Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Tête à claques III

I know Nigella doesn't quite qualify as a “tête à claques” – she doesn’t look like a sheep, doesn’t keep her mouth open all the time (only some of the time) – but she annoys the hell out of me nonetheless.

She’s such a bad role model.

From serious journalist to celebrity TV cook – what kind of a career is that?

She used to write a column in the Evening Standard: she had a lot of common sense and I remember agreeing with practically everything she said at the time. It was grounded; there was no bullsh*t.

Was it marrying John Diamond (who was probably cleverer than she)? Was it getting children? What happened to her brain? It went mushy. And she developed an insatiable thirst for fame (perhaps it was dormant before: the Lawsons are a very competitive family).

Her cookery programmes were always an embarrassment, verging on the pornographic as they were (“Please put that tongue away!”), but what made them absolutely unbearable by the end was the knowledge that her husband was at home, dying of throat cancer and incapable of tasting any of those marvellous dishes she was preparing so lovingly for the rest of the nation. She became famous for her cooking just as he was obviously getting worse. That was the most cruel thing ever.

But, wait!, that’s not all: minutes after her husband’s death she took up with millionaire Charles Saatchi (“So, tell us, what attracted you to millionaire Charles Saatchi?”) and became a party girl. She went to live with Saatchi in Mayfair, but not before she unnecessarily dissed the area where she used to live with JD – my area, Shepherds Bush! She did the whole place a lot of harm (you know how suggestible people are). She gave millions of interviews in which she asserted her “right to be happy”– regardless of the circumstances. I could take it from a brainless chick, but she’s an intelligent woman (although I’m beginning to wonder about that; perhaps she’s just “shrewd”).

Anyway, she now appears in magazines everywhere – not in the editorial sections, in those pages where they show what silly celebrities get up to at the latest parties. Always smiling; always “happy”. That’s what she wants to be, after all.



  1. There's nothing wrong with celebrity chefs as such - look at the good Jamie Oliver has been doing, or Saint Delia teaching us all how to cook real food, or Nigel Slater showing us that you can make a tasty snack from scatch in the same time it takes to heat up a ready meal - but Nigella's food is extremely self-indulgent, high in fat and sugar - of the melted Mars bar school of cookery. (I'm beginning to see that this actually fits the general picture!) And I remember trying to make a simple dish of hers, spaghetti with a lemon and cream sauce, and she got all the instructions in the wrong order so my lemon cream was not ready when my spaghetti was cooked and it all went cold and globby.

    I actually don't like anybody going on and on about how happy they are. Especially if they don't add how grateful and lucky they are too. It implies that if any of us are not happy, it's our own fault for not trying hard enough. Nigella could have presented the whole Saatchi thing a different way - she could have said how lucky she was, after such a terrible time, to have found someone to help her through the dark times, and how the fact that CS had known John Diamond (he was a family friend) made it better because JD was still part of their lives, blah blah. Instead she just vehemently defended her right to be happy, which to my mind means she probably felt a bit uncomfortable about it herself.

    You know she did all the cooking programmes in her own house at first - the Shepherds Bush one? Which meant he could smell the food he couldn't eat?

  2. Yikes! You really dislike her. I don't know anything about her at all except she's pretty, she likes food, and she writes food articles that get published in the NY Times once in a while. I don't read any society gossip pages, so she can't annoy me there. I don't quite understand, though, why it was bad of her to embark on a more successful career as a cooking show personality while her husband was dying. Should she have just sat by his bed weeping until he finally died? With cancers, there's no telling how long someone is going to hang on. It seems a bit harsh to ask her to put all her dreams on hold until her husband died. I wouldn't want my husband to do that if I were the one dying.

  3. I wonder if some of her inferred defensiveness is not so much her being uncaring or selfish, but because she's been attacked or criticized for it privately, and as a consequence she's on the defensive in public, too. She may be reacting not to her own discomfort with her choice, but uncomfortable and angst-ridden over others' reactions. I don't know how I'd react if my husband was suffering like that. I can guess, of course, but I don't "know."

