Oh, the delicious joy of a bitter feud! Love stories are all very well – but there’s nothing like a good old hate story – and the glorious catfight between Charles Saatchi and Taki, the Spectator columnist, just gets better and better.
Round one went to the Greek socialite and multi-millionaire in his weekly Spectator column. “The art world is full of rogues and pirates,” wrote Taki, “In my book, the heroic man who grabbed Nigella by the throat is both of these things, and he is most welcome to come and try to grab my little throat any time.”
The fight was on! Saatchi – no slouch when it came to public feuds with his ex-wife, Nigella Lawson – came storming out of his corner, all guns blazing. In a public letter, addressed to “Ms Taki”, the art collector wrote that Nigella always found Taki’s column “toe-curlingly vile”. He went on to challenge him to a cage-fight “with no gloves, no rules, and the loser being carried out, usually battered to bits”.
Taki has taken up the challenge and the Spectator’s editor, Fraser Nelson, has offered to host the fight in the charming garden behind the magazine’s Westminster office.
This feud’s got everything: raging alpha-male egos, a public platform, mega-fortunes, a devastating court case and the honour of a beautiful, famous, cruelly treated megastar. Charles Dickens meets Barbara Taylor Bradford!
Us fight fans are, meanwhile, breathing a sigh of relief at the birth of a new seething feud. I admit this is – excuse me – purely a spectator sport on my part. I do the absurd English thing of hating people but not wanting them to know it; the great joy about feudsters is that they love public rows.
Only last month, one of the most bitter spats in history came to an end with the death of the Hollywood star Joan Fontaine at 96. She hadn’t spoken to her sister and fellow Oscar-winning actress, Olivia de Havilland, since 1975, when their mother died of cancer. Their row dated back further, to childhood battles for their mother’s love.
“I married first, I won the Oscar before she did and, if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it,” Fontaine said in 1978. The sisters fought over the same man – Howard Hughes, the eccentric tycoon – and the same roles: de Havilland beat Fontaine to the part of Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind; Fontaine got the plum role in Rebecca.
Professional rivalry is, of course, at the heart of the juiciest feuds – particularly in the arts, where giant egos aren’t backwards in coming forwards and stabbing their rivals in the full glare of the press.
Last year, George Clooney lifted the lid on a simmering row between him and Russell Crowe. The contender from down under threw the first punch, calling Clooney a sell-out for appearing in adverts. Clooney hit back by attacking Crowe for appearing in a band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, “which would also fall under the heading of bad use of celebrity”. Crowe went into hissy-fit overdrive, saying: “Who the f— does this guy think he is? He’s a Frank Sinatra wannabe.”
Only after Clooney sent him a note, asking, “What the heck is wrong with you?”, did Crowe calm down. He apologised the only way an actor could – by sending Clooney some of his own music and poetry.
But it’s among writers that feuds are ratcheted up to the max, fuelled by finely tuned neurosis and scary helpings of belief in their own genius. Hell hath no fury like a writer whose book has been scorned.