Douchebag Decree: Charles Saatchi—Adman, Art Patron, Choker

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Charles Saatchi's face

It's possible that your first awareness that the world contained someone named Charles Saatchi came just a few weeks ago, when paparrazzi photos surfaced of a handsome, Mr. Big–esque older man with a hand clamped around the throat of his wife, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. The photographer who captured the images told media outlets that over a period of almost half an hour, Saatchi grabbed the crying Lawson by the throat four different times, and at one point jammed a finger up one of her nostrils.

As the photos ricocheted to the front page of global newspapers, gossip magazines, and blogs, the majority of focus turned to Lawson, the almost-impossible-to-dislike TV host, food critic, and cookbook author. Support came pouring in from all corners, and domestic-abuse survivors, in particular, promptly began asking her to speak out and “be a beacon for women from all walks of life,” as one Australian radio host put it.

And though no one has seemed particularly interested in defending Saatchi, as a seasoned advertising and PR titan he managed to get the last word in. Many last words, in fact: In an exclusive statement to London's Mail on Sunday, Saatchi announced that he would be divorcing Lawson, citing his wife's unwillingness to speak out in defense of his throttling, nose-invading ways as a “disappointment.” He also defended his behavior with some bizarre rationalizations, including this one:

“We are instinctively tactile people.”

“Tactile” is one word. “Douchebag” seems more appropriate, especially given that Saatchi's statement was given to the Mail on Sunday before he broke the news to Lawson herself. If revenge is a dish best served cold, someone's got a beautiful plate of fuck-you (with a go-fuck-yourself reduction and a garnish of kiss my ass) waiting for him a few years down the line.

Charles Saatchi wears Mickey Mouse ears on the cover of a mag
Hope you saved those ears, guy.

If you've only heard of Saatchi by way of this recent story, you may be wondering: “Should we have seen this coming? Has Charles Saatchi always been a complete asshat?”

The answer is: Kind of! And if you tend to feel that douchiness generally correlates with the practice of unfettered, world-beating capitalism, than definitely.

Saatchi, along with his brother Maurice, founded the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970, and was responsible for its meteoric rise—in slightly more than 15 years, it became the largest in the world—and influential style. Among its famous campaigns were those for British Airways (“The World's Favorite Airline”) and Silk Cut cigarettes, but S&S may be best known for helping bring Margaret Thatcher's Conservative party into power. Its iconic campaign image of a dole line snaking from the foreground into a seeming infinity was accompanied by the slogan “Labour Isn't Working.” As the first time a British political party had joined forces with an advertising agency, it cemented the relationship between politics and business with a grim smirk. Almost 30 years later, Saatchi & Saatchi was hired to create the campaign materials for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, of—you guessed it—the Labour Party. How very Don Draper of you, Charles!

Then there's the fact that Saatchi is the man who's more or less reponsible for famed animal bisector Damien Hirst's career. A prodigious art collector (and at one time the Trumpian benefactor of a BBC television program called School of Saatchi), Saatchi was instrumental in raising the profile of several young British artists in the early 1990s, and Hirst was top among those whose work he championed. If you're one of the many, many people who believe Hirst to be wildly overrated and his contrived success an emblem of everything that's rotten about the Art World, then you know who to blame. Not that he'd care. Indeed, in his 2012 book Be the Worst You Can Be: Life's Too Long for Patience and Virtue, a collection of answers to questions posed by journalists and other interested parties, Saatchi states that his career “has been a triumph of style over substance” and answers a question about hypocrisy with: “You have to believe in something to be a hypocrite.”

Finally, it's worth considering Saatchi's history with Lawson. Though Lawson, the daughter of Nigel Lawson, Britain's energy secretary under Margaret Thatcher, was quite clearly primed for an extraordinary life and was already a bestselling cookbook author when the two met, Saatchi took on a Pygmalion role in her career development, putting his skills in advertising and PR to work in crafting her brand and using the descriptor “domestic goddess” to describe her mix of sensual appeal and tasty cooking.  

There's no evidence that Saatchi was a serial abuser, though the fact that he had zero qualms about the wisdom of grabbing his wife's throat in a public place kind of makes you think it could be routine behavior for this “tactile”guy. That said, he's well known as impulsive, egotistical, controlling, and—if the title of that book didn't make it clear enough—proudly obnoxious. It certainly makes sense that someone who once exerted so much influence over his partner doesn't take well to a situation in which he's unable to control the narrative of that partnership. From his statement, it seems as though Saatchi's problem isn't that he felt regret over his treatment of Lawson, but that Lawson refused to publicly absolve him to the press.

Whether the little we know about Lawson and Saatchi's relationship can be the basis for turning Lawson's part of the story into a rescue drama isn't clear—and, given the couple's longstanding disinterest in tabloid disclosure, may never be. And that's fine. We're just saying, where there's smoke, there's fire. And where there's a confirmed d-bag, there's almost never a yummy ending.


Read more of Bitch's Douchebag Decrees.

by Andi Zeisler
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Andi Zeisler is the cofounder of Bitch Media and the author of We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. You can find her on Twitter.

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Charles Saatchi is a serial abuser and there is evidence

How can you describe that ugly man as "handsome", and you say there is no evidence to show he is a serial abuser when there is lots of evidence he is a serial abuser. I suggest you take a good read of the story on the following link and check it all out to see he has been an abusive bully for decades

Something that really bothers

Something that really bothers me about this is that there is no indication that the paparazzo who took these photos did anything to stop the violence against Lawson by her husband. The pictures were taken and released and people became outraged by what went on, but did the photographer pause to help this woman or try to stop Saatchi in any way? If he was watching this go on for a half hour, surely he had plenty of chances to take the photos AND try to do something. Unfortunately, it was more important to the photographer to document the horror rather than to put it to an end. This is almost as disturbing as the violence itself; a lack of moral courage to try to stop it.

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