By Miss Pollyanna, 22nd October 2015

When the Twinkly Lights go out

Nigella's Five Minutes of Flame

Nigella’s Five Minutes of Flame

So Nigella Lawson is gracing our bookshelves once again with her boundless creativity, calories and (hopefully) lashings of comfort food. And I for one couldn’t be happier to welcome her back. But her latest read, Simply Nigella, which promises the pared down and, as the title suggests, the simplistic, already has her infamous critics poised with pen to paper and fingers to keypads. It may be two years since her ‘fall from grace’, but her revered culinary abilities and the poetic descriptions of her masterpieces are still unjustifiably the last thing on some people’s lips…

So where did it all go wrong?
How could our love affair with the twinkly-lit muted scenes of conviviality turn to sour cream overnight?


Was it because we discovered… drum roll…that…
Nigella is only as human as the rest of us? Can we not forgive somebody who we have put so high upon a kitchen bar stool? Not even in the run up to Christmas? Not even when we have all – and frankly, we’d be lying through Gingerbread Stuffing encrusted teeth if we claimed otherwise – stolen some of her whimsically festive ideas? Not even when we are secretly watching re-runs of her yuletide gatherings?

To me that seems more than a little unfair… 
Because Nigella hasn’t changed. We have. We’ve changed our minds. We’re no longer willing to love her unconditionally. Yes, when the twinkly lights go out, we realise she’s not as glossy and flawless as her chocolate ganache would have us believe after all. Well, more fool us for ever thinking otherwise!

The Old Me would have had an affinity with the Nigella of 2013.
No, not just because I still have her cookbook open on my wannabee kitchen island – sadly it’ll never quite rival hers – musing at the Baked Alaska, wondering where I can get myself one of those kitsch skier models that she has snow ploughing down her meringue. It’s because Nigella’s past debacle was actually a hammed up version of my history. And I suspect a highly-dramatised version of many a person’s past, present, and sadly, future to come. And yes, I am talking about both of the sexes.

Because I used to live two lives as well.
In fact I became quite an expert at it. Nigella’s pristine cosmetics; the pillar box red lippy and doe-eyes; that was me glammed up for a business trip. Nigella’s flirtation with the camera (supposedly to every male viewer in the universe); that was my cry for salvation from the horrors that lay waiting for me at home… except I scoured the cities of Frankfurt, Bologna, Paris and Hong Kong for potential Knights in Shining Armour instead.

Kathryn Connell
Kathryn Connell

Nigella’s – alleged – substance abuse; that was the metaphor for my cake addiction. And not just cake. Biscuits, chocolate, 500ml tubs of Haagen Daz all in one sitting; temple-achingly sweet comfort in all of its guises. Okay, drugs might rank slightly higher up the Naughty Scale – if indeed Charles Saatchi’s allegations were ever founded – lest we forget the gas-lighting ways and the manipulative workings of the Domestic Violence perpetrator’s mind. But no matter. The cocaine, the chocolate, the wine; ultimately they’re all a symbol for the same thing: The Outlet. When you are alone in that hideous place, in the dark days and nights of the soul, you will turn to whatever soothes fastest for your quick fix. Believe me.

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Still, in my case Nigella’s foolproof and delectable snow-flecked brownies would have hit the spot…

Angie Muldowney
Angie Muldowney

But the point is, we are all different. Until we have walked a mile in anybody else’s shoes, until we have lived life at the hands of a violent partner whose unpredictable behaviour simmers with the constant threat of volcanic activity, until then, we have no right – no right whatsoever – to pass judgement. And the point is also this: none of us know the true facts here. We weren’t there. We truly do not have an inkling what goes on behind the closed doors of Nigella’s house… of anybody else’s residence except our own.

Yet, there’s a silver lining to be found in the cloud that hangs over her pretty head.
Whatever the true substance of this story, one thing is for sure, Nigella has finally, publicly, broken the taboo. Domestic violence – and the myriad of ways we resort to concealing it – are to be found in every walk of life, every culture, every social circle. D.V is not the social taboo of the penniless and uneducated as we had once mistakenly assumed it was.

Nevertheless, for a nation of celebrity junkies (we wouldn’t even abandon our favourite football team with the disdain we have dished out to Nigella for heaven’s sake), does the Underdog Rule not apply to our kitchen heroines, too? Is it – dare I say it – because Nigella’s a woman?

‘She’s a toff. She should know better.’

Since when did upper class status and money buy happiness?

‘She’s a celebrity. She has to accept the intrusion of the paparazzi into her life. It goes with the territory. She’s asked for it.’

Has she?
Is that why she frequently chose a seemingly discreet corner of a trusted restaurant to dine out as inconspicuously as possible? Do we often see her splashed all over the front pages of The Sun with all the panache of a Z-lister wearing a belt and a see-through bra whilst snorting a line? The last time I recall her being snapped up in private prior to her downfall, she was wearing a hideously unflattering all-in-one UV suit paddling on the Australian Gold Coast. Hardly a contender for the Me-Me-Me syndrome that plagues some of our tartlets. I mean starlets.

What we give out we get boomeranged right back at us: This is Newton’s Law.
So the greatest gift we can give to ourselves is to quit deflecting from our own inadequacies. Nigella’s situation is but a mirror of our own. We have all had our Nigella Moment(s). And it’s for this very reason that we still act so bitterly toward her today. Yet when we peel away at the onion layers of the psychology behind this, we will find that Nigella’s situation is simply the icon of the skeletons lurking in our own cupboards; those juicy stories we know would be aired if only we had our five minutes in the limelight, too.

And the greatest gift we can give to Nigella is the opportunity to dust herself down, pick herself up and get back to what she does best: giving us permission to indulge In Cake, Glorious Cake; hot out the oven, cursing as we burn our tongues. Which in itself is the perfect antidote to our incessant bitching about her.

Oh, and buying more fairy lights.

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