Nigellissima: The Making of Nigella

Gillian Smith

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In this paper, food and media academic and Nigella Lawson's biographer, Gilly Smith explores how the TV cook Nigella was created by Lawson and her first husband, John Diamond. After his diagnosis with terminal cancer in 1997, the couple set out to maximise Lawson's earning potential with her book How to Eat and subsequently the Channel 4 TV series Nigella Bites. Smith argues that this performativity mirrored the transformation of the more introverted person Diamond had first met, and offers a fascinating paradox between being and doing glamour. Her new look was an exaggeration of the self that Diamond had encouraged and was the foundation for the glamorous on-screen image which did glamour with its décolletage and pinched waist dresses which would bring sexual appeal into cookery programmes for the first time. Barthes may have described the myth of Nigella as "ludic and aesthetic in function...the duplicity of the event is part of the spectator's pleasure" (Moriarty 1991, p.20).But this ‘ludic' game with its implicit myth-making, contained an element of authenticity which Smith suggests led to the astonishing success of Nigella, the Domestic Goddess. Performativity involves a quality of interiority (Butler, 1990) and suggests that there is another self that is hidden by the player. Yet in this story of construction, Smith asks if Lawson's personal tragedy and increasingly messy narrative only contributed to the audience's engagement with Nigella, offering a seamless junction between the parodic domestic goddess and the dignified widow, mother and successful business woman.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBridging Gaps: Higher Education, Media and Society
EditorsR. Caine, H. Wheaton, L. Massey
Place of PublicationToronto
PublisherWaterhill Publishing
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780993993800
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2015


  • Nigella Lawson
  • Domestic Goddess, performativity, food, media, glamour, authenticity, construction, myth


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