    Not with younger couples, but with older ones I've known, it's not always so unusual or unseemly for one of the partners to move on very quickly after the death of the other. It's partly a comfort thing. They were so happy and cozy in marriage that they are secure their partner would want for them to continue finding happiness in life, including married life.

    I've had this conversation with my husband before, and it was a short one. We both strongly wished for each other to find a partner again. Not because we think that marriage is necessary, but because it comes with certain qualities that we have both learned to appreciate from our own marriage. It's not an unusual conversation to have, and I wonder if she and her husband did not have the same one behind closed doors. It's not impossible for me to believe that one can be grief-stricken and able to find happiness, too.

    I don't care for her TV cooking or books, but mostly because I just don't "get" her personality. *shrug* To each their own, I guess. Well, that, and my style of cooking doesn't really mesh with hers enough for me to care! Heh.

  4. I guess I'm going to have to say that she really doesn't bother me. I'm also not a viewer of cooking shows but I guess that's beside the point.

    I do understand your frustration in feeling that she lacks compassion toward her husband. And maybe it would have been better had she taped in a studio, but to play devil's advocate, people will need to eat and cancer unfortunately will remain here. Just as people will need to walk places and paralysis will still be here. Had I been married to a runner when this accident occurred, I would expect for him to still get up and run. I would demand it. To feel as if someone had given up something for my account would be too heavy of a weight to bear.

    I do have to laugh because we are so in tune with one another. I was writing a post for this evening that oh so indirectly referred to my friends living their lives without guilt. Funny.

  5. If anyone is going to slap Nigella, I'd like to watch.
    Asides from the dubious taste in that last statement, I'd have to say it's because the food she prepares is just so, well, rubbish. As lulu says, the instructions are generally wrong, or wooly, or delivered so huskily you can barely make them out. She's not cooked professionally, and it shows. Regardless of how she's lived her personal life, if she's being presented as an expert in something, she should be an expert in it. Or is she just there as eye candy? Stupid question. Now Ramsey, irritating as possible, yet a hell of a cook, and a successful businessman to boot. Even the Mockney pillock has run a restaurant ('though never been head chef) and can turn out a decent plate. Nigella? Front of house, pouring wine, getting the punters to spend a little more money, schmoozing in a low cut dress, but for God's sake keep her away from the kitchen.

  6. Stef: What you say about Nigella not being any kind of cook—I can't speak about her, but I can say that my most hated food celebrity of the moment is Rachael Ray precisely for that reason. Just watching her knife technique makes me cringe. How can a woman so inept at dismantling an onion have a cooking show?

  7. I want to stress again that John Diamond was suffering from throat and mouth cancer, which means that by the end his tongue had been cut out and he was being fed through a tube directly into his stomach. I don’t think I would have been so enraged by Nigella’s becoming a TV chef if his cancer hadn’t been related to those organs. His olfactory system was untouched and he could indeed smell those scrumptious smells. You don’t find the irony of it unpalatable? Think about it: it must have been absolute torture. A kind of Jacobean tragedy almost.

    There’s nothing wrong with celebrity chefs as such: all the ones you mention, Lulu, are heroes of mine. I think Nigella may have had her day; we seem to be less enamoured of her rich food now (her last series bombed). You have expressed very well what I feel about her behaviour after her husband’s death. John Diamond was loved and respected by a lot of people, thanks to his weekly column. It really looked like she wanted to eradicate his memory as fast as possible. It was unseemly.

    And, Tania, one didn’t have to read the society gossip pages to be aware of what she was doing – one still doesn’t: she’s always been in the media, because of the way she looks and her background. You just can’t avoid her: she’s everywhere.

    K, it’s quite possible she feels defensive in public and slightly guilty too, but a little more humility on her part wouldn’t have gone amiss. I believe that if you’re “on show” as a celebrity, you owe it to yourself to look the best you can (physically and morally – perhaps I’m too old-fashioned). As Lulu said, she could have presented herself and her new man in a different way.

