Mega-rich Saatchi brothers are worlds apart in matters of the heart
As Charles and Nigella head for divorce, Maurice is inconsolable over Jospehine's death, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
THis is the story of two clever young brothers called Charles and Maurice who founded the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. Through boldness, imagination and business acumen, the firm rapidly became a tremendous success. The brilliant campaign that helped bring Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979 brought it fame and the brothers became mega-rich.
The genial and sociable Maurice's other achievements included being a governor of the London School of Economics, a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and, from 1995, a member of the House of Lords. He also served as chairman of the Conservative Party and advised it that "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything".
Maurice felt himself especially fortunate in his blissfully happy second marriage, in 1984, to Mullingar-born Josephine Hart, who had briefly been his boss in the 1960s when they worked in magazine publishing. Josephine became a theatre producer and joined the London cultural elite, charming such famous people as Sinead Cusack, Bob Geldof and Roger Moore into helping her bring poetry to a mass audience by giving public readings.
With Maurice's encouragement, Josephine began to write. Damage, her first novel, sold more than a million copies and was filmed.
In 2009, The Truth About Love, her last, exorcised her terrible childhood tragedies (three siblings had died at different times) in its examination of the havoc wrought in a family by the grief induced by a child's death.
A few months later she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.
"Our life is ruined," she said to her husband when she knew she was dying. And so it was. Since her death in 2011, Maurice has been inconsolable and wants to remain so. "Coming to terms and moving on are expressions of betrayal and unforgivable selfishness," he says. "They mean the lover has abandoned the loved." Every morning he visits his wife's tomb in the bluebell wood on his Sussex estate and eats his breakfast and talks to her.
Maurice's energies are devoted to trying to change the law that inhibits doctors from experimenting with new cancer treatments. He was unable to attend the recent anniversary party of the Ireland Fund of Great Britain – of which Josephine had been a founder – because he was walking the streets of Mullingar looking at the scenes of her youth.
Around the same time, his big brother's marriage was dashing itself on the rocks in full view of the public. Charming, but reclusive and short-tempered, Charles is even more famous than Maurice because of his role in discovering conceptual artists like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin and turning them into multi-million-dollar international brands for which hedgies with no taste paid enormous sums of money.
Charles was envied by millions of men because of his marriage (his third) to Nigella Lawson. Nigella had a very privileged upbringing. Her brilliant father became Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer; her mother was an heiress. After graduating from Oxford, her brains, beauty and network of powerful connections gave her an easy entry into literary journalism.
A lover of good and comforting food, in the late 1990s she wrote a bestseller called How to Eat and with Nigella Bites in 1999 began a television career as a curvaceous, sensual presenter of food programmes. The 'Domestic Goddess' was born.
Yet Nigella's had not been the gilded life it seemed. As a child, she was lonely and unhappy, and as an adult, she had tragedies to rival Josephine's. Her mother, her sister Thomasina and husband John Diamond all died of cancer when Nigella was respectively 25, 33 and 41. But she was a survivor, and only nine months after her husband's death, she and her two small children moved in with Charles Saatchi, who had been a supportive friend during Diamond's long illness, and whom she married in 2003.
Her career continued its glittering trajectory and gained her millions of admiring viewers and readers. "Middle-aged, middle-class men love Nigella," wrote Simon Hattenstone in 2002 "– so posh, so motherly, so wifely, so sluttish, all in the one package. Many women like her too because she is such an inspiring role model – not only has she coped brilliantly with the tragedies in her life, she is bright and beautiful, of a mature age (42), with a grown-up body rather than the typical TV rake."
Hattenstone had been given the full treatment that enslaved most interviewers but didn't quite work with him. "I'm sure she has a great capacity for warmth," he observed, "but I do think there is something imperious and calculated about Nigella. The food, the home, the charm – they are all real and unreal. She puts on a terrific show of intimacy, designed to seduce, but if you don't buy totally into the seduction, she seems a little puzzled and peeved." That rings true with me. I met her only once, at a party, and found her distant and a little cold.
Nigella's propensity to make food erotic by such devices as dipping her fingers in sauce and licking them lasciviously made her reputation. She resents being accused of gastro-porn, yet it's her unique selling point. She complained about it in 2006. "At the back of my Feasts book there is a picture of me holding a baguette, and Charles said: 'I like the picture of you holding your phallic symbols.' I said: 'They are just loaves of bread.'" She was uncomfortable about her image. "I don't want to be some blow-up sex doll in the kitchen in my 50s."
Like it or not, at 53, that's what Nigella is. And as a judge on the hit American cooking programme The Taste, she now has millions more adoring fans. Her marriage was thought to be idyllic. She laughed about Charles loving Shredded Wheat and Maltesers and having no interest in her food. Yet after a public embarrassment, the relationship collapsed in less than a month.
On June 9, a photographer took a 27-minute video of Saatchi clutching Nigella's throat and sticking his finger up her nose in a Mayfair restaurant. A week later, startling images appeared in the press. Saatchi – who insists they were tactile people having a difference of opinion and that Nigella had been known to grasp his throat – alleges that her PR adviser suggested he should apologise and say he was ashamed, leading to a furious row after which he told her to leave. She did, followed a few days later by her personal effects.
The following day, Saatchi went to the police and accepted a caution for assault, while almost simultaneously telling the Evening Standard that they'd been having merely "a playful tiff". As she refused to answer his calls or texts, Saatchi became enraged and blamed her for giving Brand Nigella priority over their marriage. Unbelievably, the famous recluse said publicly that the nose-tweaking was benign: "Even domestic goddesses sometimes have a bit of snot in their nose. I was trying to fish it out."
Last Sunday, the Mail on Sunday carried a statement from him in which he said they'd been drifting apart, that he was disappointed she hadn't explained that he had never been violent, and announced they would now be divorcing. She is very rich. He is filthy rich. But the assumption that at least they wouldn't be fighting over money has been shaken by the strong rumour that Nigella's being advised by her cousin, Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, the £600 (€693)-an-hour divorce lawyer who has acted for Prince Charles, Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney. Nigella will no doubt maintain her dignified silence and no one knows what Charles will do.
Maurice, though, will be crying by Josephine's tomb.