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Sunday 22 December 2013


No winners in a sordid tale of a celebrity home

The chef, her ex, their children, the assistants -- no one is coming out of this mess a victor, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

A quote from Confucius -- the Fifth-Century BC Chinese philosopher -- emerged during the gossipfest surrounding the fraud trial of the Grillo sisters. "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves," he said.

Nigella Lawson was indeed, as she has said, treated as a defendant rather than a witness and "maliciously vilified" in court. Her reputation has taken a terrible pummelling. For a very private woman with a glamorous yet pure facade, the revelations about drugs, depression, extravagance and marital subservience are humiliating. Nor does it burnish the image of a Domestic Goddess to know she ran a chaotic household.

Still, like the British prime minister -- who inadvertently almost caused the case to collapse when he declared himself on Team Nigella -- the British public are mostly on her side.

And, if she's steely enough, and is prepared to endure indignities like a TV heart-to-heart with Oprah Winfrey, she may rescue her career across the pond. Americans are puritanical, but there's nothing they love better than repentant sinners.

Then there's Saatchi. Despite his brilliance, charm and extraordinary success in advertising (he created the most successful agency in the world) and art (he launched Damien Hirst and the Young British Artists, and may God forgive him), he wasn't an A-list celebrity until the photographs of him squeezing his wife's throat appeared in the tabloids.

He liked fame on his terms (avoiding parties but using his money to drive his books up the charts) but since his unattractive performance in the witness box and Nigella's contention that he committed acts of "intimate terrorism", he's now famous and reviled.

In addition to what Nigella described last Friday as a "sustained background campaign deliberately designed to destroy my reputation", there are now claims that in addition to using legal threats to force her into court, a 'source' offered an 'exclusive' that Saatchi had been her lover before her first husband's death of cancer.

In a recent book, Saatchi explained: "Everyone is needy, arrogant, callous, aggrieved, self-absorbed, petty, mean-spirited, spiteful, greedy, envious, ill-mannered and malicious", and all that clearly is true of him.

He's also a vengeful control freak on an operatic scale. After he had given evidence, and as his ex-wife was actually in court, his weekly Evening Standard art column -- headlined, 'The Ultimate Revenge' -- discussed the mythical snake that fatally decided to eat a tarantula. "Fatal indeed, because as he digested the spider, the tarantula's venom was released, paralysing and killing the carpet python."

The difference would appear to be that in this case, the snake thinks it's worth it.

Nigella's children Cosima, 20, and Bruno, 17, and Saatchi's daughter Phoebe, 19, are casualties too. Having lived together for years they've been forced to take sides in a bitter public feud that has uncovered much that is embarrassing about their parents and their own indulged yet neglected upbringing. They had premium tickets to concerts and innumerable luxurious holidays, but rarely with their parents, since Saatchi wanted Nigella to himself.

The Grillos were acquitted on the fraud charge, but not before the world saw how poor girls exposed to careless wealth can develop a shocking sense of entitlement. In my favourite line of the whole sorry saga, Francesca -- offered the chance of avoiding prosecution if she and her sister took a cut in salary and moved from the Saatchi house to a large property three miles away -- allegedly said: "I'd rather be in jail than live in Battersea."

Their employers treated them as intimates, set few boundaries, outsourced to them much of their parenting responsibilities and gave them unchecked access to enormous resources. No one is denying that they blew almost £700,000 (€836,000) on Saatchi's credit cards, but how silly they look with nothing to show for the greed that destroyed their relationship and their reputations as loyal friends except designer fripperies and a tabloid deal.

It was unsurprising that Elisabetta, Nigella's trusted right-hand woman for 14 years, cried and fainted in court. The defence line that she and her sister had financial carte blanche from Nigella so they would keep her drug-taking secret secured their acquittal but had implications of blackmail. The family, friends and world they so loved see them as betrayers. And their family back home in Italy can't be pleased that their father's mafia past and imprisonment for kidnapping has come out.

Who would hire them now?

Saatchi should have dug five extra graves while he was at it.



Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards