Nigella Lawson has been an enduring inspiration to me, ever since I first purchased her book Feast in 2009. Up until then I had watched her TV shows, but as a strict tomboy, and someone still holding the misguided notion that a Feminist couldn't be overtly feminine, I had never really given her a chance. Then I read her book. Cover to cover, the way I always read cookbooks.
Well, it completely challenged all my prejudices against Nigella. Feast was a compelling, extremely well researched and fascinating exploration of the notion of a feast, what that means in different contexts, and more personally what it means to Nigella. She didn't shy away from sharing her personal joy in cooking and eating, nor from discussing the more heartrending aspects of life, and how food can and should be a part of all of them.
It was the first cookbook I had ever read that made me want to be a writer. A lot of cookbooks had made me want to cook before, but none of them had ever delved into cooking and eating with the same literary enthusiasm as this. I felt I had finally found someone who enjoyed food the same way I did; on every level. The idea of food, the preparation of food, the sharing of food, and most importantly the eating of food; when Nigella wrote about these things, it was like someone had switched a light on.
Once my eyes had been opened to the idea that someone who seemed to be solely represented in the media as a witless sex kitten (or so it had seemed to me at the time), I began to learn more about Nigella. I learned that she graduated from Oxford with a degree in Modern & Medieval Languages. I learned that she speaks Italian fluently, as well as patchy German and French. Her written English is excellent, which is no surprise, given that she worked as a journalist and writer for years, and was once the Deputy Literary Editor of the Sunday Times. She was also published in The Daily Telegraph, The Evening Standard, had a regular column in Vogue and worked with Gourmet and Bon Appetit, before even writing her first cookbook.
What this taught me, as an aspiring writer and young woman just out of high school, was life changing. I realised that intellectualism was something to be valued, and that skill and prowess could be used as tools to build an illustrious career. I learned that femininity and feminism are not mutually exclusive. In Nigella's own words "To denigrate any activity because it has traditionally been associated with the female sphere is in itself anti-feminist." Through dealing with the death of her mother, sister and husband Nigella represented to me a means of being vulnerable without courting pity.
Splashed all over the news lately is Nigella's face once again, as she is dragged into court to stand as a witness in the trial of two of her former employees for fraud. The pair had allegedly used credit cards belonging to Nigella and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi, to make unauthorised purchases adding up to a reported £1.3 million. A week ago, the ex-employees came forward with the allegation that Lawson had approved the charges, in return for their silence about her drug use. The allegation was given further news coverage with the leak of an email from Saatchi to Lawson in which referred to her as "Higella", and said that he believed all of the drug allegations against her.
Over the past two days, Nigella has been subjected to questioning in the British Court as a witness in the case. She has confirmed using cocaine a total of seven times, six of which were with her first husband, John Diamond, while he was terminally ill. An attorney for the defence described her as having so much cocaine on her face that she was 'white as a geisha girl.'
Well, that depresses me. It depresses me that a woman who is the victim of domestic violence and who is only in court because she has allegedly been defrauded, suddenly finds herself the centre of the whole proceeding. It depresses me that tabloids in the UK released articles implying that perhaps we had all been a little too hard on Charles Saatchi, her abuser. It depresses me that Nigella has to have her personal life dragged out for everyone to paw over, and that it is her reputation which is suffering the most scrutiny. It is completely unfair that Nigella should be the one who stands to lose the most.
But even in the face of all of this ridiculously public muck raking, Nigella remains confident, determined and dignified. Once again I find myself learning from Nigella. She not only taught me How To Eat, but now she's teaching me How To Stand Tall while people try and tear her down. And that's why I'll be #TeamNigella forever.