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

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

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: personality is so much more important than policies

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
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
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
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