Pictures of Nigella Lawson, the British celebrity chef, in a restaurant with her husband apparently physically abusing her have provoked worldwide sympathy and outrage.
Lawson's husband, art and advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, is seen in photos published by UK newspaper The Mirror's Sunday paper, the Sunday People, with his hands around Lawson's throat.
Lawson, 53, and Saatchi, 70, were in Scott's, the Mayfair fish restaurant frequented by London’s rich elite and celebrity set, including Pippa Middleton — sister of the Duchess of Cambridge — and Kate Winslet.
From behind greenery, paparazzi captured shots of an apparently stunned and distraught Lawson pleading with Saatchi, who at various times grabbed her by the throat, pushed both hands in her face and grabbed at her nose.
In the photos, her eyes are shut and head thrown back several times during what other diners described as a violent encounter more than a week ago.
Saatchi told London's Evening Standard newspaper that the pictures misrepresented a "playful tiff" while Lawson's spokesman, Mark Hutchinson, declined to comment.
The Twittersphere lit up with comment, while news websites reported the incident around the clock after the photographs were published.
The Guardian and others reported Monday that police were inquiring into the incident.
The photos — and the reaction — went round the world, given that Lawson is a global brand thanks to her cooking show and spin off recipe books.
Many of those commenting on the incident expressed surprised that those watching made no attempt to intervene or call the police.
It was widely painted as an unreported incidence of domestic abuse.
One onlooker told The Mirror:
"It was utterly shocking to watch. I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes."
The Independent quoted a statement by the Metropolitan Police as saying:
"Officers from the Community Safety Unit at Westminster are aware of the Sunday People article. Enquiries are in hand to establish the facts of the incident."
The paper wrote that the couple left their multimillion-dollar home in London’s tony Chelsea neighborhood in separate taxis on Sunday morning, Lawson accompanied by her teenage son.
Although Lawson is on the record as describing the couple's marriage — her second and his third — as tempestuous (in 2007, Lawson called Saatchi an “exploder” and herself as a “festerer” in an interview) she reportedly said:
"I'll go quiet when he explodes, and then I am a nest of horrible festeringness."
Lawson, daughter of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson, married Saatchi — who runs a modern art gallery that bears his name — nine years ago following the death of her first husband.
Speculation is that Lawson's newfound success in the US, as a judge on ABC's "The Taste," has made Saatchi jealous.