fled to England from Amsterdam in 1830 to escape a prison sentence following a conviction for theft. It was his daughter, Hannah, who married Samuel Gluckstein, father-in-law and business partner of Barnett Salmon and father of Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, who together with Barnett founded J. Lyons and Co. in 1887.
Lawson originally worked in publishing, first taking a job under publisher Naim Attallah. At 23, she commenced her journalism career after Charles Moore had invited her to write for The Spectator. Her initial work at the magazine consisted of writing book reviews, after which period she became a restaurant critic there in 1985. She became the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986 at the age of 26. Lawson occasionally drifted into the public's eye, attracting unwanted publicity in 1989 when she admitted voting for Labour in an election as opposed to her father's Conservative Party, and then criticised Margaret Thatcher in print. Regarding her political relationship with her father, Lawson has stated, "My father would never expect me to agree with him about anything in particular. And, to be honest, we never talk about politics much."
After her stint at The Sunday Times, Lawson embarked upon a freelance writing career, realizing that "I was on the wrong ladder. I didn't want to be an executive, being paid to worry rather than think". In the United Kingdom, she wrote for The Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, The Observer and The Times Literary Supplement, and penned a food column for Vogue and a makeup column for The Times Magazine, as well as working with Gourmet and Bon Appétit in the United States. After just two weeks working on Talk Radio in 1995, Lawson was sacked after she had stated her shopping was done for her, which was deemed incompatible with the radio station's desired "common touch".
1998–2002: Cook book writing and Nigella Bites
Lawson had an established sense of cooking from her childhood, having had a mother who enjoyed to cook. Lawson conceived the idea of writing a cook book after she observed a dinner party host in tears because of an unset crème caramel. How to Eat was subsequently written in 1998, featuring culinary tips on preparation and saving time. The book became a success and sold 300,000 copies in the UK; The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it "the most valuable culinary guide published this decade".
Lawson then wrote How to be a Domestic Goddess in 2000, which focused primarily on baking and also became a bestseller. The Times wrote, regarding the book and Lawson's approach to its writing, "How To Be a Domestic Goddess ... is defined by its intimate, companionable approach. She is not issuing matronly instructions like Delia; she is merely making sisterly suggestions". Lawson rejected feminist criticism of her book, and stated, "Some people did take the domestic goddess title literally rather than ironically. It was about the pleasures of feeling like one rather than actually being one". The book sold 180,000 copies in four months, and won Lawson the title of Author of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2001, fending off competition from authors such as J. K. Rowling. One commentator suggested she won the award only because her husband was about to die of cancer. Lawson retorted, "I am not against pity, but I have no desire to be tragic". How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess were published in America in 2000 and 2001. As a result of the book's success, The Observer took on Lawson as a social affairs columnist.
Lawson next hosted her own cooking show television series, Nigella Bites, which ran from 1999 to 2001 on Channel 4, followed by a Christmas special in 2001. Victor Lewis-Smith, a critic notorious for his biting criticism, commended Lawson for being "formidably charismatic". The first series of Nigella Bites averaged 1.9 million viewers, and won her the Television Broadcast of the Year at the Guild of Food Writers Awards and the Best Television Food Show at the World Food Media Awards in 2001. The show yielded an accompanying bestselling recipe book, also called Nigella Bites, for which Waterstone's book stores reported UK sales of over 300,000. The book won a W H Smith Award for Lifestyle Book of the Year.
The Nigella Bites series, which was filmed in her home in west London, was later broadcast on American television on channels E! and Style Network. Lawson said of the US release, "In the UK, my viewers have responded to the fact I'm trying to reduce, not add to, their burden and I'm looking forward to making that connection with Style viewers across the US". Overall, Lawson was well received in the United States. Those who did criticise her often suggested she was too flirtatious; a commentator from The New York Times said, "Lawson's sexy roundness mixed with her speed-demon technique makes cooking dinner with Nigella look like a prelude to an orgy". The book of Nigella Bites became the second bestselling cook book of Christmas 2002 in America. The series was followed by Forever Summer with Nigella in 2002 on Channel 4, the concept being, "that you cook to make you still feel as though you're on holiday". Also in 2002, she began to write a fortnightly cooking articles for The New York Times, and brought out a profitable line of kitchenware, called the Living Kitchen range, which is sold by numerous retailers. Her range's value has continued to grow, starting at an estimated £2 million in 2003, and increasing to £7 million in 2007.
