Sunday 21 April 2019

This Man's Life: 'The (Second) Breakfast Club with Nigella, fighting existential gloom'


Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

I had lunch with a friend in The Merrion Hotel the other day. I hadn't lunched there in quite a while. But it brought back memories. The last time, admittedly, was a more than eventful repast. It was actually a brunch with the Queen of Food Kitsch herself, Nigella Lawson many years ago...

"I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat," John Mortimer once said. "There's no pleasure worth foregoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward."

At midday in the fine establishment on Upper Merrion Street, Nigella certainly appears to agree with Mr Mortimer's sentiment.

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She has just had breakfast in bed in her suite - "fried eggs, sausages, pudding, bacon" and "just a few" potatoes. And she is in the mood to have another full breakfast.

There are several very good reasons for the second full Irish.

"I am one of those people who you just don't want to be about if I'm hungry," the daughter of Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel, begins.

"I sink into huge existential gloom. I get really cranky if I haven't eaten. I feel both murderous and suicidal. It's like a kind of PMT before every meal."

(Along with fetishising food, Nigella has turned self-deprecation into something of a high-born art form. In 2006, on a trip to Manhattan, she described herself - in a black suede jacket, black suede boots and a long black skirt - as looking "like a man in drag".

Later, while helping a local reporter pick out food in Gristede's supermarket at Ninth Avenue and 24th Street for a dinner party, Nigella picked up some chicken pieces in the fridge and positively cooed: "Now, I would be quite happy with these thighs. Maybe with some honey and thyme. You can eat like Henry VIII."

That morning, a few years ago, the chummy, plummy and yummy domestic goddess drinks a "full-fat" Coke, and contemplates a glass of champagne before she has to catch her flight home to London.

Belgravia's most beautiful example of the Second Sex then orders two glasses of bubbly. One for her and one for yours truly.

Nigella's maxim has long been (courtesy of Mr Wilde) that the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. "I was really obsessed with Oscar Wilde when I was 16," she says.

"I wanted to go to Trinity College in Dublin, but if you didn't have any Irish at that time, you couldn't get in."

"Luckily," she trills, "I went to Oxford instead."

Nigella comes back to Ireland occasionally, she says. She and a girlfriend once drove around the country in a wheezing old car.

On that trip, Nige, as I call her - I told you she was chummy - remembers wearing a black dress with a big white collar and black-and-white striped tights with lace-up boots.

"Children all thought I was this kind of novice nun. I didn't know what to say: 'Good children'. Oh, I was very serene!"

Ms Serenity then recounts the story of giving a friend of hers her husband, John Diamond's, motorbike when he died of cancer in March, 2001.

The friend took it back to the motorbike shop. "Oh, I heard that he had died," the mechanic said. "I saw something about his wife being one of the most beautiful women in the world."

There was a wonderful pause, Nigella explains, but the mechanic concluded: "I don't see it myself..."

"That made me laugh more than anything," Nigella told me - finishing her (second) breakfast in The Merrion.

The world's most telegenic cook makes her excuses and leaves to catch her flight home (and possibly another brekkie on the plane).

For me, regarding the bosom-y and fabulously sensual foodie icon, it was a case of To Stir With Love.


A quick reader's survey. How did you wake up on Friday? I was awoken at 5.30am with my one-year-old son actually sitting on my head, wanting to play.

I don't think the little dote immediately understood his father telling him that now was not playtime and perhaps he should go back to sleep, or else I'll put him up for adoption (I didn't say that last bit.)

By the time I had got him back to sleep - at exactly 6.15am - his four-year-old dote of a sister had woken up and had come into our bed, wanting Peppa Pig.

That, as they say, was that.

I stayed up and made the whole family breakfast - just the one for everybody, mind.

Sunday Independent

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