From charmer to bully: My encounter with Charles Saatchi

I've never met a man with such strict views on what music my son should buy

Share

Everyone has an opinion about Charles Saatchi, as an adman, an art mogul, an “explosive” husband, a “complex” man. Well I met him once. It was a memorable experience. I’ve never known a man to change character so dramatically, nor turn from charmer to bully in such short order.

It was the King’s Road, Chelsea, about seven years ago. I was in the HMV record store, now sadly extinct. My son, aged 14, was prowling the CD racks; I was down the other end of the store, browsing the (ahem) European arthouse cinema. There I met Nigella, with whom I worked at The Sunday Times years ago. We chatted and she said, “Come and meet Charles”. He was taller than I expected, dark-eyed and watchful, in a white shirt and long black coat – a saturnine figure, who turned his gaze upon a stranger like a cobra eyeing its quaking prey.

I remember him being amazingly charming – smiling, nodding, full of instant sympathy and apparent amusement. After five minutes, we were New Best Friends. After 10, he expressed amazement I hadn’t seen a new TV comedy show and offered to buy me the DVD. Such instant intimacy!  Another minute and we’d be swapping numbers and going for a bottle of Viognier.

We ambled to the music section. I introduced my son Max to Nigella’s son Bruno. Each boy was carrying a pile of CDs they were hoping their dads would buy them. Charles took his stepson’s pile and leafed through it. “Mmm… mmm… good,” he murmured, at the boy’s choices.  Then, “What’s this?” he said, about a classic rock album from the  1960s. “You’re not having that,” said Saatchi, firmly. “Why live in the past? What’s wrong with modern stuff?” While his stepson tried to protest, Saatchi flicked through my son’s CDs like a Customs official. “Yeah… good… no wait. Why d’you want this?” He held up This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello. “I like Elvis Costello,” said Max. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“I don’t think so,” said Saatchi in a don’t-argue-with-me-voice. “Why d’you want to go back to the old days? Absolutely not.” Max, outraged, looked at me as though to ask, “Is this guy, like, in charge?”

I looked at Nigella. She was smiling delightedly. Her eyes shone. “Isn’t he marvellous?” she whispered. Well, yeah. A marvellous display of casual tyranny over something small, that spoke volumes about his power of manipulation in larger arenas.

Max eventually reached the till and got This Year’s Model. “Well, that was weird,” he said on the way home. “Who exactly does Charles Saatchi think he is?”

Leave the sex out of it, Malorie

Malorie Blackman, the new children’s laureate, is turning into a reliable headline-grabber. Following her contention that black parents and children don’t buy novels with black children on the cover, she has now announced that “young adult” novels should contain realistic sex scenes, so that young people have an alternative to finding out about sex from internet porn. She says it would be a “safe” learning context. I’m not so sure. Writing “realistic” sex scenes has been the bane of many authors’ existence: whether to use anatomically precise language (“Eeeuwww!”), whether to keep everything at the level of feathery stroking (“Yuk!”) or whether to employ elaborate metaphor, as every would-be-erotic writer eventually does?

Has Ms Blackman heard of The Bad Sex Award? Does she want teens to think sex is “really” about surging floods of passion, flames licking a secret core, flesh that’s like a flower, an exotic fish or a silk torpedo, and (thanks, Rachel Johnson) “mounting Wagnerian crescendos”? I feel sorry for them.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media