How did you feel about Nigella?

JOE BENNETT
Last updated 09:08 04/12/2013

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Joe Bennett

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OPINION: How did you feel when her ex-husband accused her of taking drugs?

What? Oh, come now. Don't pretend you don't know who I'm talking about. You know exactly. The woman who cooks on the telly. Whatsername. Nigella. So come on, how did you feel when you heard?

Oh, did you now? Me too. There's nothing like the public shaming of the great and good to put a spring in the step. Personally, I couldn't resist whooping and hollering round the garden, to the astonishment of the dog. For the dog, poor innocent, is unfamiliar with wealth, celebrity, divorce, narcotics, malice, credit card binges and all the other lovely things in which this story's steeped.

And then, of course, the former hubby retracted the accusation, saying in court he had no evidence that Nigella had ever taken drugs, and his email dubbing her, so splendidly, Higella had been "a terrible mistake". And how did you feel when you heard that? Detumescent? Thwarted of the chance to revel in the deep distress of others?

Of course you didn't and neither did I. The mud had been thrown and however hard the muddied one scrubs, she'll never wash it all off. Moreover the recantation added a twist of intrigue, putting him into the spotlight as much as her. Why had he said what he said? And why was he now running scared? And why at a restaurant some months ago had he seemed to grasp her by the throat? Ooooh there's heaps of vicarious mileage still in this story.

I once watched one of her cooking programmes. I found it compelling. She was billed as the domestic goddess. So the kitchen gleamed and the house was posh and the kids were winsome and she was a curvaceous beauty who pouted and winked at the camera, seducing the viewer.

But at the same time she did all she could to hint that she was one of us, dipping her finger in a bowl to test a sauce, nibbling on an extra square of chocolate, and, in a shot I can't forget, we saw her waking in the middle of the night and putting on a dressing gown and snacking from the fridge. So frail and ordinary, so very you and me. Except when you and I go snacking from the fridge at midnight we rarely find our frailty recorded by a camera crew.

In other words, the whole thing was baloney. She was making myth, was creating a persona, and an apparently paradoxical one because the point of goddesses is that they're not domestic. But it's worked a treat. We proles have swallowed the myth, or half- swallowed it at any rate, and bought the books and watched the shows and shifted money from our pocket into hers and she's become, in consequence, a multimillionaire.

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But anyone who does what she has done is playing dangerously. For though they rarely realise it, they've signed a sort of pact. The flip side of the pact is what we're seeing now, the pleasure punters take in ripping off the veil. Of showing the domestic goddess to have size 9s made of clay, and leaning over the garden fence to gawp at her dirty laundry. It's thus we punters get our money's worth.

Now what of him, the former husband? He's super rich as well but also something of a recluse, so all this public scrutiny must hurt. But before you drip with sympathy, remember he's a Saatchi, and he formed half of what was once the biggest advertising agency in the world. It was the Saatchis who ran the ad campaign that helped put Margaret Thatcher into power. It was the Saatchis who ran ad campaigns for Silk Cut cigarettes.

In other words, he made his pile by altering perceptions. By use of images and words and music he sought to get inside the public mind and shift the way it thinks. Now he who made a study of the mob has just become the object of its gaze. It doesn't seem unfair.

And there's a further irony. In advertising, just as in the land of television chefs, it's taken as a given that perception is reality. But Saatchi has brought this case to court in search of justice. And courts are founded on the principle that underneath the bluff and the baloney, beneath the myths and images, the slogans and the advertising hype, there's such a thing as truth.

Which is why I think we're all entitled to enjoy the show. Though it doesn't cast a pretty light on either them or us.

- The Press

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