We are all dangerously in thrall to the mirage of that perfect life which Nigella Lawson seemed to embody

Too many people think others have idyllic lifestyles, bodies, relationships, sex

Share
Related Topics

On Saturday morning I was on Dateline London, the BBC current affairs debate programme. We were about to go on air to talk about energy companies and Syria, but in the green room all talk was about Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi. One observation struck me: this was a story of carefully fashioned images and fantasies about perfection. Charles Saatchi got rich creating adverts, the religious icons of contemporary society; Nigella marketed herself as a goddess of luminous beauty, hearth and home, artfully mixing sensuality with joyful domesticity. She had suffered multiple tragedies and losses, seemed to crave affection, battled against the shape of her body and at times seemed to inhabit pleasure and pain in the same moment – think of her filming while her beloved first husband, John Diamond, who had terminal cancer, floated in the background.

We, who adored her, knew all that and still succumbed to the myth. Most Britons don’t believe in God but worship perfection. It is salvation, redemption, the most fervent prayer from the heart, the way to glory.

Lawson and Saatchi shattered this faith, their own statues and the temple wherein they dwelt. First came those terrible photographs of him with his hand around her throat while they sat outside at a restaurant table. Then the divorce, sharp and fast. She, our Isis, said nothing in public. He said too much.

Last week in court one of his emails to her was read out: “I’m sure it was all great fun and now everything is perfect – bravo, you have become a celebrity hostess on a global TV game show. And you got the pass you desired, free to heartily enjoy all the drugs you want, forever. Classy!” It’s not our business to intrude into their post-divorce grief and rage. But this bit illustrates superbly how perfection is but a dangerous illusion and one that is making us all paranoid, crazed, and some, especially young people, self-destructive...

Here comes the season of hedonism, false promises and hopeless pursuits. Sunday papers offered the “ultimate cookbooks”. My ascetically inclined husband (also a stickler when it comes to words and grammar) asked if that meant there would be no more cookbooks ever again? Of course not, dear, don’t be so out of touch. “Ultimate” now means the top, never bettered – until tomorrow when another TV chef will bring out a tome to help us cook the perfect Christmas dinner, the ultimate pudding and on and on, groan.

OK, so there’s nothing at all wrong with pictures and scenes showing wonderful food churned out by these kitchen wizards. It’s magic; we all love magic. But the surfeit of chefs selling superlative culinary skills and delights may be scaring and undermining people. How can we ever reach those heights? Bake a cake that looks as if fairies have spent all night on it, like those made by the finalists in The Great British Bake Off? There must be a connection between the consumption of frozen ready meals and fast grub and the explosion of ultimate, impossible cookery. One reason for that could be the despair of never being able to achieve the impossible.

Sex, like food, is an essential of animal life. In today’s Britain, this simple, natural activity has been turned into an Olympic game, and is so ubiquitously used for marketing, it seems to be losing vim and vigour. The substantive 10-year National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, whose findings were announced last week, was revealing and disconcerting. We have the toys, the porn, Fifty Shades of Grey, come-hither clothes to make a whore blush, unprecedented sexual freedoms. But yet, one in 10 women says she has been forced into sex and 16- to 44-year-olds are having less sex than a decade ago. People have gone off sex, possibly because they cannot come near the super techniques, tireless couplings, fantastic orgasms – consummate consummation – they think they must achieve to be real men or women. Perfection has wrecked their sex lives.

Worse than all of the above is the impact of these stupidly unreachable standards on the young. British, European and American researchers into the impact of the web have found that social media can cause children, teenagers and young adults to become inconsolably dissatisfied with life, jealous, self-loathing and depressed, sometimes suicidal. Facebook connects up people brilliantly but those connections can undermine users and turn toxic. Too many users think others have idyllic lifestyles, bodies, relationships, out-of-this-world sex, the best of everything – that they are the losers.

The Lawson/Saatchi drama shows the futility and dangers of following the mirage of perfection. He sold it, she embodied it. Now they have had to wake up. Now they become true role models, exemplars of how not to live a sham, invented life. But how to get real.

The hidden history of Asian Britain laid bare

I am unabashedly plugging Asian Britain, by Susheila Nasta, a photographic history from the 19th century to the present day. Asians were here in earlier centuries, too, some of them painted by artists.

The title is strong and assertive. Not Asians in Britain, as we are usually described, but now embedded.

It contains dozens of previously unseen images: a photo taken in 1916, in a nursery of Japanese, Scottish, English and Indian babies; Indian soldiers in Blitz-smashed London; three turbaned, oriental “soothsayers” in Blackpool, holding prayer beads and waiting for customers; Asian suffragettes; famous Indian cricketers, who have played for England since the 1890s; half-Muslim Noor Inayat Khan, who spied for Britain and was tortured and killed by Nazis; doctors, politicians and artists, writers and actors. Oh, and, of course, millionaires, the one lot we boringly hear too much about.

The broadcaster Razia Iqbal writes in the preface: “[The book] can only touch the edges of a much bigger story ... it offers a partial window on a history that still remains incomplete.” That story needs to be completed, told over and over again.

Rupert Brooke wrote the beautiful lines: “... there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England”. There are also some corners in England that are  for ever Asian.

 

‘Asian Britain: A Photographic History’ by Susheila Nasta (Saqi Books, £20)

React Now

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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
 

If Renee Zellweger wants to look different, who are we to question it?

Boyd Tonkin
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker