English celebrities Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi are hardly household names in the United States.
She is curvy and gorgeous and fun to watch, and is becoming familiar to American viewers as a judge on the ABC competitive cooking show “The Taste,” which is about to start filming its second season in Los Angeles.
Saatchi, 70, is the reclusive former ad man and art patron who has used his fortune to build an extraordinary collection of contemporary British art. He looks like a troll.
Also, he acts like one.
Last month, a photographer caught Saatchi assaulting Lawson at Scott’s, a restaurant in London’s Mayfair quarter. Over what the photographer said was a 27-minute period, Saatchi grabbed his wife around the neck four times and jammed his finger up a nostril as she grimaced and cried. “I knew it was painful,” the photographer, Jean-Paul, wrote in the Mirror. “It must have really hurt.”
Other patrons in the restaurant were unsettled: “It was utterly shocking to watch,” one told the London Evening Standard. “I have no doubt she was scared. She was very tearful and constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset.”
The photographs are shocking enough. But what happened after, considering Saatchi’s stature and sophistication, is almost more appalling.
English newspapers reported that after police opened an investigation into the June 9 attack, he had gone voluntarily to the Charing Cross police station and had accepted a “police caution for assault,” given when someone admits a relatively minor offense.
But his public statements indicate a man in denial.
Instead of taking responsibility for his behavior and apologizing, Saatchi minimized the incident in a statement to the London Evening Standard, where he is a columnist:
“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. There was no grip, it was a playful tiff. The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt. We had made up by the time we were home.” (She was crying for both of them? Huh?)
As for the photos of Saatchi putting his finger in Lawson’s nostril, he told the Standard: “Even domestic goddesses sometimes have a bit of snot in their nose. I was trying to fish it out.”
More outrageous, even a high government official tried to minimize the assault. According to the Daily Mail, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was asked on his regular radio call-in show whether he would have intervened had he witnessed the assault. “I just don’t know,” he replied. “There was this one photograph. I don’t know whether that was just a fleeting thing.”
Is a “fleeting” squeeze of someone’s windpipe OK because you let go before they passed out?
After an outcry, Clegg was forced to backtrack, and issued a statement condemning domestic violence.
The Daily Mail said that Saatchi was advised by Lawson’s public relations advisor to publicly apologize and to say he was ashamed by his behavior. That would have allowed Lawson to step forward with a statement of support for her husband had she been in a forgiving mood.
Instead, on Sunday, in what appears to be some kind of preemptive strike/revenge move, Saatchi announced he would divorce Lawson, strongly implying that the entire scandal was her fault:
“I feel I have clearly been a disappointment to Nigella during the last year or so, and I am disappointed that she was advised to make no public comment to explain that I abhor violence of any kind against women, and have never abused her physically in any way. The row photographed at Scott’s restaurant could equally have been Nigella grasping my neck to hold my attention -- as indeed she has done in the past, although not in front of Scott’s with a photographer snapping away.
“I must stress my actions were not violent. We are instinctively tactile people. Yes, my hands were around her neck. … Difficult as it may be to believe, for those who have seen the pictures, there was no pressure applied to her.”
Instinctively tactile … and clueless to the end.