Nigella Lucy Lawson (born 6 January 1960) is an English food writer, journalist and broadcaster. Lawson was born to Baron Nigel Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Vanessa Salmon, whose family owned the J. Lyons and Co. empire. After graduating from the University of Oxford, Lawson started to 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 cookery 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.
Lawson's career underwent a significant change in 2000 when she began to host her own cookery series on Channel 4, Nigella Bites, which was accompanied with another bestselling cookery book. The Nigella Bites series proved to be successful, winning Lawson a Guild of Food Writers Award. Her 2005 ITV daytime chat show was met with a negative critical reaction and was cancelled after attracting low ratings. In the United States in 2006, Lawson hosted the Food Network's Nigella Feasts, followed by a three-part BBC Two series, Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, in Britain. 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 cookery 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. Lawson has demonstrated influence as a food commentator, after some products used on her shows saw their sales figures increase.
Lawson's school years were difficult; she had to move schools nine times between the ages of nine and 18. "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 University with a degree in medieval and modern languages. She also lived in Florence for a period.
Lawson's mother died of liver cancer at the age of 48 in 1985, when Lawson was 25. Her siblings include her late sister Thomasina, who died of breast cancer in 1993 during her early thirties; another sister, Horatia; and a brother, Dominic, former editor of The Sunday Telegraph. She is also 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, lower-class 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. The episode first broadcast on 11 October 2006 was watched by 6.1 million viewers.
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 penned a food column for Vogue and a makeup column for The Times Magazine, as well as working with Gourmet and Bon Appetit 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".
She then brought out a second bestselling book in 2000, How to be a Domestic Goddess, which focused primarily on baking, and The Observer took on Lawson as a social affairs columnist. 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 only won the award 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.
Lawson next hosted her own cookery television series, Nigella Bites, which ran from 2000 to 2001 on Channel4, 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 with 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, of which Waterstone's book stores reported sales of 300,000 in Britain. 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 bought by American television, being broadcast on E! and Style Network. Lawson commented, "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". Lawson was well received overall in the United States, but one newspaper there suggested that she was too flirtatious for American screens; a critic from The New York Times wrote, "Lawson's sexy roundness mixed with her speed-demon technique makes cooking dinner with Nigella look like a prelude to an orgy". Another asserted however, "She brings to life the sensual aspects of cooking. ... It is the rare example of great food television", whilst The Dallas Morning News was less impressed and wondered why the public would follow her recipes and believed that her "attractiveness far outweighs her cooking skills". The book of Nigella Bites became the second bestselling cookery book of Christmas 2002 in America. The series was followed by Forever Summer with Nigella in 2002 on Channel4, 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.
In Britain 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 3.50 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.
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". 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 Britain, 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 Britain. 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, and according to The Daily Telegraph, she is collecting recipes and ideas for a new book on Christmas cooking. Lawson is also considering releasing her own food range.
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".
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 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 take preference to her smile rather than the cooking itself. Despite often being labelled as a domestic goddess, she insists that she inhabits 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 television comedy series Dead Ringers, who 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, Big Impression.
Lawson later 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 the death of Diamond. They currently live in a £7 million home in Eaton Square in London's exclusive Belgravia district. Saatchi is worth a reputed £100 million, while Lawson herself 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 reckons that she has developed a somewhat "Jewish character". She was brought up without any religion and she considers herself an atheist. Lawson has said that her two children have retained atheist beliefs. 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 football club.
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 has 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.
|Year||Programme||Episodes and duration|
|2000||Nigella Bites||Series one: 5 x 30 minute episodes|
|2001||Nigella Bites||Series two: 10 x 30 minute episodes|
|2001||Nigella Bites Christmas Special||1 x 60 minute episode|
|2002||Forever Summer||8 x 30 minute episodes|
|2005||Nigella||20 x 60 minute episodes|
|2006||Nigella Feasts||13 x 30 minute episodes|
|2006||Nigella's Christmas Kitchen||3 x 30 minute episodes|
|2007||Nigella Express||13 x 30 minute episodes|