Sunday 18 March 2018

Two wealthy pensioners heading for, wait for it, a cage fight

Charles Saatchi and a 'Spectator' scribe are prepared to batter each other 'to bits'. Judith Woods assesses a bizarre feud

British art tycoon Charles Saatchi
British art tycoon Charles Saatchi

London Daily Telegraph

'My mother was from Sparta, my great-uncle was a German field marshal; if Charles Saatchi challenges me, I am not the sort of man who backs down."

Fighting talk. Quite literally. Speaking from his Swiss home in Gstaad, where he has been staying since Christmas, Greek-born Taki Theodoracopulos, 77, international boulevardier and London Spectator columnist provocateur, is embroiled in an extraordinary feud with Saatchi, 70.

And neither man appears particularly willing to step back from the brink of bare-knuckle fisticuffs. Not even to pop along to the post office and collect his pension.

In order to square up to art dealer Saatchi, who has called Taki a "soppy geriatric" and hinted that he would like to batter him "to bits" in a cage fight, the Hellenic bon viveur says he needs three days' notice to be on top form.

"I need a day to fly back from Gstaad, a day not to get drunk, and I am ready," he says, as though he were accepting an invitation to tea at Sandringham.

Although Taki, scion of a hugely wealthy shipping dynasty, owns three pistols, they won't be necessary. Nor will he need to rise before dawn, as cage fights are, shall we say, rather less hidebound by convention.

To the uninitiated, cage fighting is a cross between wrestling, boxing and brawling. There are no gloves, no Marquess of Queensberry rules, just a baying crowd and a referee to call a halt just before someone gets killed.

Saatchi claims to be proficient in the ring; and indeed as nose-tweaking and light throttling are permitted, he has already provided a very public demonstration of his prowess at a table outside Scott's Restaurant.

In the time-honoured fashion of duelling everywhere, a lady lies behind this septuagenarian sabre-rattling. It began when, writing in the Spectator, Taki voiced his disgust at Saatchi's assault on his now ex-wife Nigella Lawson.

He referred to Saatchi as having "a coward's bullying manner" and by way of a florid metaphor elsewhere declared that "expecting a pornographer to have a heart is like counting upon Charles Saatchi to act like a gentleman".

By way of a riposte, Saatchi wrote, in an open letter, addressed to "Ms Taki" at the Spectator, that Nigella would have been "aghast" at his support as "she always found you toe-curlingly vile".

And thus was the blue touch paper lit.

Taki is nonplussed by Saatchi's assertion that he isn't welcome on Team Nigella.

"I'm surprised," he says, mildly. "I thought we were friends. I'm a friend of her brother Dominic, actually, and I knew her when she was married to her first husband, John Diamond, but I haven't seen her for years. . ." His voice trails off with studied disinterest. Then he puts the boot in.

"I have never met Charles Saatchi and I don't know very much about him. I had no idea what he even looked like, but then I saw those pictures of him with Nigella and, well, his behaviour was totally unacceptable.

"To grab a woman by the throat is just not done. Maybe I shouldn't have called him the most disgusting man in the world, because it isn't technically true, but what's said is said."

This, in a nutshell, is why Saatchi has expressed a desire to grab Taki by the throat. "He called me a woman, then he claimed I 'brag' about being a black belt, which I never do. Yes, I won the world judo championship for veterans and I was a karate champion in Greece for years, but I do not 'brag' about anything."

Notoriously volatile Saatchi, who hasn't had the best of press lately, does his reputation no favours with his menacing tone – or indeed content.

"People tell me that in your unreadable column you also like to brag that you are a black belt at karate," he wrote. "Well, me too, old boy. But apparently your 'fights' are genteel affairs, against other soppy geriatrics rolling around the floor in crisp white outfits, in some bit of judokai nonsense. Mine take place in cages, 20 feet square, unofficial little events with no gloves, no rules, and the loser being carried out, usually battered to bits. You will understand why I laughed out loud at your schoolyard boast that I should try throttling a real hard case like you."

Given these minacious revelations, it would seem Nigella got off lightly, despite her allusions to her ex-husband's "intimate terrorism" during the fraud trial of her two former assistants, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who were acquitted. She has said he never hit her; possibly because she declined to get into the cage with him.

By uncanny coincidence, this month sees the launch of the film The Grudge Match, starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone as formerly fierce rivals in the boxing ring who are coaxed out of retirement for one final showdown.

The parallels are so obvious that some have wondered whether the Saatchi-Taki rumble in the urban jungle is part of a terribly clever sponsorship deal. It seems not; honour, not lucre, is at stake and the winner will take all, although he might need a new set of dentures afterwards.

"In this day and age conflicts are usually solved in court," muses Taki. "I would rather it all went away because I don't want to give Charles Saatchi publicity. But nor do I step away from a fight."

But what about his wife? Is she laundering face towels to mop his brow? Embroidering a boxing robe with his name?

"My wife is a German princess and thinks this is all absolutely ridiculous," he concedes with a chuckle.

Quite so; Taki is married to Princess Alexandra von Schonburg. Life for Taki is normally spent skiing, socialising or penning his column. He rarely visits London because he has houses scattered about the globe (and let's not forget the yacht) and enjoys seeing friends when he is in Athens.

"I don't want to be Charles Saatchi's friend, or his enemy," says Taki. "But a challenge is a challenge."

© The Daily Telegraph

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