Barring further revelations, Nigella Lawson can draw on a deep well of public affection to get her through her recent crisis.
One of the many stories that floats around about Nigella Lawson is that, prior to her incarnation as ‘the domestic goddess’, she showed little or no interest in cooking. As with most details about the celebrity chef’s life, obscured as it is by rumour and half-truth, this claim is difficult to substantiate but its existence tells us much about the feather-light persona that has been constructed around her.
If it doesn’t exist already, there is a thesis to be written on the use of ‘persona’ in marketing. Aptly, the concept has its roots in classical theatre but was perhaps best defined by the psychologist Carl Jung as "a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual". Based on this description, you can’t help feeling that Nigella would have made a fascinating addition to Jung’s casebook.
In an age where celebrity culture has blurred the lines between people and products, marketers deploy ‘personae’ to construct stories around brands. They do so in the knowledge that our fascination lies in a desire to see behind the mask. Like a theatre audience, a tacit deal is struck with the public that they will celebrate a constructed identity unquestioningly in return for an occasional glimpse behind it.
In some cases, persona and brand become inseparable and Nigella provides the most vivid recent example of this. We are gripped as much by the enticing and entirely unrealistic picture she presents as by the fact that the image is foreshadowed by tragedy. In this sense, she resembles many of the stars of early Hollywood, where the construction of the media persona was first perfected.
Much like those stars, Nigella has achieved such iconic status among the middle class that her image is unlikely to be permanently tarnished by recent allegations about drug use. The personal impact, however, is impossible to measure, as is the pressure that commercial interests have brought to bear. It reminds us that the industry’s insatiable desire to commodify the individual can have wholly negative consequences.