Nigella Lawson used cocaine, cannabis and prescription pills daily for more than a decade, a court in London heard Tuesday.
The TV chef filed for divorce from her husband Charles Saatchi, an art collector, earlier this year citing his unreasonable behavior after a photograph showing his hand around her throat was published by a British newspaper.
A west London court has now heard claims that the 53-year-old presenter of ABC TV cooking show The Taste had a voracious appetite for illicit drugs and prescription pills. In a witness statement, Saatchi said he was “completely astonished” by her alleged drug habit.
The allegations emerged ahead of the trial of Francesca and Eisabetta Grillo, Italian sisters who worked as personal assistants for the couple. They are accused of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on designer clothes and first-class air travel for themselves using a credit card supplied by Saatchi and Lawson, the daughter of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson.
As part of their defense, the sisters claimed there had been a “tacit understanding” with Lawson that they could spend as much as they liked as long as they kept her alleged drug habit secret from her husband. Saatchi was furious when he saw the claim being made by the defense lawyers, and he sent a scathing email to his estranged wife on October 10. That email was intercepted by the police.
In it, he said the drug claims would destroy the case against the sisters and admitted that he was inclined to believe that his ex-wife and her daughter Cosima, 19, known as Mimi, were so high on drugs that they would let the staff get away with anything. "Of course now the Grillo sisters will get off on the basis that you, [and] Mimi were so off your heads on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked,” he wrote. "And yes, I believe every word they have said."
After a photograph of the couple in a Mayfair restaurant was published by the Sunday People, a court granted Lawson an end to the 10-year marriage during a July hearing that lasted just 70 seconds. Saatchi, 70, a former advertising executive, was appalled that he had been cast as the bad guy.
His legal team wrote to Lawson last month claiming that new evidence had emerged that would explain the altercation in the restaurant. The letter, which threatened High Court legal action, was sent about a week after the October 10 email heard in court Tuesday.
A source close to Saatchi told The Telegraph at the time: “Charles has been portrayed as the villain in all of this but there is far more to it than meets the eye. Nigella has not given her version of what caused the argument and her silence speaks volumes.”
In a witness statement also read out at Isleworth Crown Court, Saatchi said that he subsequently explained to police that he had not intended to say he thought the defense claim absolved the Grillo sisters of their alleged crime. "At the time of sending that email I was completely astounded by the alleged scale of drug use set out in the statement,” he said. "Nevertheless, I did believe the allegations and that's what I'm referring to in the email… On reflection I was simply speculating that the sisters would use this information to defend themselves. I know there was nothing in the statement to suggest they were given permission to use the cards."
Some of the claims were first heard in court on November 15; the judge initially banned the media from reporting the details but that decision was overturned on Tuesday.
Anthony Metzer, the lawyer representing Elisabetta Grillo, disclosed the allegations during an application to the court that Lawson’s testimony could not be relied upon. “The bad character application relates to Miss Lawson alleged taking of Class A and Class B drugs and her unauthorized use of prescription drugs,” he said.
“This is a matter highly relative to the defense because, in a nut shell, we respectfully submit she had a guilty secret from her husband. She did not want him to know about her use particularly of cocaine… Because the defendants were fully aware of her illicit drug use she consented to their expenditure on the understanding there would be no disclosure to her husband of her drug usage.”
A lawyer for the prosecution rejected the drug claims. which were made for the first time last month, more than a year after the Grillo sisters were arrested. “This is a totally scurrilous account which has been raised by the defense, and the timing is no coincidence at all,” said Jane Carpenter.