Nigella Lucy Lawson
6 January 1960
Wandsworth, London, England
|Alma mater||Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford|
|Occupation||Food writer, journalist, television cook|
|Known for||TV presenting, cookery, writing|
|Style||Dessert, Pastry, Middle Eastern, English, Mediterranean|
|Height||5 ft 7 in (170 cm)|
|Relatives||Dominic Lawson (brother)|
Nigella Lucy Lawson (born 6 January 1960) is an English food writer and television cook.
She attended Godolphin and Latymer School, London. After graduating from the University of Oxford, where she was a member of Lady Margaret Hall, 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 her first cookery book, How to Eat, was published and sold 300,000 copies, becoming a best-seller. Her second book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, was published in 2000, winning the British Book Award for Author of the Year.
In 1999 Lawson hosted her own cooking show series, Nigella Bites, on Channel 4, accompanied by another best-selling cookbook. Nigella Bites won Lawson a Guild of Food Writers Award; her 2005 ITV daytime chat show Nigella met with a negative critical reaction and was cancelled after attracting low ratings. She 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 UK, which 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 8 million cookery books worldwide to date.
Nigella Lawson was born in Wandsworth, London, one of the daughters of Nigel Lawson, a future Conservative MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's government, and his first wife Vanessa Salmon (1936–1985), a socialite and the heiress to the J. Lyons and Co. fortune. Both her parents were from Jewish families. Her given name was originally suggested by her grandmother. Her family kept homes in Kensington and Chelsea.
Nigel and Vanessa Lawson divorced in 1980, when Nigella was 20. They both remarried: her father that year to a House of Commons researcher, Therese Maclear (to whom he was married until 2008), and her mother, in the early 1980s, to philosopher A. J. Ayer (they remained married until her mother's death). As her father was at the time a prominent political figure, Nigella found some of the judgements and preconceptions that were formed about her frustrating. She has attributed her unhappiness as a child, in part, to the problematic relationship she had with her mother.
Lawson's mother died of liver cancer in Westminster, London at the age of 48. Lawson's full-blood siblings are her brother, Dominic, former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, sister Horatia, and sister Thomasina, who died of breast cancer, in her early thirties, in 1993; She has a half-brother, Tom, who is currently headmaster at Eastbourne College, and a half-sister, Emily; Tom and Emily are her father's children by his second wife. Lawson is a cousin to both George Monbiot and Fiona Shackleton through the Salmon family.
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 Sephardi ancestry, 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. His daughter Hannah married Samuel Gluckstein, who was in business with Barnett Salmon of Salmon & Gluckstein. They had several children, including Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, who together with Salmon founded J. Lyons and Co. in 1887, and Helena, who married him. One of the children of Helena and Barnett Salmon was Alfred Salmon (1868–1928), the great-grandfather of Nigella Lawson.
Lawson spent some of her childhood in the Welsh village of Higher Kinnerton. She had to move schools nine times between the ages of 9 and 18, and consequently she described her school years as difficult. "I was just difficult, disruptive, good at school work, but rude, I suspect, and too highly-strung", Lawson reflected. She was educated at several independent schools, among them Ibstock Place School, Queen's Gate School and Godolphin and Latymer School. She worked for many department stores in London, and went on to graduate from the University of Oxford with a second class degree in medieval and modern languages, as a student at Lady Margaret Hall. She lived in Florence, Italy, for a time.
Lawson originally worked in publishing, first taking a job under publisher Naim Attallah. At 23, she began her career in journalism after Charles Moore had invited her to write for The Spectator – her father had previously been editor at the same publication, and her older brother soon would take up the same role. Her initial work at the magazine consisted of writing book reviews, after which she became a restaurant critic there in 1985. She became the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986 aged 26.
She attracted publicity in 1989 when she admitted voting for Labour in an election, not 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 The Sunday Times, she embarked upon a freelance writing career, realising 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 make-up column for The Times Magazine, as well as working with Gourmet and Bon Appétit in the United States. In 1995 Lawson left a two-week stint at Talk Radio early after making a statement that her shopping was done for her, apparently due to its incompatibility with the radio station's desired "common touch". In the mid-1990s she occasionally hosted TV press-reviews slot What the Papers Say, and was co-host, with David Aaronovitch, of Channel 4 literary-discussion series Booked. In 1998 she repeatedly guested on Channel 4 cookery series Nigel Slater's Real-Food Show.
Lawson had an established sense of cooking from her childhood, having had a mother who enjoyed cooking. She conceived the idea of writing a cookbook after she observed a dinner party host in tears because of an unset crème caramel. How to Eat (1998), featuring culinary tips on preparation and saving time, sold 300,000 copies in the UK. The Sunday Telegraph dubbed it "the most valuable culinary guide published this decade".
Its successor, How to be a Domestic Goddess (2000), focuses primarily on baking. The Times wrote of the book that it "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, adding that "[s]ome 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. How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess were published in the U.S. in 2000 and 2001. As a result of the book's success, The Observer took her on 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 usually known for his biting comments, praised 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 best-selling recipe book, also called Nigella Bites, for which Waterstone's book stores reported UK sales of over 300,000. The book won the WH Smith Lifestyle Book of the Year award.
The Nigella Bites series, which was filmed in her home in west London, was later broadcast on American television 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 best-selling 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". Fellow food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall condemned the concept as "cynical and reckless" and referred to the book as Fuck Seasonality.
In 2002 Lawson also began to write a fortnightly cooking article 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.
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. Former First Lady of the United States, 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. 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% of its viewers in the first week, the show was cancelled. She later commented to Radio Times that on her first show, she was almost too frightened to come out of her dressing room. Lawson added that having to pretend to be interested in the lives of the celebrities on her show became too much of an effort.
Her third food-based television series, called Nigella Feasts, debuted on the Food Network in the United States in Autumn 2006 for a 13-week run. Time magazine wrote a favourable review of the show; "the real appeal of Feasts ... is her unfussy, wry, practical approach to entertaining and quality comfort food. Feasts will leave you wishing for an invite".
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 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 increasing by 65% from the previous week. Similarly, after she advised using prunes in a recipe on Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, Waitrose had increased sales of 30% year on year.
Nigella's Christmas Kitchen led to the commissioning of a 13-part cookery series about fast food entitled Nigella Express. She said, "The recipes aren't particularly healthy. That said, 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% in the UK after she had incorporated it into her Coq au Riesling recipe on Nigella Express. In December 2007 she appeared on BBC's The Graham Norton Show and revealed that she had once eaten 30 pickled eggs for a £1,000 bet, saying "How stupid to challenge me! I made them all put their money on the table in front of me. The next day I had scrambled eggs for breakfast."
Lawson came under criticism when viewers complained that she had gained weight since the debut episode of the series. The Guardian however, noted, "the food matches her appearance – flawless, polished and sexy". The rights to Nigella Express were sold 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, US in November 2007, and in Australia in 2008. Sharing the same name as the television series, the book became another best-seller in the UK, and was outselling 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 best-selling books, and was ninth on their overall list of Christmas best-sellers in any category. Paul Levy of 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." In January 2008, Lawson was 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.
Lawson was featured as one of the three judges on a special battle of Iron Chef America, titled "The Super Chef Battle", which pitted White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Iron Chef Bobby Flay against chef Emeril Lagasse and Iron Chef Mario Batali. This episode was originally broadcast on 3 January 2010. Lawson's cookbook Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home (2010) is a tie-in with the TV series "Nigella Kitchen". This was shown in the UK and on the Food Network in the United States.
Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration was released in 2012. The 8-part TV series entitled Nigellissima was broadcast by the BBC. Nigella Lawson obtained work experience in Italy during her gap year.
Lawson travelled to the United States in 2013 and starred alongside Anthony Bourdain in the reality cooking show The Taste. The UK version of the show began airing on 7 January 2014 on Channel 4. Lawson was granted a visa to travel to the United States and travelled there for a continuation of the series. In 2014 Lawson was hired by a chocolate company to appear in an advertisement, the advertisement was filmed in New Zealand in May for a local confection manufacturer Whittaker's.
The UK and US series of The Taste were both completed and in autumn 2015 Lawson began Simply Nigella for BBC 2. The focus was on comfort food, familiar dishes that are simple and quick to cook.
Lawson was spokesperson for the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2015, giving the twelve points to Sweden's Måns Zelmerlöw and his song "Heroes", which went on to win the contest.
It was reported on 18 January 2016, that Lawson would make a return to Australian television, joining the eighth series of MasterChef Australia as a guest judge, alongside the returning judges. She returned to the show for the tenth series in 2018 and eleventh series in 2019.
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. However, many have described her as a chef nonetheless. 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".
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." Lawson has also been voted "Sexiest Celebrity Chef".
The media have 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." Chef Gary Rhodes said that viewers were attracted to her smile rather than her cooking. Despite often being labelled as a "domestic goddess", she insists that she exhibits very few of the qualities associated with the title.
Lawson met journalist John Diamond in 1986, when they were both writing for The Sunday Times. They married in Venice in 1992, and had a daughter, Cosima, and a son, Bruno. Diamond was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997 and died 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 said; she suffered a bout of depression following the funeral. After Diamond's death, Lawson kept all of the press clippings in what she called her "Morbidobox".
Lawson married art collector Charles Saatchi in September 2003.
