Philip Hensher: Please can I be Nigella's friend?

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The Independent Online

I don't know about you, but we've been enjoying Nigella Lawson's hired friends so much we think they ought to make a sitcom about them. You know the ones I mean. Nigella, in the course of her multi-evening Christmas spectacular, has been slaving in a négligée over some white-trash pot dish – turkey stewed in 7-UP can't be far away. She sprinkles some random coriander over the top, and hands it out to her guests. The Hired Friends Of Nigella Lawson. Scrub the bit about the sitcom. It sounds like an existential tragedy by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Around the table are a beautifully groomed older woman who, you just know, left a Georgina von Etzdorf scarf on the coat rack. There is a raddled old gay who looks as if he works a 36-hour disco shift at the Vauxhall coal face every weekend. There is someone who can only be a PR operative extracted from the middle-management layer of Nigella's gigantic machine, enunciating like mad. There is a comfortably upholstered black lady with dreadlocks. And if memory serves, there is someone's accountant.

Inaccurate as some of these impressions may prove, there is no denying the fact that this is clearly the dinner party from hell. Charles Saatchi has apparently insisted that his wife removes herself from the massive Belgravia mansion to a south London terrace for the festive season, and shows no sign of putting in an appearance among the hired friends. If this were not a television programme, filmed in July, you would have to say Nigella was paying off some overdue social obligations, and lumping a few sad sacks together.

The thing we love is that not one of them has a thing to say apart from stuff about Nigella's cooking. No comment about property prices, The X Factor, sexual predilections of fellow guests or the general crapness of contemporary British art will fall from their lips. They are all too busy pointing out how marvellous Nigella's kitchen produce is, knowing their enthusiasm now will dictate their employment in the same role next year.

If you look up "party conversation topics" on the internet, you will be advised not to talk about the food, but to embark on random conversations with strangers on such themes as "If you had a superpower, what would it be?" I tried this once on a stranger. They gazed into the middle distance for a while, asked me to repeat myself, and then said: "Well, I'd quite like the South West Trains service to Plymouth to be more reliable."

And yet I have to say there is a little part of me that wants to be one of Nigella's Hired Friends. How relaxing to sit with people you have nothing in common with, to know you are not going to be allowed to talk about anything but the superficially repulsive notion of an espresso Martini! How nice to extract yourself from all family ties, to spend the festive season with six people whose names you are not entirely clear about! Is it a false impression that, over the past few weeks, I seem to have heard quite a lot of people saying their Christmas is going to be a matter of "waifs and strays" gathering together over the turkey, not with apology, but with some pride?

Nigella's friends are a glimpse of a glorious future, which we can all look forward to; one where nobody really knows each other, everyone is stuffing their faces and, best of all, we're all permanently on telly.

I think we can all agree that somewhere in there is the true meaning of Christmas. So God bless us, every one.

'Australia' sounds like exactly my kind of film



The reviews are in, and they ain't good. Baz Luhrmann has made a film about Australia, called Australia, in which Nicole Kidman gets to wear some Ralph Lauren heritage tat, Hugh Jackman plays butch and unshaven, various Aborigines have their culture traduced and that great tradition of widescreen landscape photography, by all accounts, is revived on a soporific scale. Critics have absolutely hated it, and Miss Kidman's mannered acting style. The takings in America have not been anywhere as good as might have been expected.

It sounds absolutely terrible, and I can't wait to see it. This, surely, is exactly the sort of film where nobody could reasonably ask for good taste, cultural sensitivities, good acting or any other subtleties.

What we ask for here is to be knocked over the head with one vulgarity after another, an orchestra in the background playing "Waltzing Matilda", and Miss Kidman's lovely, immobile features rendered against a bright yellow desert on a screen the size of Piccadilly Circus.

I have great confidence that Australia is going to turn out to be a film of perfect, classical vulgarity, something which has its own merits.

How to kill two enemies with one stone

At least Nicole Kidman's Australia is the only Australian epic on the horizon. Two simultaneous films of Dangerous Liaisons were followed by two simultaneous biopics about Truman Capote.

And now, with very bad luck, three film companies are working on exactly the same historical subject: the battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror and King Harold. "In Hollywood terms, it is a 'buddy' movie about two men which ended in tears," said one disconsolate producer. It is not only the movie which may end in tears. This enthusiasm seems to overstate the interest which even the English have in two remote and dirty kings. The fact that William, pictured, was married to a near-dwarf may, too, restrict the romantic interest.

But the real problem, surely, is that Hollywood conventions have for years dictated that if you want to cast a cold and calculating villain, you cast an Englishman; if you want an unreliable and unmanly cad, you cast a Frenchman. Could they ever, realistically, make a film about a war between the two nations and ask audiences to cheer for either side?

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