News Ruth Dudley Edwards

Saturday 20 September 2014

Wife Nigella's fame just too hot for Saatchi

The formerly anti-social art collector has now turned into an energetic attention-seeker, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 18/08/2013 | 05:00

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FAILED RECIPE: Nigella Lawson's 10-year marriage to Charles Saatchi.

'If, like me," wrote Charles Saatchi in Bubble, a book of essays he published last spring, "you have many reasons to be less than secure and self-assured, and like me, you are far from stable even on your best days, don't for a moment imagine a psychotherapist will be of more help than a physiotherapist."

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That's a pity, for if ever a chap needed help to sort out his head, it's Saatchi, the one-time recluse who in recent years has been showing an increasing need to reveal himself to the public.

It's just two months since the publication of photographs of the staggeringly successful advertising mogul – who turned the dross of the conceptual art he favoured into gold – grabbing his wife Nigella Lawson by the throat in a Mayfair restaurant. (Incidentally, if you're searching for evidence that the world is mad, you might like to know that, since then, diners are allegedly queuing up to sit at that fateful table and photograph themselves.)

By all accounts, the marriage would have stayed intact had Saatchi been prepared to make a public apology for his conduct, but he refused and she walked out. The next day he admitted assault and accepted a police caution, while subsequently giving the media a string of confusing interpretations and justifications some of which were clearly designed to embarrass and humiliate his wife.

But why was he complaining? In his 2010 book, Question, in which he answered questions about himself from the art world, the media and the public, he was asked: "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence? "No," was the answer. "But that doesn't mean I haven't deserved to be. One of my ex-wives gave as her grounds for divorce my 'unreasonable behaviour'. People get locked up for far less every day."

Why in his late 60s, did the famously anti-social Saatchi, who always refused to give interviews, begin publishing books about himself and his often controversial opinions? Was it because his wife had become so famous?

It's hard not to conclude it was because he desperately wanted attention, but on his terms. In other words, it was another manifestation of the control freakery which seems to have doomed all attempts to mend his marriage. When Nigella wouldn't reply to his messages and texts, and the media were hounding him, he completely lost his equilibrium and with it his judgement, living up to the title of one of his 2012 Q&A books, Be the Worst You Can Be: Life's Too Long for Patience and Virtue. (The other was My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic.)

In a fit of rage, he announced he was divorcing her, complaining that she hadn't defended him publicly from accusations of being an abuser, and Nigella promptly petitioned for divorce on the grounds of his, yes, "unreasonable behaviour".

After the decree nisi was granted, according to friends of Nigella, his messages became increasingly erratic.

They spoke, but she wouldn't go back. Phoebe, his 18-year-old daughter by the second Mrs Saatchi, told the press her step-mother "has behaved in a very cold-hearted way. She has been my mother since I was seven or eight and has just abandoned me."

Poor Nigella! Poor Phoebe! Even poor Charles, who appears to have imploded! Yes, I do feel a bit sorry for him.

That other erstwhile self-publicist and master of spin Max Clifford is a different matter. Clifford loves money and power and has acquired plenty of both through dirt-dishing. In the Nineties, he openly vowed to bring down John Major's government, and in pursuit of this, representing the ex-mistress of married

David Mellor, secretary of state for national heritage, he fatally undermined Major's campaign to bring back family values. He was proud of forcing Mellor's resignation by making him an object of ridicule with the false allegation that he always wore a Chelsea football shirt when having sex.

He wasn't much kinder to Labour, helping Tracey Temple, with whom the deputy prime minister John Prescott had an affair, sell her story for six figures. Over the years, he's been merciless in exposing what he considered hypocrisy with the help of his "dedicated and loyal bunch" of undercover investigators.

Now that he's been charged with allegedly sexually assaulting several girls and women from 1966-1985, there isn't much sympathy around, although it remains to be seen if he's guilty of anything. As one internet joker put it: "I never thought I'd see myself feeling sorry for Max Clifford . . . And I was right."

My sentiments exactly. The biter has been bitten.

Sunday Independent

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