Domestic goddess Nigella Lawson loves the simple things in life like cooking for one, cashmere jumpers and tealights, as the RTÉ Guide’s Suzanne Byrne finds out.
As Nigella Lawson swings her legs onto the couch and settles down for a natter it’s hard not to stare at the woman who has been dubbed the 'sexiest chef on telly'. She’s totally comfortable in her own skin, a real woman with real curves, which she happily shows off in a grey Lycra dress that highlights her small waist. Her glossy, brunette hair is full of volume, with just the right amount of waves to frame her creamy skin, and that famous face is topped off with Disney Princess-type eyes. Fifty looks good on Nigella, even if it was a milestone in her life she wasn’t particularly looking forward to.
"When it came to my 50th birthday, I had two choices, I could wallow in self pity and do nothing. Or I could dread the day and mark it in some way. I decided dread was better than self pity and I just did a dinner. But I told everyone that there was to be no presents, no speeches and no singing Happy Birthday. At the end of the day I wanted the celebration to be about the people in my life. Funnily enough my 49th birthday was much harder because my mum was 48 when she died, and I found it very difficult to be getting to an age older than her. So now I feel that every year after is a bonus."
Nigella has never been coy about her age, taking a decision when she turned 30 to be quite open about it. "I think if you lie about your age you get more obsessed with it because you are constantly worrying about what people are going to think when they find out. There was just no need for it."
Ever since the mother of two first hit our screens in 2000 with Nigella Bites it’s been said that women want to be her, and men want to be with her. So what is the secret to her alluring and lasting beauty? "Well to be honest, in my struggle between vanity and laziness, laziness will always win out. Of course, if there is a new mascara or face cream released I am that sucker who runs out and buys it. But I’m not stupid, if they were to do everything they promise they would have to be reclassified as drugs. And anyway I’m not very high maintenance, I might buy vitamin pills or a new lipstick but you’ll find them buried in the bottom of my bag within 3 days. I always start off with good intentions."
And while there is no question that Nigella is a stunningly beautiful woman, her taste in clothes has sometimes been questioned by both the press, and her friends. "Only the other day someone said to me don’t you think you should change your look. This is not a look – these are my clothes. Although sometimes I think I must stop with these cashmere tops, but it’s the easiest way for me to dress and for most women it’s practical. I’ve got lots of black skirts and I just have different tops and it’s just a much easier way of working. Otherwise you are forever buying whole outfits and it is just not feasible. What you see me in on the TV – they are all my own clothes. I don’t do wardrobe when it comes to TV. I feel I have to wear what I think suits me, not what someone else wants or says."
Nigella can currently be seen every Thursday night on BBC Two, cooking recipes from her latest book Kitchen. And, as is for most families, the kitchen is the heart of the Lawson/Saatchi home which Nigella shares with her two children Cosima, 16, and Bruno, 14, and her second husband, well known art-collector Charles Saatchi whom she married in 2003. Nigella’s first husband, and father of her children, John Diamond passed away in 2001, after a battle with throat cancer.
She’s not precious about her kitchen and in fact quite relishes the times when a girlfriend or her sister might pop in for a chat while she is pottering about. "I always feel it’s much more relaxed and if I or they have something on their mind, we can talk about it without any pressure. My children often come into the kitchen to do homework while I’m there too. It’s a place where you just seem to gravitate to. And while I love cooking dinner for family or friends, I also adore my alone time with my kitchen. If I have been away filming I have to get back in there and bond with it again. And you know cooking for just yourself can be very restorative. Then there are days when I will just sit in there with my laptop and work. I think we are all quite primitive at heart as people. And I think there is something about being near where food is being prepared, you know you are going to be fed."
Nigella wanted to get across a message in Kitchen – both the TV show and book - that everyday cooking doesn’t need to be an elaborate feast where everything is cooked completely from scratch. If you are stuck for time and a jar of sauce is quicker, then Nigella is all for the jar of sauce. "The reality is one week you can cook in a number of different ways depending on where your life is going, the particular mood that you are in that day, and what your family timetable is."
Cosima, Bruno and Charles regularly dine on one pot wonders, her mother’s Praised Chicken from Kitchen being a particular favourite. "It’s the old fashioned way of cooking chicken. It’s as simple as popping it in a pan with vegetables and cooking it up. The smell of it always reminds me of my mum and home. It’s very comforting."
Nigella might be one of the most famous women around when it comes to cooking, but her children are relatively uninterested in her celebrity status. They often visit the set when their mum is filming but it’s more to say hello to her production crew, who Nigella calls her "work family" as they have known them all their lives. "My children know what I do, but they are not really interested in it. My daughter is quite interested in clothes, she likes make-up and she’s very happy to come and sit when I am getting my make-up done, and have some lashes put on her. They can both cook, but haven’t yet to explore it too much and they are yet to master the art of washing up!"
Sounds like any other family home then...
With the festive season looming we asked the Nigella to give us her best advice for making sure the dinner on the big day turned out just as lovely as hers.
* The first thing to do is get yourself acquainted with a lot of throwaway foil roasting dishes. For the turkey you might need to double up or look out for a special turkey one. I always used to say to people if you have to choose between the environment and your sanity, you should always save your sanity. But as I have learned recently it is actually greener to use the throwaway foils, as it is very easily recycled and you are not using any detergents in the cleaning up after the cooking.
* You don’t have to make too many different things. Focus on the dishes you can make really well.
* Don’t worry about getting everything ready at the same time. It’s actually not feasible, you can’t do it – no one can do it. I think you have to get that into your head. A turkey can stand for a long time. So really I would say if you can make the plates warm and the gravy piping hot, no one will really notice if some things are just warm.
* Never be ashamed about asking for help - people loved to be asked. So if you are to say to someone you do such a lovely pudding will you bring the pudding, they’re going to be delighted.
* A great way to make a dessert taste Christmassy is to whip some eggnog into some double cream – it will give any pudding that festive vibe. And don’t feel you have to serve a fruit cake, if you don’t like it, go for a chocolate one.
* I love setting a table – but I’m not neat. I love to clutter to things and I am very happy to use food as decoration, red apples, walnuts scattered about the place and a few pomegranates here and there. I can never have too many tea lights either.
* And I know this sounds like an old-fashioned, sexist thing but if you are worried that the mother-in-law is going to make you feel inadequate, just let them. Think about how bad they would feel if you did a better job than them? Let it be your Christmas gift to them!