Nigella Lawson is certainly a force of nature who is unlikely to be joining the thousands of people across the globe who starve themselves with harsh detoxes every January.
In her first ever book, ‘How To Eat’, which was published over two decades ago, she brilliantly introduced herself to the world by writing: “I have nothing to declare but my greed.”
As one of Britain’s favourite cooks, she remains refreshingly unapologetic about the joy that is to be found in eating delicious, quality food, and last month joined Jameela Jamil’s call to end airbrushing. Lawson tweeted Jamil, “I’ve had to tell American TV stations not to airbrush my sticking out stomach,” she wrote with her trademark honesty. “The hatred of fat, and assumption that we’d all be grateful to be airbrushed thinner, is pernicious.”
This week sees the Wandsworth, London-born star celebrate her 59th birthday, and she’s likely to do so surrounded by friends and culinary treats oozing with decadent, delicious ingredients. Her attitude is that cooking is more than just a function of daily life, it’s a form of companionship and best done alongside someone else.
“Companionable cooking is such a treat,” Nigella says.
“I have a very good friend and we sometimes cook together. It’s a lovely thing to do,” she says. “I also think it’s a wonderful way of talking with people generally. A lot of people are more comfortable talking when your attention is a bit elsewhere.”
She adds that if someone is having difficulty opening up about a problem they’re going through, they’re far more likely to do so if they’re sitting in your kitchen watching you while you cook, because it will relax them.
“So, if you have a friend or a child or anyone who is going through a difficult time and wants to talk about things that aren’t easy, I think you stand much more of a chance if you’re chopping some carrots at the same time.
“It’s rather like the way people sometimes feel they have important conversations while they’re driving. People are more relaxed when you haven’t got full-beam on them. So I quite like chatting while I cook. The other person doesn’t need to be cooking with me. Sometimes they can just be there, having a glass of wine while I’m chopping and stirring and unwinding. I like that.”
Nigella used to spend time cooking with her sister Thomasina, who died at the age of 31 from breast cancer. She has become all too familiar with the loss of loved ones from cancer, Nigella’s mother and her first husband, the journalist John Diamond, also died young. Nigella explains that experiencing so much loss and heartache has given “a sense of urgency” to the way she lives her life.
“I don’t want to waste life,” she underlines. “It feels so ungrateful not to take pleasure. You have to take pleasure in life while you can because people have that ripped away from them.”
Nigella’s passion for food is what grounds her and serves as a form of mindfulness: “One of the reasons I like cooking is that it forces me into the moment, and that’s good,” she tells Woman’s Weekly, “as I’m rather an anxious person.”
As for what a typical Sunday in Nigella’s life looks like, it starts with a good old-fashioned cup of tea.
“I don’t do anything before I’ve had two cups of tea,” she says. “So that’s what I do first.
“Then, what I do often is go to the farmer’s market in Marylebone and get a few things for the week. There’s a guy who grows his own potatoes who I often chat with. It’s a nice thing to do.”
As well as food, Nigella’s favourite way to spend a Sunday is reading. “If I haven’t got people coming around for lunch, then what I really like is lying about reading. That to me is such a joy. It depends if the kids are around and how many people I have in the house, but if I could be lying around for a big part of my Sunday, I’d like that. I like mooching around the kitchen too – in that sort of way where the meal builds up gradually.”
There’s wisdom for all of us to be found in Nigella’s attitude to life: Look for happiness in the little things and really savour the joyful moments in life – whether that’s devouring a slice of cake, or a good book.
Lede image via BBC