Nigella Lawson and Mary Portas have both been making headline news recently for very different reasons. Portas, the prophet of profits as she was referred to in The Independent today is championing a changed approach to the future of high street retailing and is at loggerheads with former Iceland boss, Bill Grimsey. Nigella’s very public separation from her advertising guru husband, Charles Saatchi has also put her through the emotional wringer. Yet still these women exude authenticity, charisma and passion.
There has always been something about Nigella Lucy Lawson’s obvious passion for food that caused me to notice her. We were both born in 1960 and we both have an obsession with food. I experienced years of bulimia and binge eating during my teens and twenties and have struggled with my attitude towards food for most of my life. To me, Nigella has always been a role-model, with the way she feels about food. Her absolute passion for it, even those ‘forbidden’ foods blended with her self acceptance of her curvaceous figure is enchanting. She is an intelligent, well-educated woman who has cracked the US market with her sexy and flamboyant cooking. Known as The Queen of Food Porn, her mother was a Society heiress and her politician father became one of the most powerful men in Britain. Nigella is a media phenomenen, her tv series has sold worldwide and her books have sold over three million copies. She writes for The New York Times and has developed a collection of cooking and tableware with top designer, Sebastian Conran. According to the Vice President of Food Network, Bruce Seidel, “food is love to her and this comes across in everything she does.” Once you fall under Nigella’s spell, you just want more of her. She describes herself as “a greedy person” and shook up the US – her imperfect way of cooking and self deprecating irony caused her popularity to soar. Described as one of the sexiest women in Britain she is relaxed about her curvaceous figure and is completely comfortable in her own skin. She is very natural in front of the camera, relaxed and full of passion. Watch her whilst she is cooking and you’ll see her dip her finger into her culinary concoctions and lick her fingers !She cannot help but show her sensual nature, her obvious sexuality shines through. Her independent spirit and maverick way of living her life shows her authenticity. A trip to Florence, Italy in her teens, shaped a lifetime of enjoying eating and Nigella became passionate about food. She possesses huge resilience having lost her mother to liver cancer, her younger sister Thomasina to breast cancer and her first husband John Diamond to cancer. She has an inner strength that has enabled her to overcome her own personal tragedies without any trace of bitterness and she is frequently described as formidably charismatic, maverick and fabulously passionate. In terms of her charisma, on the surface, the attribute that Nigella does not really possess is vision. Her first husband John, had the vision for her glittering career. She publicly states that “I lurch about from one crisis to another – I don’t have a game plan – I won’t do anything that disrupts my family life.” So is Nigella’s real vision to be happy? When her first husband passed away she formed a close relationship with Charles Saatchi, whom she later married, feeling attracted by his “energy and aliveness”.
Mary Portas is another impressive woman who was also born in the same year as Nigella. She made her name transforming Harvey Nichols into a fashion powerhouse. Her career as a retail expert bagged her a government appointed position to lead a review of Britain’s high streets. Mary is upbeat, remarkably convincing and her Portas Plan garnered support from David Cameron and is triggering a heated national debate. Mary has shown that she has incredible vision with how she commissioned artist Thomas Heatherwick to design fabulous window displays that won her a D&AD Gold Award that celebrates brilliance in commercial creativity in 1997. Her creative vision was then applied brilliantly to transforming charity shops during her television programmes in 2009 when she had to engage an army of volunteers with an average age of seventy eight. Mary is outspoken, unafraid to share what she really feels and has a wonderful ability to connect with people from all ages and from all walks of life. Mary struts into any new retail challenge (note her strident trademark walk) with purpose, steely determination, fiery red hair and a beady eye for the missed opportunity. She shows her emotions, wears her heart on her sleeve and she doesn’t try to tone down what she really believes. Mary is completely tuned into energy and frequently refers to negative people as being draining. At times she is an overt bully as her fanaticism for detail and the main chance over-rides her need to be liked yet ultimately most people become engaged and converted fans of her recommendations. Like Nigella, Mary has experienced tragedy in her life. At sixteen her mother died of meningitis and at eighteen her father died of a heart attack. Yet you never catch Mary showing any evidence of a ‘Poor Me’ attitude – she simply gets on with it and continues to move forward towards her next exciting challenge. Like Richard Branson, Mary has sought more from her projects than success and material acquisitions as she established her charity concept – Living & Giving developed for Save the Children following her 2009 television series. She has cleverly combined her life’s passion with a life’s purpose showing that this charismatic heroine has a big heart.
I cannot decide which woman, Nigella or Mary has the most charisma because they both score highly in each one of the five attributes of charisma. Nigella’s vision in terms of her career and life purpose is at its purest – happiness – so who am I to judge whether this is any less noble or important that Mary’s vision to help disadvantaged children. Whilst there are hundreds of inspirational and remarkable women who are making a massive difference to the world we live in and show great courage as they make their mark on our society, very few can be described as having that transcendental and allusive quality of charisma. What thrills me is that both Nigella Lawson and Mary Portas are great examples of charisma and charismatic women are quite rare to find these days!