Saatchi: A Lion Hunter on a Non-Stop Social Safari; the Divorce Came through Yesterday and the Millions Are in the Bank. So What Next for Charles Saatchi, Asks Rory Ross

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Byline: RORY ROSS

WHEN domestic goddess Nigella Lawson cancelled dinner with handsome gay financier Ivan Massow at the Ivy recently, he kept his reservation and turned up with the Prince of Wales's deputy private secretary instead.

Imagine his surprise when he found Nigella sitting at his favourite table with her regular escort Charles Saatchi. Jettisoning the close friend for the love interest is something women have been doing for millennia, but in this case Massow's gazumping does add weight to the persistent rumour that Nigella and Charles - whose divorce from second wife Kay has just come through - are going steady.

For months, London dinner parties have been buzzing with gossip about the Saatchis' protracted and allegedly messy divorce. At one point Kay revealed that "reading every day about the Domestic Goddess is not easy for me".

Eventually, she was granted a quickie divorce on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour over 11 years of marriage, a charge he admitted.

Kay hails from Little Rock, Arkansas; her father worked as a lift operator and her mother preaches old-fashioned "family values". When she married Saatchi, she was a "rather wonderful, art-knowing, bubbly blonde," says Nicky Haslam, who designed Saatchi's Mayfair flat and part of his present St Leonard's Terrace house. "They made an adorable couple."

Kay eventually gave birth to their daughter in October 1994. "But Charles's moodiness and detachedness became difficult," continues Haslam. "For want of a better word, she became less 'gay'."

Though she can count on friends like Australian ex-model Gail Boglioni, decorator Charlotte Barnes and photographer Amanda Elias for support. "She's a wonderful person and a devoted mum," says Michelle Osborne, her gardener.

"I had lunch with her a few weeks ago. She seemed great."

KAY will move on, but the most asked question of the moment is will Nigella remarry? "It's hard to say," she says enigmatically, "but I'm not suited to being alone."

Meanwhile, friends and even casual acquaintances of the Saatchis maintain that the divorce is a natural, even happy, evolution for all concerned. Nor was the divorce particularly drawn out.

Saatchi simply has other things on his mind, including subsidising a trendy new gallery in Shoreditch, the Underwood Street Gallery, which will show the work of the newest generation of his art-student proteges.

Charles Saatchi first came to attention as the chair-hurling King of the Jingle at Saatchi and Saatchi. In 1986 it was the world's largest advertising agency; a few years later it was suffering huge losses. Charles left the company in 1994 (his brother was ousted a few months later) to the rival ad agency now known as M&C Saatchi.

Advertisements such as the pregnant man, "Labour Isn't Working" and the minimalist Silk Cut campaign helped make Charles a fortune which is today reckoned at between [pound]80 million and [pound]120 million, held in shares in M&C Saatchi and in his art collection.

Even before Saatchi and Saatchi peaked, Charles was pursuing a second career in art. Having revived the Conservative Party's image in the late 1970s, he single-handedly boosted London's contemporary art scene by bulk-buying some 2,500 pieces by 350 artists, his adman's eye alighting on works that surprise and lodge in the brain, even if some look like a dare got out of hand. He championed shark-pickler Damien Hirst, sculptor Rachel Whitbread, erect cucumbers, elephant dung and Tracey Emin. He recently displayed controversial photographs of a peeing child. "He is a shaper of the early Nineties," says Nicky Haslam.

SAATCHI is a careful manager of his own controversial image as well as of other people's (eg, Nicky Haslam's pinstripes-to-Comme-des Gar-cons makeover), so presumably the outsider's view of Saatchi as an enigmatic, ultra-competitive, Chinese-slippered recluse who prefers karting to turning up to his own parties is carefully cultivated. …