Juliet Dunlop: Tulisa and Nigella double standards

Juliet Dunlop. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Juliet Dunlop. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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WHAT do TV chef Nigella Lawson and former X-Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos have in common? Is it: a) Nothing; b) Lots; or c) Freakishly long eyelashes.

The correct answer is b) Nigella Lawson and Tulisa Contostavlos have lots in common (C is also correct but as this is a serious newspaper, we’ll focus on b and some of the other, less frivolous similarities).

Now I know what you’re thinking. You may be wondering what unites this pair – other than an unhealthy fascination in almost everything that they do – but bear with me as we go through the celebrity keyhole of fame and misfortune.

Let’s look at the evidence. Both women have been publicly humiliated by men. Last year Tulisa (I think we can dispense with surnames) won a high court apology from an angry ex-boyfriend after he released a sex tape.

It was a bit of an internet hit by all accounts and threatened to ruin her career. In the case of Nigella … well, I hardly need remind you, but she too has been brought low by an angry man intent on “destroying” her following a series of embarrassing and troubling photographs. She has also staged a fightback – most of it in court – and unless you’ve been on an expedition, you will have read all about it. In detail.

Then there are the other, strangely similar personal struggles which have defined and shaped their careers. Tulisa, as you may or may not know, was briefly the bad girl of pop but was brought into the TV fold after relinquishing a life of petty crime and gang culture. Nigella, who needs no introduction, was never bad, only good and tragic and moreish, but she too was rescued by television and fame and yes, the public. Both women have also shared memories of unhappy childhoods and difficult mothers; they have spoken candidly about self-esteem, self-harm and body image. They are confident and glamorous on the outside but vulnerable on the inside – a key selling point.

Similarities becoming a little clearer yet? I do hope so, because it’s time for the really interesting parallel between the two: the drugs. Now up until recently, this was a connection that few would have made. Yet there it is, as plain as the nose on your face. Last week the nation’s one true domestic goddess admitted that she had used cocaine during the “difficult times” while married to Charles Saatchi and in the final months of her first husband’s illness.

Then this week Tulisa, following a tabloid sting in June, was charged in connection with supplying Class A drugs. She strenuously denies the charge but has like Nigella, admitted to drug use in the past. Clearly, neither woman is perfect.

But this is where our two female leads, both stars in their own dramas, take diverging paths. While the outpouring of sympathy for Nigella has been breathless and much of the coverage gushing, the treatment meted out to the former N-Dubz singer couldn’t be more different. Yes the circumstances are the not the same, but while Nigella is “forgiven”, Tulisa is “shamed.” Even the Prime Minister has declared his support for “Team Nigella”, who has also confessed to smoking cannabis in front of her children.

Yet Tulisa – and long before charges were brought – was public enemy number one. Condemnation was swift and the prime-time deals dried up overnight. She was put on suicide watch by her agent earlier year and there have been a series of odd and disturbing tweets and pictures. When she has appeared in public, she has been described as “shameless” and “disgraced.”

Perhaps the real question is: “What’s the difference between Nigella Lawson and Tulisa Contostavlos?” Is it: a) Class; b) Popularity; or c) A shocking double standard? I think it’s probably all three.

Tulisa is working class, gobby and common. She is suitable tabloid fodder. Nigella on the other hand, is not. She is wealthy, educated and articulate. One was easy to pull down; the other has friends in high places. One is a “chav”, the other a “goddess”.

They may be sisters under the skin, imperfect, insecure and complicated but in the eyes of many, they couldn’t be more different. No-one said life was fair.