2003–2006: Nigella Feasts and BBC contract
In November 2003, Lawson oversaw the menu and preparations for a lunch hosted by Tony Blair at Downing Street for George W. Bush and his wife during their state visit to the UK. Laura Bush is said to be a fan of Lawson's recipes and once included one of her soups as the starter for the 2002 presidential Christmas dinner. Lawson's fifth book, Feast Food that Celebrates Life, released in 2004, made sales worth £3 million. In a positive review, London's Evening Standard wrote that the book "works both as a practical manual and an engrossing read. ... Nobody else writes so openly about the emotional significance of food". Lawson appeared frequently on American television in 2004, conducting cookery slots on talk shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
In the UK in 2005, Lawson started to host a daytime television chat show on ITV1 called Nigella, on which celebrity guests joined her in a studio kitchen. The first episode debuted with a disappointing 800,000 viewers. The show was met with a largely negative critical reaction, and after losing 40 percent of its viewers in the first week, the show was cancelled. Lawson later commented in an interview with Radio Times that on her first show, she was almost too frightened to come out of her dressing room. Lawson further stated that having to pretend to be interested in the lives of the celebrities on her show became too much of an effort. She also discovered, "I can't ever be a presenter, and won't do scripts".
Her third food-based television series, called Nigella Feasts, debuted on the USA's Food Network in Autumn 2006 for a 13-week run. Time magazine wrote a favorable review of the show; "the real appeal of Feasts ... is her unfussy, wry, practical approach to entertaining and quality comfort food. ... between the luscious camera shots and Lawson's sensual enjoyment of eating, Feasts will leave you wishing for an invite". Since the American broadcasting, Lawson signed a £2.5 million deal for the series to be shown in ten other countries across the world.
Lawson was next signed to BBC Two to host a three-part cookery show entitled Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, which began on 6 December 2006 and aired weekly. The first two episodes secured the second highest ratings of the week for BBC Two, with the first episode debuting with a strong 3.5 million. The final episode went on to become the top show on BBC Two the week that it was aired. Nigella's Christmas Kitchen won Lawson a second World Food Media Award in 2007. Her influence as a food commentator was also demonstrated in late 2006, when after she had lauded goose fat as being an essential ingredient for Christmas, sales percentages of the product increased significantly in the UK. Waitrose and Tesco both stated that goose fat sales had more than doubled, as well as Asda's goose fat sales increasing by 65 percent from the previous week. Similarly, after she advised using prunes in a recipe on Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, Waitrose had increased sales of 30 percent year on year.
2007–2009: Nigella Express and Nigella's Christmas
Nigella's Christmas Kitchen led to the commissioning of a 13-part cookery series entitled Nigella Express. The series began to air on BBC Two on 3 September 2007, suggesting ways of making simple and quick dishes. Lawson admitted the recipes were not "particularly healthy", although she added, "I wouldn't describe them as junk". The show became another ratings success and one of BBC Two's top-rated shows each week. The first episode debuted with 2.85 million viewers, a high percentage above the channel's slot average. The second episode's viewing figures rose to 3.3 million, and the series peaked at 3.4 million on 22 October 2007. Her influence with the public was again demonstrated when sales of Riesling wine increased by 30 percent in the UK after she had incorporated it into her Coq au Riesling recipe on Nigella Express. Later on a separate occasion, a similar trend was seen in the sales figures of the liqueur Advocaat after Lawson had endorsed it on the show.
The television series of Nigella Express was subject to criticism from the Daily Mail when it emerged that a bus Lawson was seen travelling on during the programme had been hired and filled with extras. The producers responded by saying, "This series is a factual entertainment cooking show, not an observational documentary and it is perfectly normal procedure". There was further controversy when it was revealed that the kitchens in which Lawson was seen cooking were in two separate locations; one in her home and the other in a London television studio. Lawson also came under criticism when viewers complained that she had gained weight since the debut episode of the series. Critics criticised the series for containing what they described as "scenes of gluttony not seen since the golden age of the Cookie Monster" and commenting that her "largesse may have left her just that little bit larger." The Guardian however, noted, "the food matches her appearance — flawless, polished and sexy". The rights to Nigella Express have been sold to the Food Network in America, and to Discovery Asia. The series was nominated at the 35th Daytime Emmy Awards in the United States for Outstanding Lifestyle Program, and Lawson herself for the Outstanding Lifestyle Host.
