My mother loathed the ground I walked on – but still I miss her: As Nigella Lawson reveals her traumatic relationship with her mother, one woman says she endured the same agonyMaria-Louise Warne could never win her mother's loveEven Irene Warne's friends couldn't understand the cruelty towards her daughter


01:37 GMT, 9 November 2012



01:37 GMT, 9 November 2012


Trauma: Forever searching for her mother's love, Maria-Louise Warne admits she became a people-pleaser

Trauma: Forever searching for her mother's love, Maria-Louise Warne admits she became a people-pleaser

The year was 1961, I was four years old and I was accompanying my mother to the local children's home to give out toys she had insisted I no longer needed.

As we walked together through the doors of the orphanage that day, we must have looked like the perfect mother-daughter partnership.

My mother had me late in life, at 41, but she was still an incredibly attractive woman – tall, graceful, always immaculately turned out, and blessed with charisma.

When Irene Warne walked into a room,
people looked at her. Just before we reached the home that day, our arms
full of carefully-packaged toys, my mother bent down to my level and
whispered words which I have never forgotten. 'If you say or do anything
which displeases me, I will leave you here and tell your father you
have run away,' she hissed.

'No one will ever find you.'

The cosy mother-daughter routine was
nothing more than a cynical act on my mum's part: in truth she couldn't
bear to have any physical contact with me – she never held my hand,
cuddled or kissed me – and loathed the very ground I walked on.

Where other mothers protect their
children, mine always wanted to frighten me – a goal she achieved with
depressing consistency throughout my childhood and well into my adult

I endured unspeakable violence and cruelty at her hands and, unsurprisingly, her actions and behaviour have cast a long, dark shadow over my life.

So it was with particular interest, and not a little sadness, that I read TV cook Nigella Lawson's account this week of her difficult relationship with her late mother, the Lyons teashop heiress Vanessa Salmon, who died of liver cancer at the age of 48.

Maria-Louise with her father Phillip and mother Irene

Maria-Louise with her father Phillip and mother Irene

Hidden hatred: Maria Louise with her mother and friend

Hidden hatred: Maria Louise with her mother and friend

Maria-Louise Warne with her parents after her christening in 1957

Maria-Louise Warne with her parents after her christening in 1957

Nigella spoke movingly of her childhood, in particular about her abusive and complicated relationship with her mother, describing it as one that frequently descended into physical abuse.

Her clear-as-day memories are ones with which I can fully empathise, since I understand only too well the pain and anguish Nigella must have endured within the supposedly protective bosom of her family.

My mother, a gregarious Londoner, was 35 when she met my father on Canvey Island, Essex.

The fact that she was already married didn't deter her fevered pursuit of Phillip Warne, a proud yet quiet man who worked as a baker and was 37 at the time.

He stood no chance once my mother had set her sights on him. As I understand it, she pursued him doggedly and, within two years – following her own hasty divorce – they had married and moved to Guildford, Surrey.

She had met the love of her life and the last thing she wanted was to share him with anyone else.

So, finding out she was pregnant with me was disastrously bad news for her, as she never failed to remind me as I grew up. On learning that he was going to have a baby, my father's reaction couldn't have been more different. He was ecstatic.

His parents had died in the 1918 flu epidemic, and he was brought up in a Barnardo's home. He would always tell me that he viewed my arrival as 'a gift from God'.

My mother, however, saw things differently.

Even in my earliest memories, she constantly reminded me that it was my father who had wanted me, not her.

Sunday evenings were routinely spent crying myself to sleep before school the next day.

The reason My mother relentlessly threatened to abandon me, as a result of which I was terrified that neither one of my parents would be there when I returned home from school the following day.

Of course, looking back now, I can see that my mother simply loved the drama of it all.

I tried so very hard to be the perfect daughter, yet I was wasting my time. She was only interested in terrifying the living daylights out of me.

We lived opposite the school I attended until I was 11, yet she never once bothered to turn up to any of my plays or parents' evenings, or put herself out to meet me at the school gate.

I see now that her rejection of me from an early age has, as Nigella Lawson so accurately describes in her account of her relationship with her own mother, turned me into a people pleaser – someone who craves attention and needs to feel loved.

And I would be the first to admit that this has rendered me overbearing at times.

Nigella Lawason and partner Charles Saatchi

Nigella Lawson and partner Charles Saatchi

Nigella recently revealed her problematic relationship with mother Vanessa Salmon (center, back)

Nigella recently revealed her problematic relationship with mother Vanessa Salmon (center, back)

I was bullied at school, and can unhesitatingly trace the reason for this back to my mother. I was already the odd one out among my peers, since I wasn't allowed to have friends come home with me or throw birthday parties, let alone attend other children's parties.

Inevitably, this meant I was labelled as 'different' by my peers. There was never any question of my forming strong female friendships either – not when my mother dominated my waking hours.

Looking back, I see that she didn't want me to form close alliances with other people who might question, and cause me to challenge, our unusual family set-up.

It pains me to admit it, but my childhood was characterised by one violent outburst after another.

There was never a dull moment, courtesy of my mother. One Sunday afternoon, she slammed the kitchen door in a huff. Unfortunately I was in the way, and she seemed to relish trapping my head in the frame.

