Queen of Scott’s: Nigella Lawson arrives for the first day of the trial of her assistants, December 2013. (Photo: Getty)
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Name-dropping in Manhattan, Ukrainian deals and those Nigella pictures

Sue Douglas’s Diary.

Respite from the weather at last. But a cold front of non-meteorological proportions instead . . . an icy-cold wind fluttering across our horizons, needling into the recesses of our memories of an old world order. I sat early morning and late night, motionless in front of my widescreen TV, Sky News on a constant spool of live updates from Kyiv, transfixed by the unravelling drama.

I felt more involved than my journalistic licence usually allows when seismic stories appear from nowhere and threaten to engulf us. Just over a week ago, I had been to dinner at Scott’s in Mayfair. I have a tiny bolt-hole flat around the corner. People tease me that it’s my local café. Other people I work for do not find the bills I put on expenses so amusing. Something always happens at Scott’s. Perhaps the biggest something was one of the most poignant stories of last year, as Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi locked in combat, unaware of John Gordon’s paparazzo lens a matter of feet away. I ran the picture in the Sunday People newspaper the first week of my new job there. But I digress.

I digress into the wonderfully random nature of life. I had just been reappointed as media queen, aka publisher of Sunday Brands at Trinity Mirror, and lots of people held their breath. Not for long. My ambitions were strangled – but didn’t die, and, leaving Trinity Mirror two weeks ago, I am about to rescue my new media baby from its adopted parents.

 

Oysters, champagne, big business

I was dining at Scott’s with a clever and charming Ukrainian businessman, interested in my new media business venture. We were joined by his effervescent boss, Lada Firtash. Lada has quickly become a very dear friend. She is also a sharp businesswoman in her own right. She should not be defined by who she is married to, any more than I ever wanted to be judged by my now ex-husband, Niall Ferguson.

However, as we sat eating oysters and sipping champagne, I lived a little walk-on part of the events unfolding in Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Dmitry Firtash is the husband of Lada. His Wikipedia entry says that he “has become one of the leading investors in the power sector and chemical industry in central and eastern Europe. His . . . companies are present in Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Tajikistan, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria and Estonia.” It rattles on about his wealth, his power through his Inter Media TV companies and his extravagant philanthropy, including chunks of Cambridge and the Ukrainian Catholic University. Then it cites some controversy about his implication, never proven, in the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko and mentions his close association with the regime of the fallen leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

Back at home, I turned on the TV again. And there was Tymoshenko, wheelchair-bound, with her signature Heidi hairstyle, released from her prison cell only hours earlier. She was addressing the crowds in measured, almost soothing tones while the president disappeared east to nest with his protector Vladimir Putin.

I called my dear friend Askold Krushel­nycky, who was filing a report from the square for the Sunday Times. It was before dawn there but it was hard to hear what he was shouting against the tumultuous noise. I think it was something like “. . . things are never ever what they seem”.

 

Celluloid sleb fever

The cold winds were blowing when I arrived in New York. Six inches of snow was forecast but only a dusting fell. In the meantime Obama’s froideur about Ukraine resulted in US visa bans and possible economic sanctions against certain Russian and Ukrainian officials implicated in the occupation of Crimea. But the city was really preoccupied with red carpets and Oscar mania.

The cloying reverence of celebrity culture in the US palls, even when you have been a tabloid queen as I have and lived for the colour of Kate Moss’s nail varnish. Much as I enjoyed 12 Years a Slave on the plane, the way CNN practically attempted to own anti-slavery made me gag. The rictus smiles of TV presenters and the shameless obsession with actresses’ clothes and hairstyles is enough to make you long for a war zone.

 

Logophile in New York

The power of the written word: I fell in love as a schoolgirl and the affair only deepened. So, when my daughter Freya, who hitched a weekend in New York with me, dragged me to the Met’s Chinese exhibition “Ink Art”, I got all excited about my Fleet Street days and hot metal. The show is a beautiful snapshot of the vibrancy and life in the shapes and colour of words on parchment and paper – all black and white and splashes of red, a bit like tabloids in the Eighties. I liked the show nearly as much as the Guggenheim’s mesmeric “Italian Futurism”, based on the manifesto Marinetti published in 1909 in Le Figaro, which we also went to. Words as hero, again. It isn’t often that a child can teach a parent so much in half an hour.

 

Where the rich things are

And finally, a glimpse of another Scott’s. I missed the familiar faces and menu of my favourite Mayfair eatery as I took my seat, and my Bellini, at the Cipriani between Lexington and Park Avenues on the Upper East Side. “Can you tell the identity of a tribe (as in rich metropolitan show-offs) by what they eat, or where they eat it?” I wondered. There were seas of corpulent businessmen with waifer-thin younger wives and partners, bedecked in designer kit and, apparently, displaying a great deal of Botox. They all seemed to have the same handbag.

My friends Jacqui Safra, an investor from the Swiss banking family, and the producer Jean Doumanian were indulging me. If I sound like I’m name-dropping, I am. It’s much more fun being in an affluent goldfish bowl at feeding time than it is to stand in the queue at Nando’s with your kids. Jacqui, Jean and I enjoyed the other diners much more than the food. Which I am not sure I would say at Nando’s. Things are never, ever what they seem.

This article first appeared in the 12 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 4 years of austerity

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.