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Nigella episode reveals double standards over drug use

Before Christmas it emerged that everyone’s favourite domestic goddess Nigella Lawson might be partial to a little cocaine. The public and media reaction to the news varied between people being unsuprised to being completely uninterested. Those who were unsuprised by the news cited Nigella’s former marriage to Charles Saatchi as justification of her use of narcotics, a man who, if allegations are to be believed, has a form of OCD that means he can only eat in one restaurant.

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If fact, these allegations seem to have made the saintly Nigella a little more human and thus more likeable. However, although her case now gives us a new explanation to her constant munchies and midnight fridge raids, it also highlights the huge double standards that exist in the media and the public’s reaction about taking drugs.

Nothing more highlights this hypocrisy then if we compare the reaction to Nigella’s case to the earlier one of Kerry Katona. While the Twitter world quickly came out to defend Nigella with #teamNigella and the paragon of all supposed middle-class virtue, the Daily Mail, featured headlines and pictures showing Nigella as a kind of weird Virgin Mary or redemption figure, the earlier reaction to the video of Kerry Katona taking cocaine in her bathroom could not of been more different. The middle-class quickly came out in outage to vilify Katona and her case was frequently the topic of discussion on This Morning. “Oh!”, they cried, “What a terrible mother she is!” So this begs the question, why the difference in public reaction? The simplest and perhaps the most accurate explanation, is class. While the working-class Katona was demonised, the middle-class Nigella was glamorised. It was seemingly OK for Nigella to allegedly give her daughter drugs and to hollow out books to hide her stash but the same ambivalence was not shown to Katona.

In our society’s stereotyping of class this sort of drug taking is what we have come to expect from the rich and bohemian. Yet, if a mother on a council estate was caught using cocaine, she would most likely be arrested and, at the very least, could expect a visit from the social services to ensure the wellbeing of the children. But not if you’re a rich TV cook it would seem. Kerry Katona on the other-hand was not so lucky. She was instead dropped from her Iceland campaign and in recent times has continued to struggle to find work, with the shadow of her drug-taking following her. Unlike Nigella, whose new programme “The Taste” is still being aired and advertised on Channel 4. Where’s the justice in that?

In 2005 Sir Ian Blair, the former Met commissioner, foreshadowed a crackdown on middle-class cocaine users. Adding to this Charles Clarke, then home secretary, stated that the law must apply to everyone “whatever their social class”. Yet, for all this talk of equalising the handling of drug taking cases between the classes, the Nigella case starkly shows that this is still not the case. Now, I’m not condoning either case of drug use or calling for Nigella to be made an example of, because that wouldn’t be fair, but a little bit of consistency in the treatment of drug-taking between the classes would be deemed more appropriate. After all, those who vilified and mocked Kerry Katona and other working-class ‘role-models’, who the Daily Mail ‘shame’, should think again at their hypocrisy when they #teamNigella.

14/01/2014

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georgiaellis