    SL, I haven’t read your post yet, but I’m very glad we’re in tune with each other. It’s a difficult subject.

    Stef, eye candy is definitely what Nigella is. Some of us don’t have such a sweet tooth. LOL! The stuff she cooks looks appealing. I’ve never tried to reproduce it – I only possess a boiling ring and a microwave, and I can’t eat most things anyway – but I enjoy watching some cookery programmes: I’d rather the person presenting them didn’t keep licking the entire length of their fingers every two minutes and the camera didn’t focus on their bosoms when it should be showing what’s in the bowl on the worktop. My favourite cookery programme recently was Full on Food. Fantastic fun and not an orgasm in sight. LOL!

    Don’t know who Rachael Ray is: she sounds awful.

  8. Bela, as ignorant as I am of Nigella's UK ubiquitousness and of the affection held for her late husband, I would bet that Rachael Ray is more annoying. She has completely taken over the Food Network, beginning with her "30 Minute Meals" show, in which she assembles horrible looking hashed-together dinners while making exaggerated cutesy faces and exclaiming, "Wow!" and "That's awesome!" and "That is SO delicious!" and "Yum!" and referring to extra virgin olive oil as "E-V-O-O!" The first time I saw her, she made grilled vegetable sandwiches. She sliced vegetables, grilled them, and then put them on bread. I thought I'd faint from disbelief. This is a show? And it was a hit!

    Then they gave her a show called "$40 a day" in which she mugs and says "oh, gosh" in a different American city every week, and because that just wasn't enough, next they gave her a show in which she interviews B-list celebrities about their favorite food, and then another show in which she just visits any American city and talks about how great it is, with only a marginal connection to food. She is half of the programming schedule of what was once a decent network for cooking shows and food information. She comes off as not incredibly smart and as friendly and needing of love as an orphaned puppy. Will said, "I bet guys like her because it seems as if she'd laugh at all your jokes, even if they weren't funny." Listen, tell you what, send us Nigella, and we'll send you Rachael, OK?

  9. I think that you are absolutely right regarding celebrity status. I meant to add that I am actually friendly with a celebrity chef that is based here in New York, his name is Marcus Samuelsson, he is the chef/co-owner for Aquavit, he recently opened a sushi restaurant which has a Swedish twist, and a few other projects. He is young, extremely handsome, talented, the recipient of two James Beard awards and above all else humble.

    Oh look at that, you just left me a message as I'm leaving you one.

  10. There was an interesting article about Nigella in an issue of Vanity Fair (stop-it counts!) last year. According to the author, JD was determined to make Nigella succeed. The article claimed he loved her so much, and recognized her talent, and tried to help her anyway he could. It was touching. However, Bela, I agree-the cancer and her career -terrible juxtaposition.

    There was also an article in Tatler (stop-it counts too!) around the same time, with the former Mrs. Saatchi, who also knew JD. She had quite a bit to say on this topic, including how hard it was to have the nation's Domestic Goddess steal her husband.

    Love this blog!

  11. It's interesting to see that what's coming out here is everyone imagining *they* are the sick partner of someone whose career is taking off, and saying that they would have wanted the partner to go ahead and be free and be famous, etc., etc. I am absolutely sure John Diamond did say that, and really mean it, too, on the days when he wasn't downhearted and raging, as he often was, acccording to his weekly column. But is the partner actually supposed to say 'Oh, thanks, love!' and do it? That reminds me of a colleague of mine who got promoted and got some people working for her for the first time; one of them - a good worker, efficient and thorough - made some mistakes in her first project, and said, in public, 'Sorry, so sorry, that was really stupid of me and it's made a lot of extra work for you, I feel terrible.' And the new boss's answer was, 'Yes, well, it was and it did.' There was an appalled silence in the room, because the answer everyone had been expecting was, 'That's OK, you tried your best and I might not have explained it too clearly. I'm sure you'll do better next time, don't worry too much.' Or some such. You know - it's the way the game of life is played, and when one person doesn't play right...

