I think that her larger-than-life TV persona, which has been toned down in this new series, has morphed into her own personality, to some extent and this, too, may account for her self confidence. She also puts it down to age, and caring less about what people think.
When Nigella was first on telly, there was a great deal of licking and sucking of fingers in sauces, which, of course, did look very saucy. But part of the appeal and shock of Nigella was that her way of cooking was so untidily human. So just how much of a slut are you? “Not in the modern parlance - but I am messy. My children tease me because when I was very cross, I said ‘You’re such sluts’ but, of course, to them it just means sexually loose.”
How about ‘slat’, then, for slatternly? “Yes, ‘slat’, perfect. Charles says to me that I turn everything into a student doss house. But you can’t have two messy people living together.” Especially when you have children, which brings us onto the vexed subject of motherhood.
“People who don’t have children imagine that their whole lives would be all right if they had children but they don’t realise that having children gives you lots of problems; one is constantly worried. Also I think it’s impossible to be a mother without a huge sense of failure.”
“Not that I think of my children as failures. I think they’re wonderful, but one is always aware of what one isn’t doing right. I was really helped by a friend recently because I was thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m not strict enough,’ and also it’s quite difficult… John having died, obviously I overcompensate. And anyway, this friend said to me, ‘Look, Nigella, you don’t choose whether to be a strict mother or not, you really are what you are. It’s not a decision.’”
“But what I feel with all of them - because I’ve got three, really, with Phoebe, my stepdaughter [by Charles’s ex-wife, Kay], so it’s 16, 17 and 18 - is that although I’m pretty easygoing about most things, I do think manners are important and being kind. And they make me laugh - and that’s quite important. So I like the people they are.
Her own mother thought Nigella was autistic: “You know, when I was a child, singing to myself on a swing. And you have to hear me sing to realise that it does sound like someone who’s got severe problems. I mean, I still have to mime to Happy Birthday when it’s my children’s birthdays!”
She describes herself as awkward and horribly shy as a child and her problems continued into her teens, when she moved school five times between the ages of nine and 18.
“When I was 15, my mother said ‘Stop being so self-centred! Who do you think is interested in you, anyway?’ And, actually, shyness is a form of self-absorption, but it doesn’t feel like that at the time. It was her way of trying to help, but it made me even shyer. I certainly wasn’t suited to being a child. I think being young is very hard and sometimes the more you get away from your family and make your own life, the more you become your own person. The family script can be really unhelpful.”
She’s in a slim phase at the moment, having discovered exercise at the grand age of 52, and reducing her wine intake to Friday nights. But, she says, “I’m always going to be someone who goes up and down.” Does she mind when she goes up? “Only if I’m having my photograph taken. Otherwise I don’t. But I don’t equate thinness with healthiness, as other people do, because I’ve only ever seen people get thin and then die.”
Nigella says this heartbreaking thing in such a completely matter-of-fact way that it makes you feel sad for her for a moment - but only a moment, and then we are back to laughing. She tells me about the time when she was attending a fat-is-a-feminist-issue consciousness-raising group at the same time as going to a slimming club, “and I felt like a terrible two-timer!”
It’s great to see Nigella on such brilliant form, clearly so happy and fulfilled. She has to go off to be photographed with some twirly pasta and I have only one thing to say: “Viva Nigellissima!”
Nigellissima is on tonight at 8:30pm on BBC2