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Paper Monitor

13:19 UK time, Monday, 2 March 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Forgive Paper Monitor for turning back the clock a couple of days but it can't resist revisiting the Saturday Times interview with that doyenne of art kool, Charles Saatchi. Now, getting an interview with Mr Nigella Lawson is something of a big deal, as the piece itself makes clear. This, readers are told, is only the second newspaper interview he has ever granted.

Having bagged such a big shot, the paper saw fit to deploy not one but two of its star writers - Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester (the latter one of last year's star signings from the Daily Telegraph) - in what was presumably envisaged as a pincer movement. The star quality of our interviewers is emphasised by their picture byline.

And the piece itself starts off promisingly, if a little short on quotes, relaying some of the rich Saatchi myth and mystique. Our dedicated interrogators progress to telling how they meet Saatchi at his open-plan office in Chelsea where he is hunched over a screen looking at his website. Ok, so we're about 300 words in and the lack of inverted commas is causing the reader some concern, but we're led to believe that everything is going well.

"[Saatchi] enthuses about his latest collection..." we're told. But just as we're getting to what looks like the meat of it, the man himself drops a bombshell. THIS is not the interview, Thomson and Sylvester are suddenly told.

"Instead he will answer questions by e-mail. 'If I give you this invitation to Elton John's party can I get out of the whole thing?' he begs"

Crunch time for our dynamic duo.

Do they assume the journalistic high ground and tell Saatchi no deal. After all, an e-mail interview allows the subject oodles of time to craft their replies and precludes the questioner from coming back on an answer, teasing out a particularly interesting line and gently pushing the interviewer into more uncomfortable territory.

Does the Thunderer tell the godfather of Brit Art to shove it? Er, no.

The write up ensues in fairly stilted question, answer, question, answer format, with Saatchi showing little more than disdain for what is a pretty reasonable set of questions. For example:

Is painting dead?


Do you want to be a celebrity [the interview is pegged to a BBC reality TV art show that Saatchi is helping steer]?

I'm answering these questions, so I must be pretty desperate for something, but it certainly isn't celebrity.

What should the Culture Department be spending money on?

I wish I had the interest to answer.

Maybe the whole thing is meant as one double-page artistic statement by Saatchi, but Paper Monitor is left thinking the Times would have been better off accepting the Elton John invite instead.

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