The accompanying book to Nigella Express was released in the UK in September 2007, America in November 2007, and later in Australia in 2008. Sharing the same name as the television series, the book became another bestseller in the UK, and was outselling another television chef, Jamie Oliver, by 100,000 copies according to Waterstone's. It was reported that over 490,000 copies had been sold by mid-December in the UK. Furthermore, the book was number one for a period on Amazon UK's bestselling books, and was ninth on their overall list of Christmas bestsellers in any category. Paul Levy from The Guardian wrote that the tone of the recipes was "just right. One of the appealing things about Nigella's brief introductions to each of them is that she thinks not just as cook, but as eater, and tells you whether they're messy, sticky or fussy". Lawson is now estimated to have sold more than 3 million books worldwide. Her Christmas book was released in October 2008 and the television show in December of the same year. An American edition of the book "Nigella Christmas" with a different cover photograph was released in November 2009 with an accompanying book tour of several US cities and a special on the USA's Food Network.
Presenting style and image
Though Lawson has enjoyed a successful career in cookery, she is not a trained chef, and does not like being referred to as a "celebrity chef". Furthermore, she does not see herself as a cook or an expert in her field. Throughout Lawson's television programmes, she emphasises that she cooks for her own pleasure, for enjoyment, and that she finds cooking therapeutic. When deciding upon which recipes to feature in her books, she takes the view of the eater, stating, "If it's something I don't want to carry on eating once I'm full, then I don't want the recipe... I have to feel that I want to cook the thing again".
Lawson has adopted a casual approach to cooking, stating, "I think cooking should be about fun and family. ... I think part of my appeal is that my approach to cooking is really relaxed and not rigid. There are no rules in my kitchen". One editor, highlighting the technical simplicity of Lawson's recipes, noted that "her dishes require none of the elaborate preparation called for by most TV chefs".
An artist's impression of Nigella Lawson by Paul Harvey
Lawson has become renowned for her flirtatious manner of presenting, although she argues, "It’s not meant to be flirtatious. ... I don’t have the talent to adopt a different persona. It's intimate, not flirtatious". The perceived overt sexuality of her presentation style has led to Lawson's being called the "queen of food porn". Many commentators have alluded to Lawson's attractiveness, and she was once named as one of the world's most beautiful women. She has been referred to as "stunningly beautiful, warm, honest, likeable and amazingly normal", as well as being described as having "flawless skin, perfect white teeth, a voluptuous body, ample height and lots of lush, brown hair". The media has also noted Lawson's ability to engage with both male and female viewers; The Guardian wrote, "Men love her because they want to be with her. Women love her because they want to be her". The chef, Gary Rhodes, spoke out against Lawson by suggesting that her viewers are attracted to her smile rather than the cooking itself. Despite often being labelled as a domestic goddess, she insists that she exhibits very few of the qualities associated with the title.
Lawson is also known for her vivid and adjective-filled food descriptions in both her books and television programmes, as one critic summarized, "her descriptions of food can be a tangle of adjectives." In a study conducted in 2007 on the readability of different recipes, the chatty and florid style of Lawson's recipes was judged to be confusing to readers with weak reading skills. Lawson has also expressed her surprise at how many reviews in the United States have mentioned her class and posh accent.
Comedians and commentators have taken to mocking Lawson's style of presentation, particularly in a regularly occurring impersonation of her in the BBC comedy series Dead Ringers, because they perceive that she plays overtly upon her attractiveness and sexuality as a device to engage viewers of her cookery programmes. Impressions by Ronni Ancona that further parodied Lawson's presenting style have also been featured on the BBC One impersonation sketch show, The Big Impression.
Lawson was in a relationship with human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC until 1988, when he left her for novelist Kathy Lette.
Lawson met journalist John Diamond in 1986, when they were both writing for The Sunday Times. They married in Venice in 1992, and had two children together, both born in Hammersmith, London: Cosima Thomasina (born 1994) and Bruno Paul (born 1996). Diamond was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997, and died of the disease in March 2001, aged 47. One of his last messages to Lawson was, "How proud I am of you and what you have become. The great thing about us is that we have made us who we are." His death occurred during the filming of Nigella Bites; "I took a fortnight off. But I'm not a great believer in breaks," Lawson explained, but she did suffer a bout of depression. After his death, Lawson kept all of the press clippings in what she called her "Morbidobox".
