Monday 20 October 2014

Recipe for revenge: how Nigella can win the bruising publicity war as marriage ends

Published 09/07/2013 | 17:00

One of the shocking pictures of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson
One of the shocking pictures of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson

THE disintegration of a marriage is painful enough when it happens in private. But if you are famous, and the marriage breakdown is ugly and played out in the full glare of the world's media, it must be utterly soul destroying – for both parties.

It has been horribly discomfiting over the last three weeks to witness the very public ending of the marriage of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson to former advertising guru and multi-millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi – the man credited with making Margaret Thatcher electable.

It started with a shocking picture of Saatchi grabbing his wife by the throat outside Scott's, a trendy London restaurant, during a row at a birthday dinner.

And it ended miserably in a final, dominating act of emotional control when Saatchi released a 268-word statement to a Sunday newspaper last weekend saying the marriage was over – without giving Nigella any warning of his intentions.

It was an attempted masterstroke from a man who knows how to manipulate the message and who spent a fruitful career devising slick advertising campaigns for governments and big business. He denied that he had ever bullied Nigella in private, but here he was using his media savvy to bully her in public.

In fact Saatchi, who was married twice before, and who joked in a book published last year that ex-wives make good housekeepers – they keep all the houses, has been ahead in the news-massaging stakes from the moment the stomach-churning pictures with Nigella were published on June 16.

With the public's mood clearly against him he voluntarily went to Charing Cross police station and accepted a police caution.

It was a clever move and an attempt to prevent the incident hanging over them.

In his pathetic media statement on Sunday he clearly attempted to come across as the victim, and even had the temerity to do his best to blame Nigella for the split saying the decision was 'heartbreaking' but that the couple had 'become estranged' and had been drifting apart for a year.

In a really low blow, he even accused the celebrity chef of holding him by the throat in arguments at home.

Finally, he said he had been forced to act in such a drastic way because his wife failed to defend him in public.

This was an astonishing attack by Saatchi, who seems to be concerned with salvaging his reputation and legacy more than saving his marriage, or showing contrition.

Nigella is clearly devastated at this turn of events. She is refusing to comment publicly but "friends" have told the British media that she is shocked and aghast at what her husband has done.

They say she takes great issue with his account of the reasons for the split. While Saatchi says that in the three weeks since she left their home she has not returned his calls, Nigella's friends say that the precise opposite is true.

Nigella, a hugely successful cook with her own fortune of £20m (€23m), comes from a privileged background, but suffered personal tragedy when her first husband, journalist John Diamond, died from throat cancer 10 years ago. They had two children Cosima (19) and Bruno (17) who, along with Saatchi's daughter from his second marriage, Phoebe (18), must also be traumatised by this turn of events. They are victims too.

Up to now Nigella has maintained a dignified silence – but possibly to her cost. Now that the gloves are really off she needs to respond fast with her side of the story.

Nigella has the benefit of being hugely popular, and most people believe she is the victim of an unsavoury episode.

She should do one, and only one, substantial interview presenting her side of the story. Communicating her message through friends or sources is no longer enough.

If she follows this strategy – at the same time making it clear she won't speak publicly about it again – she will have some chance of rebalancing the scales and taking back the initiative.

In the last few weeks we have seen snatched pictures of a pale and distraught Nigella, but Saatchi has been going about his business as usual. He has even gone back to Scott's where he enjoyed a meal, a cigarette and a few glasses of wine.

Hard and all as it might be, Nigella needs to get out there, hold her head up high, and display to the world, and her children, that the notable Lawson spirit is far from dead.

She may indeed need a good divorce lawyer, but what she needs even more is the advice of a media guru every bit as clever as her estranged husband.

Irish Independent

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