Oh for a little of Nigella Lawson's courtroom brilliance

Saturday, 7 December 2013 - 8:26am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
That leonine creature in the witness box is an inspiration for all those baffled by Mr Barrister.

 If I honestly thought that cocaine had the power to gift me as much quick-wittedness and high courage as Nigella Lawson exuded in court this week, I'd have taken it myself whenever I had the opportunity. Of course, I often did have the opportunity, working on glossy magazines, in London offices. There was always someone on the art desk who'd come in whey-faced and dead tired of a morning and not get a grip on tasks until he'd nipped out "for a coffee", after which he'd cheer up like billy-o.

The bold brilliance Nigella displayed is astonishing even to read in a newspaper; it must have clanged in court like a peal of Stedman Caters on cathedral bells. She tells Karin Arden, defending one of the Grillo sisters that she, Nigella, is not the one who is on trial here, but a witness for the Crown. Also, referring to her own voluptuousness, "You know as well as I do that regular cocaine users don't look like this". When she was addressed as "Mrs Saatchi", she snapped: "WHAT did you call me?"

She was asked question after question about drugs, to which she provided answer after answer until the judge stepped in and stopped the cross-examination. I was cross-examined in court once, as a character witness to a friend who wanted custody of her children after divorce. I was stiff with nerves and the husband's barrister was laying "Yes or no? True or false?" traps which I fell into again and again. I was in my twenties but looked like a round-faced schoolgirl. I could only play to my weakness and whimper to the judge that Barrister was not letting me finish and muddling me up, sniff, sob, so could I please explain to him, his lordship, what I was trying to say?

It worked, and my friend won custody, but how much more fabulous to be that leonine creature in the witness box growling with rage at the indignities being done to her. Wouldn't you like to see someone with her skills in Parliament, running those limping home affairs question-and-answer bore-a-thons instead of Keith Vaz? While I've seen her across myriad rooms at parties, I don't know Nigella Lawson any better than most viewers of her cookery programmes do. Though I try hard not to watch anybody's cookery programmes much, I have a viewer's view of her: pouting, tempting, luscious, lovely, slipping downstairs in her dressing-gown after the credits have run, to sneak another slice of cake, ooh, yummy.

But when I worked for her brother Dominic, during the Major years when he edited The Spectator, I came across her sometimes, at a dinner at the Groucho Club for somebody's press award or other, where she was with her first husband and father of her children, lovely John Diamond. Once she blew into Dominic's office straight from a screening - or possibly the airport. She was such a powerful, gleaming, beautiful creature - like seeing a bouncing shire horse glossed and polished for a pony show - and she told him yes, yes, yes: he should see Pretty Woman, and soon, because Julia Roberts was quite wonderful and Richard Gere divine, but of course it was a tart's movie, so - byee! He was the oldest of the four children and the only boy (she's referred to him as "Dominic the princeling").

I was curious about the Lawson sisters' masculinised names: Thomasina, Nigella, Horatia. I didn't realise it was a Scottish affectation until I was looking up an obituary on the Daily Herald's website and found Hughinas and Robertinas all over the shop. She has made her angry ex-husband look like a sap and a sullen loser. She has removed at a stroke the miserable and low-rent and annoyingly boring descriptor for the actions of a man who twists a woman's nose or grips her throat.

She has suffered, she said in court (rather thrillingly) "intimate terrorism", and this Americanism will soon be part of the public vocabulary. She's trending at 90 per cent favourable on the blogosphere, whatever that means.


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