In June 2013, photographs were published by The Sunday People of Lawson being grabbed around the neck by Saatchi, during an argument outside a London seafood restaurant. According to a witness, Lawson was very distressed by the incident. Saatchi later described the pictures as showing only a "playful tiff" and his trying to emphasise a point. After a police investigation of the incident, Saatchi was cautioned for assault, and Lawson left the family home. Lawson said in court Saatchi subjected her to "intimate terrorism", that he threatened to destroy her unless she cleared him in court. Subsequently, while giving evidence, Lawson claimed casual cruelty and controlling behaviour by Saatchi made her unhappy and drove her to occasional drug use. She cited as examples that Saatchi prevented her entertaining at home and punished her for going to a birthday party of a woman friend. She was not beaten but was left emotionally scarred.
Saatchi announced his divorce from Lawson in early July, stating that he had "clearly been a disappointment to Nigella during the last year or so" and the couple had "become estranged and drifted apart". Lawson made no public comment in response; however, court papers showed that it was Lawson who applied for divorce, citing ongoing unreasonable behaviour. On 31 July 2013, seven weeks after the incident, the pair were granted a decree nisi, ending their ten-year marriage. They reached a private financial settlement.
On 27 November 2013, a trial of the former couple's two personal assistants, Italian-born sisters began in R v Grillo and Grillo. The Grillos were accused of fraudulently using the credit cards of Saatchi's private company. During court proceedings in early December, the sisters claimed that Lawson had permitted their use of the credit cards in exchange for their silence regarding her drug use. Questions regarding Lawson's drug use were allowed by the judge as part of the sisters' "bad character" defence. Lawson admitted to taking cocaine and cannabis but denied she had been addicted, stating, "I found it made an intolerable situation tolerable." On 20 December 2013, the two sisters were acquitted. Scotland Yard said that Lawson would not be investigated over the drug allegations.
Charles Saatchi was alleged to have started a smear campaign against Lawson in the British media through PR man Richard Hillgrove before the trial was over. Lawson's lawyers demanded that Hillgrove remove comments about her from his blog. Lawson said in court that ending her marriage to Saatchi had created intolerable conditions for herself and her family, describing Saatchi as "a brilliant but brutal man".
Lawson maintained she was "totally cannabis, cocaine, any drug, free" after the divorce.
On 30 March 2014 Lawson was not permitted to board a flight from London to Los Angeles. The US Department of Homeland Security explained that foreigners who had admitted drug taking were deemed "inadmissible". However, US authorities invited her to apply for a visa shortly afterwards, and she was granted a "waiver of inadmissibility" allowing her to travel to the US.
In 2008 Lawson reported that she held a personal fortune of £15 million. Her husband Charles Saatchi was worth £100 million at that time. She said her two children should not inherit any of her money, saying, "I am determined that my children should have no financial security. It ruins people not having to earn money."
Lawson is of Jewish heritage. Both of Lawson's parents are Jewish and her upbringing was non-observant. Lawson is 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.")
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.
In December 2008, Lawson was criticised by animal rights groups for comments which suggested it would be morally acceptable to wear the fur of an animal that one had killed, and that she would be proud to wear the fur of a bear that she had hunted or "[gone] into battle" with.
It was revealed by leaked Whitehall documents in 2003 that Lawson declined an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II in 2001, explaining that "I'm not saving lives and I'm not doing anything other than something I absolutely love." As the daughter of a life peer, Lawson is entitled to the courtesy style of "The Honourable", and is thus named The Hon. Nigella Lawson; however, she does not use this courtesy style.
Lawson has stated that she believes cooking is "a metaphor for life", in the sense that "When you cook, you need structure [...] but just as importantly you need to be able to loosen up and go with the flow [...] you must not strive for perfection but, rather, acknowledge your mistakes and work out how you can rectify them". She has described cooking as "a way of strengthening oneself", in the sense that "being able to sustain oneself is the skill of the survivor".
|1999–2001||Nigella Bites||Host||16 episodes (series 1–2; one Christmas special)|
|2002||Forever Summer||Host||8 episodes|
|2006||Nigella Feasts||Host||13 episodes|
|2006, 2008||Nigella's Christmas Kitchen||Host||6 episodes (series 1–2)|
|2007||Nigella Express||Host||13 episodes|
|2009||Top Chef||Guest judge||Episode: "Strip Around the World" (season 6)|
|2010||Super Chef Battle: An Iron Chef America Event||Guest judge||Television special|
|2010||Nigella Kitchen||Host||13 episodes|
|2011, 2016, 2018–2021||MasterChef Australia||Guest judge||16 episodes|
|2013–14||The Taste||Judge||23 episodes (series 1–3)|
|2014||The Taste (UK)||Judge||10 episodes (series 1)|
|2014||Modern Family||Herself||Episode: "Three Turkeys"|
|2015||Eurovision Song Contest 2015||Herself, Spokesperson||Final|
|2015||Simply Nigella||Host||6 episodes and one Christmas special|
|2017||Nigella: At My Table||Host||6 episodes and one Christmas special|
|2019||MasterChef US||Guest Judge||Episode: "London Calling – Pt. 2" (season 10)|
|2020||Nigella's Cook, Eat, Repeat||Host||6 episodes and one Christmas special|