A man places his hands round his wife's neck in a public place. He is very rich and powerful which perhaps allowed him to think that there were no limits to what he was permitted, or that since the world was in any case always watching, it would only ever admire, never critique. Perhaps he thought that he was outside the law.
Clearly taken aback by the public response – shock followed by more or less undiluted support for his wife – he argues that it was a light-hearted tiff (the images far worse than the reality), that his wife could just as well have had her hands around his neck (as he insisted she often did), and then that she has slandered him by not coming publicly to his defence.
It does not take much to see that these three responses, taken together, make nonsense of each other. He did it but it was nothing; she is as culpable as him; she is the only guilty party in the whole affair. Flailing around in his own arguments, he made himself ridiculous. Her silence was, therefore, not just dignified, or – as some commentators suggested – the classic muteness of women in the face of male violence, but wise. The fact that he had to accept a police caution made no difference. Up until a short while ago, he was still threatening her with legal action for not having spoken out on his behalf.
The events at Isleworth crown court of the past three weeks strongly suggest that this is a case where a man who has committed a crime against a woman is determined that she will be made to suffer, indeed that she alone will be the target of moral and legal blame. More simply, she must be criminalised. The prospect of this wrecking her career is clearly of no significance – indeed, at moments it has appeared to be the incentive. "My wife is my property" is how the dramatist Bertolt Brecht summed up the message of Othello when challenged to give a summary of Shakespeare's great tragedy in a single line. It is a mantra of the super powerful that what you cannot own you destroy. Despite his protestations in court – that he is heartbroken and still adores his former wife – Charles Saatchi has conducted himself like a bull in a china shop, except that the "porcelain" he has seemed intent on shattering to smithereens was once the lover, companion, wife who graced his home. The victim – although Nigella Lawson is no victim and would not, I suspect, wish to be seen as one – is effectively placed in the dock. "I felt I would be put on trial," she said in court, "and this is what happened." She was cross-examined for 10 hours.
Lawson also told the court that she had been subject to "intimate terrorism" by her husband, that he threatened to destroy her if she would not clear his name in court, and that he had taken her by the neck – to "make her focus" was his self-damning account – she says, in response to her expressing pleasure at the idea of one day being a grandmother: "I am the only person you should be concerned with. I am the only person who should be giving you pleasure." Women the world over will recognise the inhuman degradation – for which "intimate terrorism" is a perfect code word – imposed on a woman by any man who insists: the only person who must exist in the world for you, is me.
The question of whether Lawson was, or is, a class-A drug user has usurped more or less wholesale any previous interest in this sorry tale. But the acquittal of the Grillo sisters should not be allowed to obscure the brute dynamic of sexual power that is at play. Lawson has, of course, made it her trade to offer herself for the visual delectation of almost everyone. She has, we might say, raised the cult of celebrity to a culinary art in which the pleasures of looking and devouring are perfectly blended. This has always been something of a high-wire act. Celebrity is cruel: you must be perfect; you must never fail; you might be exposed at any moment. It always contains, therefore, the prospect of its own demise. For a woman to trade on her beauty is also, as feminism has long argued, a trap.
But there has always been something unusual about Lawson's brand of celebrity, in the way she has also allowed herself, through interviews and her other writing, to be known, not just as vulnerable ("human really" as nearly all celebrities tediously insist), but as someone who, along with her many gifts, has been the bearer of inordinate grief. Lawson lost her mother, her sister and her first husband to cancer, although this reality seems to have mostly dropped out of the public mind. The pleasure in eating she so palpably offers has always seemed to be her bid against the encroaching dark. As Tanya Gold suggested with reference to the case , trauma is the often unspoken cause of drug use. In court Lawson referred to her first husband's death, but her statement "I had a life problem" is a far cry from celebrity's typical narrative of "triumph against the odds". She should therefore be given credit for being a celebrity who puts us in touch with a world of pain which neither celebrity itself, nor powerful men at their most vicious and vengeful, can bear to tolerate.
Masculinity in thrall to itself is ruthless. As feminism has also argued, it is a colossal act of self-deceit. When a husband assaults a wife, it is often his own weakness – the fact that men, thank goodness, cannot in fact control all women all of the time – which he is trying to repudiate. This kind of power has to trash suffering in order to hold on to itself, which is why, threatened by a woman with its loss, he will push her face into the dirt.
I once asked a man whom I trusted why on earth he thought those men already in possession of power and riches beyond anyone's wildest dreams, never stop trying to accumulate. First, he replied, because they only feel their power in the moment they exert it. Second, because you can't take your wealth with you when you die (death is the great equaliser, every act of self-empowerment is a futile protest against death). It made me very glad not to be such a man, not that I have ever been remotely tempted by such a prospect. In the end, whatever price Nigella Lawson has been made to pay, I hope it might be some comfort to her that it is the ugly, gratuitous, face of patriarchal power which has truly indicted itself.
(The Sunday People)
LONDON — British police are investigating newspaper photos that show art collector Charles Saatchi grasping the throat of his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.
The pictures drew widespread condemnation after they were published by the Sunday People tabloid. The paper said the images were taken during an argument at a London restaurant on June 9.
London police said Monday they hadn’t received a criminal complaint about the incident, and “inquiries are in hand to establish the facts” in order to assess whether a formal investigation is warranted.
Saatchi told the London Evening Standard newspaper that the photos misrepresented a “playful tiff.”
Saatchi, an Evening Standard columnist, said “the pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place.”
“About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasize my point,” he was quoted as saying. “There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.”
The 70-year-old Saatchi also told the paper the couple “had made up by the time we were home.
“The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled.”
Lawson’s spokesman, Mark Hutchinson, confirmed that she and her children had left the family home, but declined to comment further.
Saatchi and Lawson married in 2003 and live in London with Lawson’s son and daughter from her marriage to journalist John Diamond, who died of cancer in 2001, and Saatchi’s daughter from a previous marriage.
In Britain, a complaint from the victim isn’t necessary to file assault charges if there is enough evidence from witnesses.
Lawson, 53, gained fame with her 1998 best-seller “How To Eat” and subsequent “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” (2000) and is one of Britain’s best-known cookbook writers, as well as the host of foodie TV shows including “Nigella Bites” and ABC’s cooking program “The Taste.”
A former journalist who attended Oxford University, she served as deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times and subsequently wrote for numerous other newspapers and magazines.
Lawson is also one of the few British food personalities to have had real success in the United States, both on television and with her cookbooks. She has often made the point that she is not a trained chef, but is simply showing people what they can do in their own kitchens. She is known for her sensual style on television, once calling her shows “gastroporn.”
Lawson is also known for her refreshing frankness. In January of this year, she made news for insisting that her belly not be airbrushed out of promotional photos of her for her show, “The Taste,” on ABC.
“That tum is the truth and is come by honestly, as my granny would have said,” she wrote in a blog post.
Saatchi, co-founder of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency, owns one of London’s biggest private art galleries. He was the main patron of the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s, which made household names of artists including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.