As the door slammed against my head, she claimed it was my fault. I remember my father witnessing one of her outbursts.

She'd had a disagreement with one of our neighbours, as a result of which every piece of crockery was hurled at me and my father as we ran, terrified, down the garden.

My mother believed everything could be solved by the use of physical punishment.

She attempted to control my father, demanding he reprimand me for things I had supposedly done.

On one rare occasion, he stood up to my mother and refused, telling her I'd get enough knocks later in life.

That didn't stop my mother, who worked her way through dozens of canes throughout my childhood.

Predictably, the only time I felt happy was when I was in the company of my father.

I was, unashamedly, a daddy's girl, and loved nothing more than going for walks in the park with him or listening to him read me stories before I went to sleep.

It's a sad admission, but I have no such memories of my mother.

As I entered my teenage years, I started to take an interest in my appearance and my figure, but I was still fighting a losing battle with her.

I'll never forget the roast lamb meal she served. She sat down to a plate of succulent meat, while I was dished up three slices of fatty off-cuts.

I refused to eat them, my first-ever act of rebellion and one I came sorely to regret.

Quick as a flash, she reached for one of her garden canes and proceeded to strike me with it on my hands and the backs of my legs.

I ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom, where I remained until my father came home some hours later.

My teenage years continued to be marked by her hostility towards me. According to her I was ugly, I was stupid, and I was the biggest mistake of her life.

When I left school at 16, we were living in Tiverton in Devon, in a small bungalow.

To this day I can't remember what I said to upset her, but for nine months she refused to speak to me. It was a soul-destroying experience.

To make matters worse, she banned Daddy from talking to me, too. I'd go to work all day – I was a shop assistant – then return home to find my evening meal waiting for me on the kitchen table.

Mum had made it for me but had also banned me from the living room, so I would eat standing up in the kitchen, then wash up my plate and retreat to my bedroom.

It felt as if I was serving a prison sentence – made all the worse because it was meted out by my own mother rather than by a jail warden.

Somewhat predictably, I married at an inadvisedly young age. My mother was completely convinced that I was on-the-shelf material, and I was determined to prove her wrong.

I was 20 when I wed an entirely unsuitable man who was 12 years older than me. By then I couldn't bear to be in the house with my mother: I was desperate to leave, and saw this man as my escape.

Little wonder our ill-fated union ended in divorce less than five years later, after I realised I'd simply swapped one prison for another.

By the time I reached my 30s, I was enjoying a successful career as a sales executive. I'd remarried, and my then-husband and I enjoyed holidays abroad several times a year.

I drove a BMW, and owned a boat and a caravan. Years went by when I didn't hear from my mother, but she only had to click her fingers and I'd drop everything in an instant to please her.

It seemed that even in my adult life, I was unable to escape her clutches. Inexplicably, whenever she summoned me I was there in an instant.

My father died of a heart attack in 1993, when he was 75. My mother, who had banned me from their lives in yet another fit of pique for the previous two years, only got in touch with me the day after my father had died, to demand I organise and pay for the funeral.

The fact that I was devastated by my father's death was completely lost on my mother: it was all about her.

I later discovered that she also wanted me to pay for some work to her house, which had fallen into disrepair.

I spent thousands of pounds on refurbishing her bungalow, but even that didn't meet with her approval, and she soon declared that she could no longer live on her own.

So, together, we chose an upmarket nursing home – which, naturally, I would pay for – where she gleefully announced she would be waited on hand and foot.

She died two years after my father, not a day having gone by when she didn't proclaim that she wanted to go and be with him.

I realise, now, that she had always had tremendous love for him, and only him.

Before my mother died, I contacted one of her friends to see if she would visit her and she refused. But this friend, who had been acutely aware of how my mother mistreated me, said she could never understand why she was so vicious towards me, since I had always been such a good girl.

I only wish I knew why my mother treated me the way she did, because her actions have blighted my life.

People have asked why I never sought professional help to try to come to terms with how my mother treated me.

I don't see myself as a victim: I think what I went through has made me a strong woman.

I was always afraid to have children of my own. You learn parenting skills from your mother, and I was terrified that I, too, would be too vicious or too forceful with my own offspring.

As a result, I took the agonising decision not to have a family of my own. I have married the wrong sort of man twice, have played the unsatisfying role of 'people pleaser' throughout my life, and I have very few female friends.

My mother's ill-treatment of me means I go over-the-top in seeking love and approval, which has left me open to abuse in romantic relationships. I go to extraordinary lengths to please people.

My mother told me friends would use and abuse me, so I've never allowed myself to form female friendships.

I didn't learn vital social skills when I was younger, which has left me lacking the confidence one needs to meet people and sustain relationships.

These days, twice-divorced and single, I am 55 and living in Charante in South-West France.

I work as an English language teacher and am very much a loner. My mother always warned me that I would miss her when she was gone.

It's 17 years since she died and, reluctant as I am to admit it, she was right – I do miss her.

I can't escape the fact that I tried so hard to make her love me. That I was never good enough for her will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Even today I'd go to the ends of the earth for her acceptance and just to hear – once – my own mother say to me: 'Maria-Louise, I love you.'