    I've also heard the argument that she needed to earn money, but she was already a successful beauty and lifestyle journalist, and there was no irony in that - after all, he could still enjoy looking at her!

  12. Tania - I'll take your Rachael Ray and raise you a Sandra Lee. Her "Semi-Homemade" creations look like meals made for people who want to eat like they're vomiting in reverse. Instant coffee coated beef anyone? Or perhaps her corn on the cob coated with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese powder is
    more illustrative of her destructive powers in the kitchen. Honestly, the idea of eating anything from her "recipes" fills me with the sort of horror that induces full body cringes.

  13. I know nothing about this woman. However, I do have a problem with people who "move on" too quickly. It's disrespectful.

  14. i find nigella mildly irritating but can't get much more worked up about her than that, i'm afraid

    i also think she has now become something of a self-parody, after being so hilariously spoofed by ronni ancona

    how many times can a woman voluptuously suck her fingers in a half hour show??


  15. I seem to remember reading that JD actually handpicked Saatchi as his successor and sort of blessed the potential union. Of course, who believes anything they read in the press?

    What I do find odd, especially given the obsession of many of us here, is the assumption that there is necessarily something terrible about smelling something wonderful that you can't eat. I can't speak for JD clearly but perhaps being able to smell baking when you can't eat is still more of a sensual plus than not being able to smell anything? Unless of course it actively caused nausea.

  16. For some reason I have a mental image of an impressionist doing Delia Smith trying to do Nigella. Was that a real sketch, or did I imagine it. Either it was pretty funny, or my subconcious could write comedy...

  17. Tania & K, Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee sound absolutely unbearable. We most definitely do not want them here! LOL!

    Your friend is my kind of person, SL. Let’s hope fame never gets to his head.

    Thanks, Carole! John Diamond was a decent person, a “mensh”, and he would have wanted his beloved wife to be happy and fulfilled, but, as Lulu said, he – and everyone else – would have expected her to use her judgment as to what was wise and/or just “kind”. (Btw, I have nothing against Vanity Fair or Tatler; I flick through them in shops sometimes; I just don’t buy them – much too expensive.)

    As you say, UC, it’s impossible to see Nigella these days without visualizing Ronni Ancona with half her hand down her throat. I’m afraid they still take her seriously in the US.

    GSE, whether JD handpicked Saatchi as his successor or not is irrelevant: as Lulu said, one is expected to know and obey the rules of the game (it’s like people who pride themselves on being blunt, when they’re just plain “rude”, you know). It’s a question of decency and, in this particular case, the decent thing would have been to wait a little longer, a few more months. At least, she can’t be accused of being inconsistent in her behaviour: she showed the same lack of decency before and after JD died.

    Perhaps she just lacks empathy: I have no problem putting myself in JD’s place (not trying to compare myself with him here): I’ve had IBS for 11 years and in that time I’ve had to give up most of the foods I used to enjoy. For the past five years, I have eaten the very same thing day in day out. Truly. In the evenings, while I munch on my three rice cakes with goat cheese, my partner sometimes has delicious-smelling dishes and it drives me crazy, as it must have driven JD crazy. The huge difference was that the poor man had had his tongue removed and could never, unlike me, steal a spoonful of this or that, from time to time, and just hope it wouldn’t hurt him. Knowing how I feel most evenings, I have absolutely no doubt that it was torture to him, not “a sensual plus”.

    Stef, if there wasn't such a sketch, someone - you - should write it.

  18. accusations of not-cookery, husband-baiting and other-people's-husband-stealing aside, i hate her. mind you, i hate everyone, pretty much.

  19. LOL!, SG! I am very selective.

  20. Sadly someone reminded me that it was a sketch. One of the highpoints included "Delia doing Nigella" dressing up a roast chicken in kinky underwear (in Norwich colours?) to make it look more sexy.
    Blown my chance of screen writing fame. :-(

  21. Oh, I wish I'd seen it! It must have been hilarious. Back to the drawing board, eh? :-)

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