Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Nigella Lawson: Even the most privileged of lives can look very empty

TV chef: Nigella Lawson

As Tolstoy wrote at the opening of Anna Karenina "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way", which is another way of saying that one never knows what goes on behind closed doors.

And this is probably why I lack the moral certitude that allowed the prime minister to declare in favour of Team Nigella.

The verdict reached; there have been no winners; just a lot of prurient detail. However, it was not so much the consumption, or otherwise, of narcotics that held my attention; the sheer volume of money, and the unfettered manner it sloshed around the household, though, was mesmerising.

For those with the means to access life's VIP zone, there is nothing unusual in five-figure flower bills. Money, especially in the quantities that Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson were using it, can be highly addictive.

In this context, it was decided that the Grillo sisters were not manipulative swindlers; just a couple of girls from Calabria who adapted to life in a household where taxis seem to have been on permanent standby.

To view married life as a golden cage – as Nigella is, a trifle unoriginally, reported to have said – is tragic. But most of us are prisoners of our circumstances. While she has broken free from her damaged marriage, it remains to be seen if Nigella can, or indeed wants to, escape from the superclass way of life.

Her choice of consoling intellectual dinner companion during the trial, Sir Salman Rushdie, reminds me of an account given by Cecil Beaton of a cruise along the Cote d'Azur that he took with some rich American friends.

Having sailed to St Tropez to buy dresses (presumably in every colour), they "sailed for Portofino ... to entertain 'some intellectuals', the Berlins and Maurice Bowra", much as if they were just a different class of shopping.

I included this vignette in a book I have just written about the jet set between 1956 and 1973, a period when only a very few people had money and things like yachts and private planes were far rarer than they are today.

The distance of time has lent the lives of Onassis, Niarchos and Agnelli, with their beautiful yachts, their beautiful art and beautiful wives, a picturesque patina of graciousness. It was an era of flamboyance for the few.

But the bars on the golden cage were just as strong then, as Cecil Beaton observed when he described Gloria as "rising above all difficulties and making the best of her soul-destroying life, married to one of the richest, but most selfish of men".

The Mephistophelean nature of a transaction that traded soul for material abundance was also apparent to Noel Coward, who went for a cruise on Niarchos's yacht, the Creole, in the 1950s. "The Niarchoses are kind and hospitable, but curiously remote, particularly Stavros ... Everyone is terrified of him and the staff cringes and trembles with tears at his frown. To me he is charming, but his Napoleonic quality forbids intimacy."

The playwright and actor enjoyed the "super-luxe, air-conditioned cabin" and the "white- coated Italian stewards fluttering around me like moths", but did not envy the Niarchoses. It almost sounds as if he pitied them. He wrote in his diary: "Although it is enjoyable to observe at close quarters for a brief spell, it is strangely deadening to the heart."

And the revelations that came out of Isleworth Crown Court last week reminded us that life can look very empty – even when it appears to have everything.

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