Sunday 23 November 2014

Back in 'Vogue': a fresh start for Nigella

Last year was an annus horribilis for Nigella Lawson but 2014 is shaping up quite nicely

Donal Lynch

Published 09/03/2014 | 02:30

Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson in 'Vogue'

It's been almost exactly 20 years since Nigella Lawson first penned the food column for Vogue which would lead to her book deal (How To Eat sold 300,000 copies in the UK), TV show and global superstardom.

So it is perhaps fitting that after her annus horribilis featuring divorce, public throat grabbing by now ex-husband Charles Saatchi, and damaging revelations of her drug use, the one-time Domestic Goddess would go back to where all her ladders started: the glossy pages of the Conde Nast flagship.

The selling point of the whole venture is that Nigella herself has been fairly thoroughly de-glossed. The imposing Cleopatra war paint of the courtroom has been muted to a more natural, scrubbed – though assuredly not makeup-free – look. The headline is Fresh Start – get it? – and our heroine has eschewed the mascara trowel in favour of a lighter, more homely vision of matronly pulchritude. Even the airbrush was deployed judiciously, according to the magazine. Some felt that she needed a bout of reinvention after the court case and this photo shoot serves that purpose much more than her recent appearances on The Taste, where there were too many cooks in the kitchen. The whole thing seemed to have been rushed out with undue haste and the critics were less than kind.

In excerpts released by Vogue this week, (the magazine itself will go on sale tomorrow – Monday) she talks about her very difficult relationship with her mother, an heiress to the Lyons tea fortune. Previously Nigella had said that Vanessa Salmon was a depressive who beat her in jealous rages and that to this day, she never cries because she trained herself not to display such emotion – evident in her stoical countenance during the recent court case.

Nevertheless, her mother's recipes have featured heavily in her writing over the years. In perhaps an oblique reference to Saatchi, the TV chef said she still uses Vanessa's recipes "because we worked in the kitchen and that's the part I like to focus on. And besides, relationships are complicated, as are people. The bad bits are certainly not the whole."

During the trial of her former personal assistants, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, there was much focus on the Dionysian excesses of Nigella's personal life and her drug use.

The Vogue interview reveals that even in her college years, she "ran with a very glamorous set, including Hugh Grant and the Gaveston Society, a club devoted to hedonistic excess". Still, Nigella insists, it was "people who interest me, not parties or social life." Her father, Nigel, was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher's government and is today Baron Lawson of Blaby.

The Vogue interview recounts a moment when Nigella injured her back en route home from a party and had to be hospitalised. Nigel was furious when the hospital released Nigella too soon and her riposte is recalled in the interview. "Well" she is quoted as saying, "you were the one who made the cuts in the first place." Doubtless two people who will be reading the interview with interest are Charles Saatchi and his new squeeze, Trinny Woodall (of Trinny and Susannah fame). She and Nigella have been conducting a sort of passive aggressive war, waged solely through the medium of recipes and bitchy style tips.

Trinny recently told a website for fifty-somethings, "It's great that at 50, life can still grab you by the throat and shake you up" before adding:

''If you used to like showing your cleavage, just be aware your skin probably looks like old chammy-leather now. So wear something round-necked. You can still show off your shape." Of course, Nigella wasn't long cottoning on to this little game tweeting 'slut's spaghetti' as 'recipe of the day' adding 'do I need to say anything more?'

The necklines are indeed noticeably rounder but the cleavage is still defiantly on display for Vogue and in this Nigella will have her legion of supporters (including David Cameron) cheering her on.

She probably can't take total credit for the new look – the Vogue editorial team would never allow a subject the power of veto over something as precious as their cover. Still it is a canny move for her and the magazine's editors to show us a less steely, imperious vision of the woman who seemingly is loved all the more for her recent failings. While still looking incredible, of course.

Sunday Independent

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