Take a pinch of cocaine, add a credit card bill, and you have recipe for war
Revelations about Nigella and Charles Saatchi's relationship have shocked us, but every couple has a public facade, says Judith Woods
She is the Domestic Goddess who sold us a dream of sensuous pleasure, of home and hearth hedonism, now said to have feet of clay. He is the advertising guru and art collector who assaulted his wife, now powerless to detoxify his own brand.
Neither Nigella Lawson (53) nor her ex-husband Charles Saatchi (70) is in the dock. They are witnesses in the trial of their former PAs, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, who stand accused of fraudulently spending £685,000 (€818,000) on his credit cards. But the spotlight belongs to the celebrity cook and the reclusive art dealer, and them alone.
Isleworth Crown Court is an unlikely setting for headline-grabbing revelations. But as the anatomy of a marriage is dissected and the skeletons laid bare, our gasp out-loud astonishment is no less palpable.
As the details of Nigella's drug-taking and Charles's "intimate terrorism" spilled out, the unhappy picture that was painted was hard to reconcile with the portrait of an oddly matched, yet sweetly devoted couple that they presented to the world.
Their dirty laundry is now being aired in its entirety. From the gossipy and banal to the deeply disturbing, it is strewn across the public domain. We have learnt that he kept wads of cash in freezer bags on top of the fridge, like an eccentric pensioner; was "very controlling"; and had a filthy temper.
We know she felt unhappy that the unsociable Charles only let her hold a dinner party once every two years; was forbidden by him from washing up; smoked cannabis in front of her children; and on occasion resorted to cocaine as a coping mechanism.
Despite this, he professes to adore her still. Nigella counters that he set out to destroy her when their marriage broke down, leading to a speedy divorce seven weeks after he was given a police caution for apparently attempting to throttle her at Scott's, a restaurant in Mayfair.
Call it a hackneyed cliche, call it an illuminating truism, but it bears repetition none the less – nobody looking in from the outside can ever know the truth about a marriage. That a couple variously blessed with beauty and money, internationally successful careers, the wherewithal to indulge in fine dining and invitations to the smartest parties in the land could so dramatically crash and burn has been unexpectedly shocking to the envious bystanders who had watched them blaze a trail for the past decade.
"It's easy for the rest of us to look at other people's lives and assume they are happier than us, especially if they are richer," says Paula Hall, author of 'Improving Your Relationship for Dummies'.
"It's quite humbling to be reminded that money can't buy love and that even those with enough cash to walk away find themselves staying in relationships longer than they should."
For those couples for whom money is an issue (most of us), there is a perception that a bigger income or a windfall would stop arguments about relatively trivial matters, and so generate greater feelings of contentment. Not so, says Hall, who cites the recent slew of Lottery-winners whose relationships have broken up.
"Couples might seem to be bickering about the minutiae of family life, but it's often a symptom of not feeling respected, or cared for, or cherished, and no amount of money can make up for that."
According to therapist Francine Kaye, who styles herself the Divorce Doctor, even the wealthy can feel too downtrodden to leave an ailing or failing relationship.
"It's an emotional balance sheet, not a financial one, and maybe it was the case that Nigella craved her husband's approval, and when he withheld it, she felt cast adrift and unable to act independently.
"If you call yourself a Domestic Goddess, however tongue-in-cheek, you have a lot to live up to," says Kaye.
Sometimes, when a marriage breaks down, the facade is all that's left, apart from the hope (however unrealistic) that the unsatisfactory status quo will somehow change.
"Charles Saatchi probably does still love Nigella, or at least the idea of Nigella," says Kaye. "He may desire her beauty and admire her brain and remember how much he enjoyed her companionship but he evidently couldn't mould her in the way that he wanted.
"That's the thing about marriage: you may see a couple out and about socialising, but the real mechanics of the relationship take place indoors, which is where people's flaws become apparent."
After all, it's a rare couple that doesn't at least try to play to the gallery at a dinner party or drinks evening. We've all encountered the phenomenon of the look-at-me spouse who solicitously opens car doors and pulls out chairs when others are watching, yet at home can't be bothered standing up to fetch the remote.
Then there are those couples who appear to make a point of holding hands or engaging in displays of affection when in company, yet once they close their front door, theirs is a marriage characterised by a lack of physical proximity.
Denise Knowles, a counsellor with Relate for the past 23 years says: "We all cling to the belief that there will be a happy ending," she says.
"Marriage isn't easy, it's hard work, and sometimes two people just don't want the same things, or can't give the other the thing they want, but it's very hard to admit to the world that you are in a relationship that isn't good, so we try to hide it."
Britain's leading PR man, Mark Borkowski, says: "The main lesson I think we can draw from all this is that when God wants to curse you, he makes you rich and famous."
Indeed, for Nigella and Charles, the only consolation may be that if money cannot buy love, it at least secured a quickie divorce. (© Daily Telegraph, London)