Nigella Lawson admitted to occasionally snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana on Wednesday during an extraordinary court appearance in which she offered the first account of the notorious photograph that led to her divorce from advertizing baron Charles Saatchi.
The secrecy surrounding their divorce was obliterated during a testy exchange in which she claimed her former husband had been a brutal bully, who had threatened to “destroy” her before inventing the drug abuse allegations in order to salvage his own reputation.
The high-powered couple, who were married for 10 years, got divorced in July, a matter of weeks after the publication of a photograph that showed Saatchi apparently gripping his wife by the throat on the terrace of a restaurant. He claimed that he was trying to hold her attention, while rumors in London suggested drug use may have played a part in the distressing scene. Lawson claimed Wednesday that her husband “told everyone” he was taking cocaine out of her nose that night.
She said the truth was very different; she recalled commenting on someone who walked by with a baby. “I said ‘I’m so looking forward to having grandchildren’,” Lawson said. “He grabbed me by the throat and said ‘I’m the only person you should be concerned with’.”
The presenter of ABC’s The Taste cooking show said that was the start of “a long summer of bullying and abuse,” which culminated in false evidence allegedly being given during the on-going fraud trial. Two of her assistants, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, are on trial, accused of spending more than $100,000 on themselves using credit cards loaned to them by Lawson and Saatchi.
As part of the sisters’ defense, their lawyer claimed Lawson was a daily cocaine, prescription drug and cannabis user. (Lawson told the court, “I have never been a habitual user.”) An email from Saatchi emerged, which appeared to support some of those claims. Lawson said it was all part of a plot to ruin her reputation. She admitted that she had initially been reluctant to appear at the trial. “[Saatchi] had said to me if I didn’t get back to him and clear his name he would destroy me,” she said.
Her ex-husband, whom Lawson referred to as Mr. Saatchi throughout, admitted earlier in the trial that he had never seen her take drugs but said he believed allegations that she might have done so. Asked by a lawyer for the Grillo sisters where these claims had come from, Lawson said: “I believe some of it came from your clients and Mr. Saatchi—not the three most reliable witnesses.”
She said her ex-husband had developed a “get her, I don’t care what it takes” attitude and claimed the drug allegations were all “part of his plan of attack…[to] ruin me in any way.” “I think he likes everyone to do what he wants,” she said.
“He did have a temper and I don’t think that anyone can be in any doubt he had a temper,” said Lawson, 53, who added that her independence could “irritate” Saatchi. She said she had been “punished” on one occasion for going to a friend’s party. She said she had not been beaten, but suffered “emotional scars,” which were “very wounding and very difficult and of course we know how things accelerated”.
Anthony Metzer QC, Lisa Grillo’s lawyer, asked Lawson whether she had ever discussed leaving Saatchi with his client. “It wasn’t so much a discussion,” she said. “I may have said I didn’t know how much longer I could take this.”
Lawson said Grillo was well aware of her husband’s alleged rages and compared him to Lawson’s father, Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. “I remember her saying he’s very much like my father,” she said.
The TV chef said there had been two periods in her life when she indulged in illegal drug-taking. Firstly when her first husband John Diamond was dying from cancer, and secondly during the miserable final years of her marriage to Saatchi. “I have to be honest, I have smoked the odd joint,” she said. “I found it made an intolerable situation tolerable… I have to say, since freeing myself from a brilliant but brutal man, I’m now totally cannabis, cocaine, any drug-free.”