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

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Pity the Premier League – so much money can get you into all sorts of bother

You’ve got to feel sorry for our top teams. It's hard work, maintaining their brand.

I had lunch with an old girlfriend last week. Not old, exactly, just a young woman of 58, and not a girlfriend as such – though I have loads of female friends; just someone I knew as a girl on our estate in Cumbria when she was growing up and I was friendly with her family.

She was one of many kind, caring people from my past who wrote to me after my wife died in February, inviting me to lunch, cheer up the poor old soul. Which I’ve not been. So frightfully busy.

I never got round to lunch till last week.

She succeeded in her own career, became pretty well known, but not as well off financially as her husband, who is some sort of City whizz.

I visited her large house in the best part of Mayfair, and, over lunch, heard about their big estate in the West Country and their pile in Majorca, finding it hard to take my mind back to the weedy, runny-nosed little girl I knew when she was ten.

Their three homes employ 25 staff in total. Which means there are often some sort of staff problems.

How awful, I do feel sorry for you, must be terrible. It’s not easy having money, I said, managing somehow to keep back the fake tears.

Afterwards, I thought about our richest football teams – Man City, Man United and Chelsea. It’s not easy being rich like them, either.

In football, there are three reasons you have to spend the money. First of all, because you can. You have untold wealth, so you gobble up possessions regardless of the cost, and regardless of the fact that, as at Man United, you already have six other superstars playing in roughly the same position. You pay over the odds, as with Pogba, who is the most expensive player in the world, even though any halfwit knows that Messi and Ronaldo are infinitely more valuable. It leads to endless stresses and strains and poor old Wayne sitting on the bench.

Obviously, you are hoping to make the team better, and at the same time have the luxury of a whole top-class team sitting waiting on the bench, who would be desired by every other club in Europe. But the second reason you spend so wildly is the desire to stop your rivals buying the same players. It’s a spoiler tactic.

Third, there’s a very modern and stressful element to being rich in football, and that’s the need to feed the brand. Real Madrid began it ten years or so ago with their annual purchase of a galáctico. You have to refresh the team with a star name regularly, whatever the cost, if you want to keep the fans happy and sell even more shirts round the world each year.

You also need to attract PROUD SUPPLIERS OF LAV PAPER TO MAN CITY or OFFICIAL PROVIDER OF BABY BOTTLES TO MAN UNITED or PARTNERS WITH CHELSEA IN SUGARY DRINK. These suppliers pay a fortune to have their product associated with a famous Premier League club – and the club knows that, to keep up the interest, they must have yet another exciting £100m star lined up for each new season.

So, you can see what strains and stresses having mega money gets them into, trying to balance all these needs and desires. The manager will get the blame in the end when things start to go badly on the pitch, despite having had to accommodate some players he probably never craved. If you’re rich in football, or in most other walks in life, you have to show it, have all the required possessions, otherwise what’s the point of being rich?

One reason why Leicester did so well last season was that they had no money. This forced them to bond and work hard, make do with cheapo players, none of them rubbish, but none the sort of galáctico a super-Prem club would bother with.

Leicester won’t repeat that trick this year. It was a one-off. On the whole, the £100m player is better than the £10m player. The rich clubs will always come good. But having an enormous staff, at any level, is all such a worry for the rich. You have to feel sorry . . .

Hunter Davies’s “The Beatles Book” is published by Ebury

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories