In Depth

Truth about Charles Saatchi and the woman at his table

Saatchi returns to Scott's fish restaurant and the People orders the red herring, writes Nigel Horne

Columnist

WHEN the Sunday People published the now infamous photo of Charles Saatchi with his hand on his wife Nigella Lawson's neck, it was upsetting to all those who know and love the TV chef – but it was hard to deny that this was an old-fashioned Sunday scoop.

Until the News of the World was closed in the summer of 2011, the People always lived in its shadow, never able to match Rupert Murdoch's paper for the quality of its shock-horror, three-in-a-bed exclusives, nor its vast circulation.

The Saatchi-Lawson scoop suggested the People – owned by the Mirror group - might be finding its feet. Cut to yesterday's edition and reconsider.

Once again the gloomy features of Charles Saatchi filled the front page, this time with his arms around a mystery woman wearing a white floral dress. It was headlined: 'Saatchi squeezes another woman at THAT restaurant' and carried the tag 'NO SHAME'.

Only if you forked out £1 and turned to page 4 would you discover the truth: the woman in the white dress was Susanna Gross, scion of one of Fleet Street's most illustrious families (her late father, John, was editor of the Times Literary Supplement, her mother, Miriam, the Sunday Telegraph's literary editor).

Susanna Gross works as the literary editor of the Mail on Sunday and bridge correspondent of The Spectator and, most important to this yarn, is a friend of Nigella's. As she explained to the People's reporter – you had to read right to the end of their article to learn this - Nigella had encouraged her mutual friends to make sure Charles was okay.

So Gross arranged to have supper with Saatchi and they went to Scott's, the fish restaurant on Mount Street in Mayfair, where this saga began.

As Gross told the People, it was entirely her fault that a photographer was given the chance to snap the two of them together at the same outside table where the original damning photo was taken.

Both Gross and Saatchi are smokers and wanted to go out for cigarette. "He said it would be better not to stand with him," said Gross. "I said why should we not be able to sit down? Let's sit and have a cigarette. It was not his suggestion to sit down."

When Gross departed, she gave him a hug, as one would.

So, there we have it. Somehow, the accurate headline - 'Bridge correspondent hugs 70-year-old art collector' - just doesn't have that front page tabloid vibe.

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