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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Nigella Lawson: A sweet and sour life
Nigella Lawson
Writer and TV cook Nigella Lawson has the talent, looks and success to attract the envy of millions. But her life has had its fair share of tragedy, and Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit tells how Nigella is intent on living in the present.

She was once introverted, overweight and insecure. Now, to the eye of one well-known journalist, "she has creamy, perfect skin, lustrous hair, a beauty queen's figure and dazzlingly white teeth".

Another interviewer declared her to be "stunningly beautiful, warm, honest, likeable and amazingly normal". And both observations were made by women.

Ten weeks after the death of her husband, John Diamond, whose wry observations on his four-year battle against cancer were chronicled in his column in The Times, Nigella Lawson is chalking up another entry on her superwoman CV.

John Diamond and Nigella Lawson in elegant evening wear
Out on the town with husband John Diamond
Another series of her Channel 4 food programme, Nigella Bites, has begun. And the series, being filmed at her home in west London, has also been bought by American television.

At John Diamond's funeral, his last words to his wife were read to the congregation by Nigella's brother, the editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson: "How proud I am of you and what you have become."

Nigella began with considerable advantages. Her father is the former Conservative chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and her mother was Vanessa Salmon, beautiful socialite and heiress to the Lyons Corner House empire. Neither of which made Nigella a star pupil at school.

Between the ages of nine and 18, she was moved five times: "I was just difficult, disruptive, good at school work, but rude, I suspect, and too highly-strung."

She failed her 11-plus by refusing to take a maths paper: "I put my hand up, gave it back and said 'I'm sorry, I don't do this'." When she did eventually secure a place at Oxford, her pleasure was tempered by the break-up of her parents' marriage.

Nigella, seated, relaxing at home
A rare moment to relax
Among the dreaming spires, she developed a left-leaning political slant, but preferred chow to Mao. "Food is a narcotic", she says.

While she resented her first name, chosen by her father, his impeccable connections later helped to smooth her way.

Nigella began a restaurant column in The Spectator in 1985 and by the following year had become deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times, where she met John Diamond. They married three years later in Venice.

Diamond opened her eyes to her full potential. He supervised her "makeover", persuading her to wear more glamorous clothes and make-up.

And he suggested she should write a cookery book, coming up with a title of classic simplicity, How to Eat.

Nigella went from strength to strength, with a second, award-winning book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, a social affairs column in The Observer, another on make-up in The Times, and her TV appearances, particularly on cookery programmes, that stimulate many a male appetite.

Nigell, smiling, with Lloyd Grossman
With Lloyd Grossman on Masterchef
But an unwelcome companion, cancer, continued to shadow her progress. Her mother was in her 40s when she died of cancer of the liver and her sister, Thomasina, was in her 30s when she was killed by breast cancer in 1993.

Neither loss dulled the shock of the discovery of John Diamond's cancer four years later, or prepared Nigella Lawson for his death.

Cooking and eating has always been a refuge for her during times of stress and she says one reason women like her is because she is not thin.

Now 40, with children Cosima, seven, and four-year-old Bruno, she has put on 6lb since filming for her latest TV series began but is "too much of a slattern" to do anything about it.

It is no secret that her home is not a testament of tidiness to a domestic goddess: "I go round in trainers and horrible clothes without make-up and without brushing my hair."

Smiling, on a night out
Savouring the happy times
Nor can she become too energised by complaints that her flapjacks are difficult to remove from the baking tin, or newspaper gossip about her friendship with the advertising guru, Charles Saatchi, who was a close friend of her husband.

The brightest light and darkest shade of Nigella Lawson's life has taught her to make the most of her many talents and the wisest modus operandi for living: "I suppose I do think that awful things can happen at any moment, so while they are not happening you may as well be pleased."

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