Comment: Why Nigella’s Flaws Make Her More Popular Than Ever

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30 December 2013, Varsity Online Comment Section

And so ended the trial of the Grillo sisters in an unassuming court in Isleworth, in which the two sisters were found not guilty of defrauding their ex-boss, ad man Charles Saatchi. But no one was interested in the story of how a millionaire had a few extra pounds taken from his oversized wallet. Instead, it was the Nigella trial which filled the column inches. When the domestic goddess was accused of being off her head on cocaine – “Higella”, as Saatchi had it – it looked as if her credibility might never recover. Instead, #teamnigella became the only side anyone could reasonably be on, and it is the flawed ex-wife who appears to be best prepared to emerge from this sordid affair.

This was a case that didn’t exactly have winners, but certainly had several losers. Saatchi became the villain of the piece, with the photographs of his hand around Nigella’s throat still firmly etched on our retinas, and who afterwards crept away from the trial back to a seat outside his favourite restaurant. The Grillo sisters were shown as field mice caught in the midst of an acrimonious divorce. Yet the image that resonated from the trial was that of Nigella: vulnerable, her head held high with an expression of determination, walking into court to face her accusers. In many ways, the proceedings exposed the popular image of Nigella that many had forgotten, and it is no wonder many chose to side with her.

Nigella once picked up on the fears of many women – that they were failing to be good enough mothers and wives – and taught them in a causal, open and informal way how to feel empowered as domestic goddesses. As such, she managed to gather legions of fans who created Nigella shelves in their kitchens, straining under the weight of the new books she released every few months.

The domestic goddess title stuck, but its meaning was altered with a move from scuzzy Shepherd’s Bush to austere Eaton Square, as the comfort-eating Nigella that many related to become became the curvaceous figure of male fantasy, an image to which most women could not aspire or empathise with. After all, it is not difficult to be a domestic goddess when you are married to a millionaire. In many ways, Nigella’s trial may have been a comfort to those followers who had begun to feel an estrangement from a former presence in their lives.

When Nigella owned up to allegations of cocaine and cannabis in court, the result must have been disappointing for those in the media who were hoping for a good story of schadenfreude: that of the deluded, upper class, glamorous woman who feels entitled to take drugs in her palatial home, knowing she is untouchable because of her privilege. The problem was that Nigella’s drug use did not possess an air of aristocratic glitz and showbiz London about it. Instead, she admitted to taking cocaine for some warped form of comfort in a home which often brought more stress than pleasure. This was done six times in her marriage to the dying John Diamond, and once during her marriage to the domestic tyrant Saatchi. Instead, she had to be shown by the media for what she had always been: a flawed individual who sought comfort in situations of domestic disillusionment and tragedy.

Nigella Lawson’s future is somewhat unclear: she has a new show coming out, but also faces a police investigation into her drug use. Nonetheless, Nigella appears to have weathered the fiercest storm of public opinion, and survived it by re-revealing herself as the domestic goddess of old, somebody others can empathise with – including our own PM, who should have known better. Time will tell her fate, but I suspect most people rather like having the old Nigella back.

Image: WikiCommons

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