Sunday 26 October 2014

Barry Egan: Tarantula Saatchi's attempt to blacken Nigella has utterly failed

The alleged genius of PR has been thoroughly filleted in the court of public opinion

Published 06/04/2014 | 02:30

Nigella Lawson and Barry Egan
Nigella Lawson

NIGELLA Lawson never took cocaine in front of me. It is my lasting shame.

In my darkest hours, it haunts me as a personal slight that Nigella didn't feel I was 'cool' enough to do something illegal in front of me – snort a line of the Devil's dandruff.

Either that or perhaps the Domestic Goddess wasn't exactly the cokehead with good breeding that she was portrayed as at the macabre fraud trial (the drug-taking "took place at an alarmingly frequent rate") of her two former personal assistants last year. In an email read out in the court, Charles described her as "Higella".

At the early supper I had with Nigella in late November, 2004 in London, Nigella was anything but Higella.

This was during the period she was supposed to be riding the white horse (at the infamous trial her two former assistants would paint the picture of their employer with an addiction of over a decade).

She was quite the convivial dining companion. The Domestic Goddess certainly wasn't buzzing around the room, her eyeballs the size of golf balls, and wrecking fellow diners' heads with her own upper-class version of "Story, bud?"

If Nigella Lawson was a cokehead, however well-born and la-di-da a cokehead, she did an excellent job of hiding her addiction to a class A narcotic that night in the Rib Room in the Carlton Towers Hotel in chic Cadogan Place. (I had met her for the first time the year before in Dublin's Merrion Hotel and we stayed in touch, exchanging mobile numbers.)

She couldn't have been nicer that night in London. Nige – as she insisted on me calling her – even said that if I missed my flight to Dublin I could come back and stay in "the spare room" in her and her then husband Charles Saatchi's house around the corner in Belgravia.

And no doubt I would have had a blissful night's sleep under Nigella's and Charles's roof after all the rich food and wine that the Domestic Goddess had pleasantly plied me with.

Ten years on, I can only conclude that Nigella's late first husband John Diamond, who died in 2000, is not having the most restful of sleeps after recent events.

In fact, I'd say John Diamond is turning in his grave – after all the hurt and humiliation Saatchi has visited, intentionally or not, on Nigella – because he gave his beloved Nigella's relationship with Saatchi his blessing when he knew he didn't have long to live because of his throat cancer.

Diamond's rest in peace would have been further disturbed perhaps with Saatchi revealing – for the purposes of "clarification" – recently to a newspaper: "Nigella and I began our relationship during the last six months of her husband John Diamond's life, rather than after his death as she [Nigella] stated in court. Looking back at that time, I very deeply regret that this betrayal of John occurred."

I'd say most people would take the view that it is Saatchi, more than anyone, who has done the betraying in all this. Charles Saatchi is not responsible for Nigella being prevented from boarding a plane at Heathrow to Los Angeles last Sunday and the catastrophic effect it might or might not have on her TV career in America.

But by pushing her into the court case and the unedifying, even damning, details of Nigella's private life that he knew would emerge, the public relations guru surely knew of the consequences for Nigella.

The night I had dinner with Nigella, she couldn't have been more loving in her words about Saatchi.

"I cannot imagine not wanting to be with Charles," she said. "I don't do things lightly. I'm not a fickle person." She added in reference to Charles, who is 17 years her senior: "I think you're always the same age. Your biological age changes but you're always the same age. I do talk about age a lot but I don't actually have a thing about it."

I never met someone who was so besotted with their partner.

Yet on December 5, 2013, the man she was so blindly in love with was writing in a column in the Evening Standard in an obvious reference to the trial, musing on the story of a snake that had "made a fatal error when he decided to make a tarantula his lunch. Fatal indeed, because as he digested the spider, the tarantula's venom was released, paralysing and killing the carpet python."

The public might also take the view that Charles may have indulged in a spot of schadenfreude during the court case after Nigella had refused to support him over the controversial pictures of him grabbing her around the throat outside Scott's restaurant last June (which appeared to cause the collapse of their marriage weeks later).

Rather than come out of the trial looking like a gentleman, Saatchi looked like a vengeful if wealthy weasel, whatever about a vituperative snake.

"It is, of course, a deep irony that one who has over the years so skillfully manipulated the media for his own ends should now have been hung, drawn and quartered by it," art critic David Lee told the Guardian of one-time PR mastermind Saatchi.

Nigella once told the Observer Food Monthly magazine: "Women of my generation were keen – rightly – not to be tied to the stove, but the ramifications of this were that they felt a sense of dread in the kitchen.

"How can this be good for anyone? I also feel that to denigrate any activity because it has traditionally been associated with the female sphere is in itself anti-feminist."

I think now, after all she has endured, Nigella is slowing turning into a true feminist icon.

"I never wanted to speak in public about my divorce," she tells Vogue this month. "I had to go to court and I hated it. I won't do it again."

A criminal trial of two former employees that turned into a marital war involving a failed marriage, bullying and drug use caused Nigella huge hurt – both personally and to her reputation.

But Saatchi is arguably the biggest loser in all this. Nigella might have to eat some humble pie with the US embassy in London to get her visa but she will get there in the end. The Americans love her.

Somehow, I doubt not even Charles Saatchi loves Charles Saatchi now.

Sunday Independent

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