Name-dropping in Manhattan, Ukrainian deals and those Nigella pictures

Sue Douglas’s Diary.

Nigella Lawson arrives for the first day of the trial of her assistants, December 2013. (Photo: Getty)
Queen of Scott’s: Nigella Lawson arrives for the first day of the trial of her assistants, December 2013. (Photo: Getty)

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.