Lawson married art collector Charles Saatchi in September 2003, having drawn disapproval when she moved in with him nine months after Diamond's death. Lawson had also come under criticism when it was suggested she started her relationship with Saatchi before Diamond's death. Saatchi is worth a reputed £100 million, while Lawson is worth £15 million as of 2007, £8 million of which came from book sales. It widely began circulating in the media in early 2008 that Lawson had been quoted as saying her two children should not inherit any of the fortune. She strongly denied these plans in a statement on her personal website, which read, "Of course I have no intention of leaving my children destitute and starving — rather, this is a story that came from a comment I made about my belief that you have to work in order to learn the value of money".
Although both of Lawson's parents are Jewish, Judaism has played no significant part religiously in her life, but she believes that she has developed a somewhat "Jewish character". She was brought up without any religion and she considers herself an atheist. In one of her newspaper articles, she has shown a liberal attitude to sexuality ("most [women] simply have, somewhere, a fantasy about having sex, in a non-defining, non-exclusive way, with other women"). She has said that she often partakes in watching football and is an avid supporter of Chelsea.
Lawson is a supporter of the Lavender Trust which gives support to young women with breast cancer. She first became involved with the charity in 2002 when she baked some lavender cupcakes to be auctioned at a fundraising event, which sold for a significant amount of money. She subsequently featured the recipe in her book, Forever Summer with Nigella.
It was revealed by leaked Whitehall documents in 2003 that Lawson declined an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. As the daughter of a life peer, Nigella is entitled to the courtesy title of "The Honourable" and is thus styled The Hon. Nigella Lawson. However she does not use this courtesy title.
In December 2008, Lawson caused major controversy and was featured in various newspapers for publicly advocating wearing fur. Lawson also remarked that she would love to kill a bear and then wear it.
Lawson was featured as one of the three judges on the special battle of Iron Chef America, titled "The Super Chef Battle", which pitted White House Executive Chef Christeta Comerford and Iron Chef Bobby Flay against super chef Emeril Lagasse and Iron Chef Mario Batali, which was originally broadcast on January 3, 2010.
In January 2011, Lawson and her husband Charles Saatchi moved from Belgravia to Chelsea.
||5 episodes, Series 1
||10 episodes, Series 2
||Nigella Bites Christmas Special
||Nigella's Christmas Kitchen
||3 episodes, Series 1
||Nigella's Christmas Kitchen
||3 episodes, Series 2
||Top Chef (season 6)
||Iron Chef America: Super Chef Battle
||MasterChef Australia Season 3
- 2000: British Book Award — Author of the Year for How to be a Domestic Goddess
- 2001: WH Smith Book Award — How To Be A Domestic Goddess shortlisted for Lifestyle Book of the Year
- 2001: Guild of Food Writers — Television Broadcast of the Year for Nigella Bites
- 2001: World Food Media Award — Gold Ladle Best Television Food Show for Nigella Bites
- 2002: WH Smith Book Awards — Lifestyle Book of the Year for Nigella Bites
- 2007: World Food Media Award — Gold Ladle Best Food And/Or Drink Television Show for Nigella's Christmas Kitchen
- How to Eat: Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, Chatto and Windus, John Wiley & Sons, (ISBN 0-471-25750-8, 1998)
- How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking, Chatto and Windus, (ISBN 0-7011-6888-9, 2000)
- Nigella Bites, Chatto and Windus, (ISBN 0-7011-7287-8, 2001)
- Forever Summer with Nigella, Chatto and Windus, (ISBN 0-7011-7381-5, 2002)
- Feast: Food to Celebrate Life, Chatto and Windus, (ISBN 0-7011-7521-4, 2004) or Hyperion (ISBN 1-4013-0136-3, 2004)
- Nigella Lawson, A Biography, Gilly Smith (ISBN 1-56980-299-8, 2006)
- Nigella Express, Chatto and Windus, (ISBN 0-7011-8184-2, 2007)
- Nigella Christmas, Chatto and Windus (ISBN 0-7011-8322-5, 2008)
- Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, Chatto and Windus (ISBN 0-7011-8460-4, 2010)
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