UK gripped by Nigella’s courtroom confessions

Splash! Tabloids are dominated by the troubles of the embattled TV cook.

Nigella Lawson, the so-called ‘domestic goddess’, has admitted to taking cocaine and accused her husband of ‘intimate terrorism’. Why is the media so fascinated by this drama?

Bomb blasts rock the Yemeni capital. Protesters in Thailand and Ukraine bring their governments to the brink of collapse. The chancellor plots the course of the UK economy, while half of the country is battered by fearsome storms.

But one story has trumped all of these in the competition for media attention this week. Its subject: one woman’s private troubles and her acrimonious divorce from an advertising guru.

The woman is Nigella Lawson, a TV cook whose indulgent recipes and warm charisma won her the adoration of millions. Her books and television programmes often seem to offer a fantasy of modern domestic perfection, filled with lush presentation and beautiful food.

But Lawson has never disguised the fact that her real life is far from perfect. Cancer claimed three of her most intimate relatives – her first husband, her mother and her only sister – before they had reached the age of 50. And she has been open about occasional struggles with depression. Yet the mythology of Lawson’s luminous persona endured until the past few months, as even more of her private woes are laid bare.

This summer the cookery writer was captured on camera being subjected to a violent assault at the hands of her husband, the advertising legend and art collector Charles Saatchi. Soon after the incident the pair announced their divorce.

Now the couple’s former personal assistants are in court accused of defrauding Saatchi of money: the case has brought revelations and accusations that have shocked the nation. Prosecutors produced an email in which Saatchi accused his wife of being ‘off her head on drugs’ when the money was taken. The court heard claims that Lawson had taken cocaine every day for years.

On Wednesday Lawson confessed that she had indeed taken cocaine – but only a handful of times, and just once during her marriage to Saatchi. On that occasion, she said, her husband’s abusive behaviour had driven her to it: ‘I felt subjected to intimate abuse’.

Larger than life

Lawson’s admissions dominate the newspaper front pages. But why are we so fascinated by her private tragedies?

Pure prurience, some argue, and schadenfreude: the sad fact is that some of us enjoy seeing others brought low, their reputations ruined and their shameful secrets exposed. And the tabloids exist to satisfy and stoke this appetite in equal measure.

But there is another explanation: in the public theatre of celebrity lives, they say, we see our own private tragedies reflected on a grand and gripping scale. We build our lives by the light of an ideal which reality fails to live up to. We all experience domestic trouble and heartbreak. We are fascinated by Nigella Lawson precisely because we do sympathise with her, not because we do not.

You Decide

  1. Does it matter to you whether a public figure has taken drugs?
  2. ‘We are dangerously in thrall to the mirage of a perfect life,’ said one columnist writing about Nigella Lawson’s case. What does this mean? Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In groups, role-play a newspaper editorial meeting in which you must decide whether your front cover will feature Nigella Lawson’s court appearance or the government’s economic plans.
  2. Look up one of Nigella’s recipes and try it yourself!

Some People Say...

“Celebrities are the modern equivalent of Greek or Roman gods.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who cares whether Nigella Lawson took cocaine? It’s none of our business.
You’re not alone in thinking that. The discovery that a public figure had taken drugs was once enough to ruin their career, but many people are now more forgiving. A Canadian mayor is clinging on to his job despite being filmed smoking crack, and even the American president has admitted to taking cannabis and cocaine in his youth.
So drug use is not a big deal any more?
Wrong. All drugs are potentially destructive, including those that are common or even legal – don’t ever make the mistake of taking drug abuse lightly. Perhaps the change in attitudes simply shows that we are less inclined to think of it as a moral failing than we once were.

Word Watch

Charles Saatchi
Now the most famous of two brothers who founded the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi. Charles Saatchi is the brain behind some of the most celebrated adverts of the last few decades, including the Conservatives’ enormously successful election campaign in 1979.
Cocaine
A stimulant made from the South American coca plant that makes users feel confident, elated and awake. However cocaine has many nasty side effects: it is highly addictive, extremely damaging to your heart and can cause dangerously risky behaviour. It also comes with a heavy comedown and can make users behave in arrogant and unpleasant ways.
Prurience
Excessive interest in other people’s lives, especially when it comes to sex.
Schadenfreude
A word borrowed from German to describe finding pleasure in other people’s misfortune or pain (pronounced ‘shah-den-froy-der’).

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