Nigella Lucy Lawson (born 6 January 1960) is a British food writer, journalist and broadcaster. Lawson is the daughter of Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Vanessa Salmon, whose family owned the J. Lyons and Co. business empire. After graduating from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, Lawson started work as a book reviewer and restaurant critic, later becoming the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in 1986. She then embarked upon a career as a freelance journalist, writing for a number of newspapers and magazines. In 1998, Lawson brought out her first cook book, How to Eat, which sold 300,000 copies and became a best-seller. She went on to write her second book in 2000, How to be a Domestic Goddess, winning her the British Book Award for Author of the Year.
In 1999, she hosted her own cooking show series, Nigella Bites on Channel 4, which was accompanied by another best-selling cook book. The Nigella Bites series won Lawson a Guild of Food Writers Award; her 2005 ITV daytime chat show Nigella was met with a negative critical reaction and was cancelled after attracting low ratings. Lawson hosted the Food Network's Nigella Feasts in the United States in 2006 followed by a three-part BBC Two series, Nigella's Christmas Kitchen, in the United Kingdom. This led to the commissioning of Nigella Express on BBC Two in 2007. Her own cookware range, Living Kitchen, has a value of £7 million, and she has sold more than 3 million cook books worldwide.
Renowned for her flirtatious manner of presenting, Lawson has been called the "queen of food porn". She is neither a trained chef nor cook, and has assumed a distinctly relaxed approach to her cooking.
Nigella Lawson was born in London, and is a daughter of Nigel Lawson, a former Conservative MP, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, and Vanessa (née Salmon; 1936–1985),a socialite, "celebrated beauty" and heiress to the J. Lyons & Co. fortune. Her parents both came from Jewish families. Her given name was originally suggested by her grandmother. Her family kept homes in Kensington and Chelsea, and were noted for their luxurious life-style. In the 1960s, Peregrine Worsthorne wrote that Vanessa and her daughters looked "as if they had stepped straight out of a Visconti film set". Lawson's parents divorced in 1980. They both remarried; her father in 1980 to a House of Commons researcher, Therese Maclear (to whom he was married until 2008) and her mother, in the early 1980s, to philosopher, A. J. Ayer (they remained married until her mother's death). With Lawson's father being a prominent politician, some of the things she found most frustrating were the many judgements and pre-conceptions made about her.There was a time when Lawson did not get on with her father, mostly during her parents' divorce, and she became friendly with her mother only when she reached adulthood. She has attributed her unhappiness as a child, in part, to the problematic relationship she had with her mother.
Lawson's school years were difficult; she had to move schools nine times between the ages of 9 and 18, spending some of her childhood in the Welsh town of Higher Kinnerton. "I was just difficult, disruptive, good at school work, but rude, I suspect, and too highly-strung", Lawson reflected. Her father originally chose not to believe the reports of her disruptive behaviour and thought the school had the wrong person. Lawson reluctantly attended a private school in the Midlands and later returned to London's Godolphin and Latymer School sixth form where she began to show skill academically. She worked for many department stores in London, and went on to graduate from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford with a degree in medieval and modern languages. She also lived in Florence for a period.
Her mother died of liver cancer in Westminster, London, aged 48, when Lawson was 25. Her full-blood siblings are her brother, Dominic, former editor of The Sunday Telegraph, a sister, Horatia and sister Thomasina, who died of breast cancer in 1993 during her early thirties; She has a half-brother Tom, and a half-sister Emily, her father's children by his second wife. Lawson is a cousin to both George Monbiot and Fiona Shackleton through the Salmons.
Taking part in the third series of the BBC family-history documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are?, Lawson sought to uncover some of her family's ancestry. She traced her ancestors to Ashkenazi Jews who originate from eastern Europe and Germany, leaving Lawson surprised not to have Iberian-Sephardi ancestry in the family as she had believed. She also uncovered that her maternal great-great-great grandfather, Coenraad Sammes (later Coleman Joseph), had fled to England from Amsterdam in 1830 to escape a prison sentence following a conviction for theft. It was his daughter, Hannah, who married Samuel Gluckstein, father-in-law and business partner of Barnett Salmon and father of Isidore and Montague Gluckstein, who together with Barnett founded J. Lyons and Co. in 1887.