Thursday 23 November 2017

The TV guide: The New Nigella

Nigella Lawson is back, with a new TV series. Now 55, the original domestic goddess is as determined as ever to succeed, on her own terms

Nigella Lawson returns with a new TV series.
Nigella Lawson returns with a new TV series.

Emily Hourican

The launch of a new Nigella series and book is always an event, one usually attended by plenty of commentary on how she's looking, what she's wearing, what she weighs. This year, we got a slimmer Nigella - thanks to Iyengar yoga, apparently - but still with the same lustrous mane of hair, bright eyes and glowing complexion.

But what really shines through is her ­determination, that commitment she makes, still, to doing this well. There is nothing half-hearted about Nigella's continued career. Despite having proved herself repeatedly, and presumably without the incentive of making a living, she approaches each new series with an impressive spirit of wanting to win. This time around, she spelled out what seems to be her philosophy: "My words of advice would be 'do it now', that's so important, otherwise it doesn't get done. You must always risk failure. Failure doesn't matter, but not trying matters." Nigella is a trier, and always has been.

As part of the publicity roll, there were various ready-made soundbites about how she wouldn't impress judges on the Great British Bake Off because the recipes are "too complex" for her; how much she dislikes juices and the term "eating clean"; how fame makes her "cringe". However, alongside the run-of-the-mill snippets, there was, as always with Nigella, a tantalising hint of something more profoundly personal. The fact that, because of her family history - her mother and sister both died young of cancer - she doesn't "make plans", and that she wore a "mask" during the very public breakdown of her marriage to Charles Saatchi. This is where her real strength lies - the ability to invite the public into her endlessly dramatic life just enough for them to believe they know her, but without ever revealing very much of herself. So we know about the tragedy of her marriage to John Diamond, the years when he suffered with cancer of the tongue, and then died aged just 47. We know about the very different tragedy of her marriage to Saatchi, the man apparently hand-picked by Diamond to take care of her, and the horribly public end to that after he was photographed with his hands around her throat outside Scott's restaurant in Mayfair. We know disconcerting things about the drug use alleged by her former personal assistants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo.

But, through it all, Nigella has been skilful at keeping her most private self secret. The public version - all sharp wit and ready wisdom, with a voluptuous appreciation of life and food - is so seductive that, mostly, that's the one we settle for. That there is ­another, more uncertain Nigella is only hinted at in her darkest moments, and even then it is more a matter of expression than any outright confession. "When your life is difficult, to acknowledge it sounds like moaning, and when your life isn't difficult, to acknowledge it sounds smug. If you have to choose between moaning or smugness, I think silence is the way to go," she once said to me in an interview for this paper, and clearly that has consistently been her mantra.

It's one that works. She has so successfully uncoupled herself from Charles Saatchi as to leave him in the dust. She has faced down the drug allegations, showing them to be "totally scurrilous", as she always claimed they were. And instead of quietly vanishing into her wealth and mystique, she continues working and striving. Some years ago, on The Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy asked her why she bothered working when she was married into such wealth. Her response was a variation on Billie Holiday's famous song - God Bless The Child That's Got His Own. The real charm was how shocked she seemed that he would even ask.

'Simply Nigella' starts tomorrow on BBC2 at 8.30pm

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