When Nigella Lawson opened RSH's Maggie's Centre last week, a longtime domestic goddess fan found herself even more blown away by the building itself
I don't believe in being part of someone's fan base. It makes me feel uncomfortable and more than a little grumpy, because they usually have things I really want but can't have - like fame, fortune and perfect hair. But there are two people in the world I make an exception for. One remains too embarrassing to divulge but I can tell you that the other is the finger-sucking, lip-smacking culinary strumpet that is Nigella Lawson. I think she is amazing, despite the fact that these days she appears to make a living frying fat in fat with a side order of fat - caramel croissant bread-and-butter pudding anyone?
From the first time I heard her talk of beaten eggs as a “glorious buttercup emulsion” and fried chicken pieces as “nuggety jewels” I've been hooked and she can do no wrong - though she pushed me nearly to my limit with deep fried pig's ear.
So I was totally overexcited when I heard she was going to be opening the new Maggie's Centre next to Charing Cross Hospital last week. These walk-in centres are for anyone affected by cancer, whether a sufferer or a friend or family member of someone with the disease. They are designed to look more like a house than a clinic, with a large central kitchen always stocked with tea and coffee and plenty of rooms to relax in full of sofas, fireplaces and books on anything from travel to cookery to flip through.
Nigella's first husband, her mother and her sister all died of cancer, so it was no surprise she was involved. Catching sight of my culinary idol in the flesh for the first time was brilliant, but I have to say that the building itself was the real star of the show for me and - shock horror - will actually stick in my memory more than my brief encounter with Ms Lawson.
Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the thought that has clearly gone into creating this space is incredible. For example, there is a bench under a cover outside, because it apparently takes people three or four attempts to actually walk through the doors of such a centre and address their illness. One of the guys who worked on the project explained to me that the toilets have been purposefully made bigger and have had chairs put in to create proper spaces for people to be alone or cry in private.
The new centre really achieves its goal of creating a homely feel, and good old Nigella settled in right away. After a walk round she sat down to tea with, among others, the PM's Mrs, Sarah Brown, and Lord Rogers himself.
There was tea and cake for all to celebrate, but the designated cutter got a little distracted as she was handing round the plates and so it was only Richard Rogers who ended up with a slice. He happily tucked into the chocolate sponge until, after a minute or two, the domestic goddess couldn't bear the torture a minute longer. “Sorry. I have to do this,” she said as she grabbed a fork and reached right over the table and swiped a large chuck of the architect's cake off his plate as quick as a flash.
“Mmmmm” she sighed, closing her eyes as she devoured the morsel. “That's good cake.” I bet she was secretly thinking she could have made it better, though!