Anna Burnside: Why we all need Nigella Lawson back

Nigella Lawson's new show The Taste, with Ludo Lefebvre (left) and Anthony Bourdain, is going ahead. Picture: Submitted
Nigella Lawson's new show The Taste, with Ludo Lefebvre (left) and Anthony Bourdain, is going ahead. Picture: Submitted
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‘I like the world better when there is luscious, spoon-licking Lawson’

HURRAH! Nigella Lawson, laced into an electric blue cocktail frock by someone with their knee in her coccyx, is back on our TV screens. No longer the reluctant witness in the trial of the Grillo sisters, snapped grim-faced on the court run by the paparazzi, this is the oohing, aahing full-fat foxtrel of old.

It’s a trailer for her new show, The Taste, in which Lawson is transported from the phoney comfort zone of her pretend ­Chelsea kitchen and put in an American studio with a couple of alpha male, bone-­gnawing American chefs. In a format that sounds like The X Factor meets Masterchef after the watershed, Lawson and her ­fellow judges mentor, encourage and coach their protégés then blind-taste their dishes. There seems to be quite a lot of saucy stuff and it’s not dark soy versus sweet chilli. They then decide who stays and who is out with the potato peelings. I can’t wait.

It’s not that I don’t like her old shows. I love them. So much so that many of them are stored permanently in my Tivo box, ready to be viewed any time I need a taxi to the happy place.

My copies of her books – including a signed first edition of How To Be A ­Domestic Goddess – are chocolate-­spattered and greasy. I read them even when I have no intention of making a meatza or a clementine cake. And Christmas would not be Christmas without her crunchy polenta roast potatoes.

Like many other members of Team ­Nigella, however, recent events have taken me beyond a girl crush and into deeper water. I’m desperate for her to move on. On a sisterly level, this is because she has had a monstrous time with Charles Saatchi and no woman deserves that kind of abuse. On a selfish level, it’s because I like the world better when there is luscious, spoon-licking Lawson in it, spilling her cleavage into a bowl of double cream. She is joyful escapism for middle-class women who like cool shoes and hot ­linguine and we all need more of that.

Life in Casa Lawson, as described by Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, pushed that delightful fantasy down the stairs. Their evidence, given at the recent fraud trial, leaves us in no doubt that vast wealth does not buy happiness; that it is possible to be miserable in a Chelsea mansion, surrounded by contemporary art, wearing a Westwood frock and Louboutin shoeboots; that the rich disagree about how to bring up their children, just like the rest of us; and that even a woman as articulate, literate, arch, beautiful, successful and privileged as Lawson can be brow-beaten and abused in her own home.

Saatchi cut her off from the friends he did not like having around and demanded her undivided attention. He existed on boiled eggs, pink lemonade and Starbucks which is surely, when you are married to a famously sensual home cook, the world’s most passive aggressive diet. He was jealous of her career and uninterested in her children. He fell in love with a vivacious, earthy woman who spatchcocked chickens and gave raucous parties, then set about destroying, undermining and sneering at everything that made her special.

All abusive relationships are horrible and this is a pattern, played out against more modest kitchen appliances, that will be familiar to all too many women, shuddering with recognition at her chilling phrase “intimate terrorism”, while self-medicating with Sangiovese. Lawson had the multiple whammy of being assaulted by her husband and then seeing it all across the front pages. Her car-crash marriage has been plucked, boned, jointed and picked over before her eyes. The ­Grillo sisters, two women who started off as employees then became her friends and her domestic support system, have ­betrayed and exposed her. Their trial was all about her. They were found not guilty while she was kicked up and down SW3 for being, basically, unhappy and rich.

This does not make her a victim. One reason Team Nigella has so many members is that she has refused to turn it into the pity party. Instead she has kept her counsel and got back to work. (With a typically self-deprecating aside of course. She said last week: “If I wasn’t working I’d be lying on a sofa in some awful clothes reading a book doing absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t even put a brush through my hair.”) To the credit of ABC, the American company behind The Taste, they have not let the self-serving tale-telling Grillos put them off and the show is going ahead as planned.

Let’s hope it’s a huge success: a personal triumph for her and a totem for all women who have escaped damaging ­marriages and toxic relationships. Her ex-husband made his fortune from manipulating people on a grand scale. (See Saatchi and Saatchi’s advertising slogan for Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative ­Party: “Labour isn’t working”.) At home he manipulated and squashed his wife, then used his considerable skills to present her – via the testimony of others – as a ­derelict, drug-­dependent mother.

He didn’t convince me and he didn’t convince ABC. Now let the tasting of the oxtail reductions and cloudberry souffles commence. Supporting this Team Nigella is going to be fun.

Twitter: @MsABurnside