It’s not exactly the trial of the century. Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, who worked as personal assistants for a famous couple (now divorced), stand accused of defrauding their one-time employers of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Grillos counter that their company credit-card sprees, complete with first-class flights to luxury resorts, were tacitly approved by the wife in return for keeping her drug use secret from her husband. So far, so Dynasty.
Yet as everybody now knows, it is not the fraud trial itself that has gripped the nation’s hacks, and tickled the commentariat’s fancy. That honour belongs to the other trial, the trial involving the famous couple themselves, Charles Saatchi and especially Nigella Lawson.
Of course, Saatchi and Lawson are not actually on trial in any legal sense. There’s no dock for them, no judge and jurors. No, they are sat in the far less formal court of public opinion, marshalled in this particular case not just by the tabloid press, which has always loved to rent the veil on the rich and famous, but by broadsheet pundits, too - the kind of people who usually claim to be above ‘this type of thing’. So, with the trial throwing up all sorts of intimate information over the past week, Lawson and Saatchi’s private life, the life they alternately enjoyed and endured behind closed, clichéd doors has been gleefully rendered up for public consumption and judgement.
It’s made for a dispiriting, headline-news grabbing spectacle. The private fact now publicly established - that Lawson, at certain points during her 53 years of existence, snorted a few lines of cocaine - has been the occasion for frontpage splashes and handwringing commentary. Much of this has no doubt been written by people who are themselves no strangers to a powdered nose. The private fact now publicly established that Saatchi and Lawson’s 10-year marriage was not one long sepia-tinted summer afternoon of soul-mated clinches has provided sanctimony-fodder for commentators’ columns - no doubt written by people who know themselves that relationships are complex, multifaceted things. In short, the private fact now publicly established - that Lawson’s life has been as dark as it has been light - has provided too many with a chance to get their disingenuous rocks off.
But what’s striking about the treatment of Lawson in particular is not the attention of the tabloids – celebrity scandal, even one as non-scandalous as this, has always been their stock and trade. No, what is noticeable has been the attention of the so-called respectable, broadsheet press. They claim to be above celebrity tittle-tattle, except in their ironic, supplement moments; they’re meant to disapprove of gawking at her ‘on the telly’ having difficulties off it; they’re meant to be only interested in the big important issues, stories that they snootily claim post-Leveson are ‘in the public interest’. And yet there they all are, feasting on Lawson’s troubles and Saatchi’s upset, like starving men at an all-you-can-eat buffet.