Charles Saatchi’s bizarre stunt yesterday, using his almost-grown up daughter, Phoebe, to attack Nigella Lawson for ‘heartlessness’, seems to be an attempt to claim back the moral high ground. While he now has an unenviable reputation as a public wife-strangler and probably a much worse sort of monster in private, Nigella was widely seen in the press as an innocent victim. No doubt she found this irksome – no one these days likes to be thought of as helpless and weak – but nor will she want to be seen as heartless. And being heartless is directly contrary to the Nigella ‘brand’. She is all about the bosomy, motherly welcome to a warm, happy home, a cupcake of a person and a gem of a mother.
Or maybe not. Maybe, having looked after Phoebe for ten years, she has simply washed her hands of her. But I think it’s more complicated than that. What do you do, as a step-parent, when you are no longer married to your stepchild’s father or mother? There is no etiquette for this, no pattern to follow. Whether or not you can remain in contact with your stepchildren depends entirely on your ex-spouse.
To me, it looks as though Nigella, having got away from Saatchi’s stranglehold once and for all, has run for her life and kept on running. She would not legally have been permitted to take Phoebe with her. In fact, she has no right to continue seeing her at all unless Saatchi agrees it. And I bet she does NOT want to have any sort of conversation with Saatchi, who is clearly extremely bitter about the way things have gone. Why would she get in touch now, when she knows she’ll get streams of abuse? All right, it’s not as bad as actual physical abuse, but if she did go and visit Phoebe, would Saatchi be there waiting for her? Waiting to get his revenge on her for his public humilation? If I were her, I wouldn’t be taking the chance.
What sort of man would use his own daughter as bait to get even with his ex-wife? Er, the type who puts his hands round her neck in public. Phoebe will be 18 soon enough, and will be able to make her own decisions about who she sees and where she lives. I expect Nigella is, very wisely, biding her time.