The 'Choked' Celebrity Chef, the Art Man, and the Tabloid: Inside a British Scandal

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Photos of billionaire art collector Charles Saatchi with his hand around the throat of his wife, the celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, have prompted tabloid fodder, police involvement, and comment from politicians in England, as what appears to be a horrifying case of domestic abuse went very very public. 

One of the disturbing photos was published on the front page of the Sunday People tabloid, showing Lawson looking strained as a hand gripped her neck. According to Sunday People, the couple was dining at London restaurant Scott's when "Saatchi launched a tirade of angry words." The paper continued: "Four times he grasped her around the neck with Nigella, 53, looking powerless and petrified. At first he used only his left hand, then both. At one stage he tweaked her nose then pushed both hands in her face. Twice Nigella jerked her head backwards as if in fear."

Saatchi, known for his work in advertising and his art patronship, has since given a statement to the London Evening Standard, where he is a columnist, writing the encounter off as a "playful tiff" resulting from an "intense debate about the children" in which he said he "held Nigella’s neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point." He said: "The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella’s tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt." 

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But the Associated Press reports that the London police force said "inquiries are in hand to establish the facts" and to determine whether there will be a formal investigation. Lawson has reportedly left her family home.  

The debate over the pictures has captivated Britain. By Monday, the photos were the front page news for other tabloids. MP Diane Abbott commented about it on Twitter, writing, "Wondering what I would do if a man tried to strangle me as part of a "playful tiff" #getthehellout.British National Party Chairman Nick Griffin took the prize for being the most prominent person to say something stupid and offensive about the matter, tweeting: 

He didn't make things much better in his follow up tweet: 

Writer Caitlin Moran, the author of How to Be a Woman, summed up for us Americans, the impact of the controversy. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.