Now that the messy but fascinating UK court case starring loaded art dealer and advertising guru Charles Saatchi, his unhappy ex-wife Nigella Lawson and their two Italian housekeepers is over, it’s interesting to reflect.
Seen through the prism of an expatriate in Hong Kong, it makes you realize what passes for singular and weird behaviour in England would raise hardly an eyebrow here. The Grillo sisters were found not guilty of embezzling about HK$8 million of Saatchi cash with credit cards, by the way.
It’s interesting that the housekeepers cared to reveal that their boss bought 12 identical Paul Smith suits, each costing HK$12,500 - in order to dress identically every day. With these he wore one of his 25 white shirts, each about HK$2,000 from Prince Charles’s shirt-maker Turnbull & Asser, according to the former housekeepers. Now, as eccentric multi-millionaire behavior goes, that’s not remarkable. Each time I’ve been to Hong Kong’s celebrity tailor Sam, his Tsim Sha Tsui shop has been full of western men ordering countless versions of the same shirts and suits, in order, presumably to dress identically each day. It’s not weird, it’s what rich guys do. Saatchi’s uniform would be completed by one of 30 pairs of HK$3500 black suede Tod's loafers and a cashmere Calvin Klein coat. He lunched daily in a private room at Montpeliano in Knightsbridge and had the same outside table at Scott’s on Saturdays. Clearly a creature of habit. The only thing that does sound creepy is taking his new lady Trinny Woodall to dine at the same table in the same restaurant where he famously was filmed appearing trying to throttle Nigella last summer. If I was Trinny I’d be spooked by that.
Whatever you think of the Saatchis - and personally, I think if Nigella wants to snort drugs privately at home, that’s her business. As long as she did not involve her kids, as was alleged - that’s not OK. But no one deserves their domestic assistants spilling the beans. Whose home life bears up to scrutiny 24/7? Who would be happy to have their personal staff stand up in court and download every gory detail about what went on behind closed doors?
Few people in England have home help and that’s why the prurience is so intense in this case. It arouses envy and glee that these rich eccentric people are just that – rich and eccentric. Not perfect. But why should they be?
In Hong Kong we should worry about our own domestic goddesses – our domestic helpers. How many of us would be happy for them to stand up and reveal all about our personal hoarding habits and private secrets?
Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo claimed Saatrchi bulk-bought cloudy lemonade and Starbucks instant Frappuccino to take on trips. Well apart from having dire taste in coffee, this just sounds like a man who knows what he likes. He also bulk-bought TV remotes so he would always have one to hand. What’s odd about that? If you can afford it, why not? Ditto his favourite hair gel. What stops most of us buying lots of our favourite stuff is that we can’t afford it and have nowhere to store it – neither was a problem for Saatchi.
A chance to sneer
The great British public also seems to be shocked that the favourite possession of the couple was a stuffed bulldog called Narles – so what? - and how Saatchi requested burnt toast at 7am for breakfast. Oh and he ate Weetabix for supper in front of the TV.
According to these two not-very-loyal assistants, each day started at 6am, they claimed, so they could hide traces of TV cook Nigella’s late-night takeaways because her husband liked a spotless kitchen. So do many men. He is rich and 70-years-old and they were well paid. So Nigella was a party animal and liked to socialise, whereas he preferred to stay at home. I think we all know couples like that, in Hong Kong it would raise no eyebrows at all.
OK, so cutting his own hair every morning before using his favourite Philip B Crème of the Crop hair gel is odd. But not extreme.
Someone commenting in the Daily Mail online section that the problems of the Saatchis were “first world.” That sums it up pretty well.
It’s a cautionary tale though. It makes you think what wonderful tales the domestic helpers of Hong Kong could tell if they ever decided to go public on their rich and nutty bosses.