There was one story that
dominated the British papers today. It trended
on social media, and slogans related to the story are now
appearing in graffition walls and on
T-shirts. It’s a winding tale of love, cocaine, and domestic violence. In short, everyone in the U.K. has become captivated by the bitter feud between divorcees Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi.
It’s been a nasty fall from grace for the pair. After they married 10 years ago, Lawson and Saatchi were once one of the golden couples of London society. She was a popular celebrity journalist and chef, appearing frequently both in print and on television (Lawson was in the process of trying to break into the U.S. market, where she appeared on “Iron Chef America” and “The Taste,” following the earlier success of her “Nigella Bites” program airing on The Food Network). He was a legend in the advertising world, having made a fortune founding the huge agency Saatchi and Saatchi, and later became one of the most important collectors in the world of modern art.
That all changed this past June, when Lawson and Saatchi dined at Scott’s in Mayfair, central London, and the Sunday People published photographs that appeared to show Saatchi grabbing his crying wife by the throat. Police later investigated the incident and cautioned Saatchi, who told one London newspaper that the photo just showed a “playful tiff.” A few weeks later, Saatchi divorced his wife.
The story would have probably been forgotten if it hadn’t been for the court case of Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, two sisters from Italy who had worked as assistants for Lawson and Saatchi. The Grillo sisters are accused of using credit cards loaned to them by the couple to spend £685,000 (more than $US1 million) on luxury clothes, accessories and rooms at high-end hotels for themselves, charges which they deny.
During the trial, lawyers for the sisters alleged that Lawson had allowed their incredible spending to buy their silence about her cocaine, marijuana, and prescription drug habit. Emails from Saatchi, in which he accused Lawson of being “so off her head” on drugs she allowed them to “spend whatever they liked,” were read in court. Suddenly the pictures published by the Sunday People began to take on a different light: Saatchi reportedly told friends he was taking cocaine out of his wife’s nose, though in court he said he had never seen any evidence that she was a drug addict.
If this was Saatchi’s big PR move to get back at Lawson (as some have speculated), it now appears to have backfired. Lawson has been in court for the past few days, and she has openly admitted to using cocaine a handful of times, but denied that she was addicted. “If I was taking cocaine and cannabis to the extent you say, I wouldn’t be standing here,” she told prosecutors today, also adding “If you want to put me on trial, put me on trial.”
Her performance in court has found much of the British public on her side. “Team Nigella” is the word trending on social media, being spray-painted on walls, and appearing on T-shirts. and the Daily Mail ran an elegant photograph of her on their front page with the touching headline “I didn’t have a drug problem. I had a life problem — The day Nigella unburdened her soul in court” (as the Guardian notes, the story and its presentation
has a whiff of Princess Diana about it). Team Charles, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen.
How could Saatchi have lost the public sympathy so quickly? Well, first, consider the two people here. Saatchi has played an extraordinary role in British society in the past few years, and some aspects of it have been controversial — creating the advertisement that arguably got Margaret Thatcher elected, or helping to send art prices into the stratosphere, for example. He’s notoriously cantankerous, and extremely rich. Lawson, on the other hand, has always been remarkably popular in the U.K. — her good looks, down-to-earth cooking style, and flirty manner have made her popular with both men and women.
There’s may also be another factor that says much about modern Britain: The metropolitan elites who made up much of Lawson’s fanbase perhaps don’t care or aren’t surprised that a prominent media personality would take cocaine. As James Ball, special projects editor of the Guardian, sardonically tweeted yesterday: “BREAKING: posh person in TV industry has used cocaine. I’m sure a nation is in shock.” Cocaine usage may not be a big deal for many of these fans, but accusations of bullying or violence of a wife by her millionaire spouse are. Whether American audiences will be so relaxed about Lawson’s drug use remains to be seen, however.
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