Trial and torments of a home goddess

Last updated 09:59 27/12/2013
Nigella Lawson
Reuters
QUIET ARRIVAL: Nigella Lawson.

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OPINION: Editorial: Celebrity cook, author and self-styled domestic goddess Nigella Lawson's annus horribilis is nearly over but she faces further public torments in the new year as Scotland Yard detectives investigate allegations of her drug use that formed the basis of the defence case during the fraud trial of her former housekeepers.

It is difficult to predict what long-term effects the allegations - and her admission that she used drugs recreationally on a few occasions - will have on her impeccably manicured public image and her lucrative career as a food television show star and cookbook writer.

Inevitably there will be some whose belief in the perfectly imperfect persona Lawson fashioned has already been damaged and that may yet hit her hard on her business bottom line.

There will be others for whom the lurid stories will only enhance the perception that Nigella Lawson is food porn royalty.

By many accounts Lawson is an intensely private person whose gorgeous public appearance and staged coyness in front of the camera are merely marketing tools used to promote her branded business empire, of which she is firmly in control. The humiliations she has had to endure this year through no fault of her own must be particularly galling.

Two striking images stick in the mind.

The first is of that disturbing scene on the terrace of Scotts of Mayfair, the restaurant where her former husband, PR, advertising and art maestro Charles Saatchi, firmly grips Lawson around the throat in a hateful act of physical abuse, her demeanour calm as she tries to reason with him but terror clearly visible in her eyes.

The second is of Lawson outside the courthouse where her former housekeepers, Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, were on trial for the alleged unauthorised spending of nearly $1.4 million of Saatchi's money.

In every photo Lawson has her head held high as she stares defiantly into the lenses of the world's media despite two days of aggressive inquisition.

If she is feeling shame she is not allowing herself to share it.

With the wave of prurient public interest in Lawson's private life it is as if it was she who was on trial.

Allegations of prolonged drug use, a secret bunker, drug stashes hidden in hollowed-out books and around the house, drug residue and paraphernalia dominated headlines, yet not once did anyone claim to have seen her using drugs.

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The Grillo sisters were acquitted of taking the money so it is Nigella Lawson who is the real victim here, in more ways than one.

The throttling, conniving claws of her recently ex-husband can be detected all over much of the rumour and innuendo aired during the trial.

In an email to his ex-wife he deftly referred to her as "Higella" then made a token attempt to retract it once the comment became public, saying he had been angry when he wrote it.

It is beyond belief to suggest that one of the most influential PR men of modern times would not have foreseen the resonant effect his words would have in the public domain. Suspicions that Saatchi was orchestrating a campaign to destroy Lawson's reputation as payback for the public humiliation he endured after the choking pictures were published appear to have been confirmed when reports surfaced that Saatchi had approached several newspapers as far back as last July trying to plant stories about Nigella's alleged drug use.

Lawson moves into 2014 fighting to maintain her reputation as it buckles under the weight of all the dirt sticking to her.

Even if English police find her innocent, the glamorous facade has been tarnished forever.

As intelligent, powerful and wealthy men tend to do, Charles Saatchi has got his way.

- The Southland Times

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