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‘Higella’ flames leap at Nigella

- Drug use claim in court

London, Nov. 27: Nigella Lawson, the domestic goddess and the mistress of reinvention, has been referred to as “Higella” by her ex-husband Charles Saatchi because of her alleged addiction to cocaine.

The celebrity chef, who uttered hardly a word in her defence after he was photographed with his hand on her throat, was dealt a devastating blow yesterday when a judge ruled that allegations that Nigella had used cocaine and other drugs daily could be made public.

A further insult was flung at Nigella by a lawyer who said in the west London court today: “If Mr Saatchi is telling the truth, Miss Lawson is a habitual criminal.”

Nigella’s lawyers have described the allegations as “scurrilous” and untrue.

The court battle this time is technically not between Nigella, 53, and Saatchi, 70, whose 10-year marriage ended acrimoniously earlier this year after the photographs appeared.

The dispute has arisen because Nigella and Saatchi have accused two Italian sisters who worked for them of misusing a company credit card and running up a bill of 300,000 to buy personal luxury items.

Lawyers for the two sisters, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, aged 41 and 35, respectively, say they had an understanding with Nigella. The sisters, described in one of Nigella’s cookbooks as her “kitchen confidantes”, claim that she had let them spend the money in a tacit “understanding” that they would keep quiet about her drug use. Finally, they did tell Saatchi in an attempt to stop the fraud case.

The judge has ruled that the trial of the two sisters on fraud charges should go ahead.

Interest in the case is not because of the sisters but the accusation by Saatchi that his wife had been taking drugs for many years.

Saatchi claimed in an email that was read out by the judge that Nigella and her daughter had been “so off your heads on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked”.

The court was also told that Saatchi had referred to his ex-wife as “Higella” in an apparent reference to her alleged drug-taking. “You Higella, on the other hand, poisoned your child with drugs and trashed her life,” the email said.

Judge Robin Johnson said that when Saatchi had been asked what he meant in the email, he had told police that he was “completely astounded by the scale of the drug use” alleged by the Italian sisters.

The judge summarised the case for the defence’s “bad character” application against Nigella in a single sentence: “Miss Lawson is a user of Class A and Class B drugs on a daily basis; this was a guilty secret kept from her husband.”

It is fair to say most people in Britain are shocked by the claim that Nigella has been a drug addict. The “domestic goddess” certainly does not fit the popular notion of one.

She created her own TV genre: high-camp cooking. The finger-licking, eyebrow-arching domestic goddess was born. She has always appeared fresh faced, even blooming, on television.

No sensible person would ever assume that her jolly, saucy TV persona, all come-hither looks and suggestive ways with chipolatas and whipped cream, was exactly the real Nigella.

But how different is it from reality?

Nigella has been the mistress of reinvention, both in her career, where she transformed herself from a newspaper columnist into TV’s most glamorous chef, and in her private life, where she built a new marriage after the death of her first husband.

The case may offer clues to the real torment that has been hidden away all these years behind the TV make-up and the heavy front door of a rich husband’s mansion.

Nigella was named after her father, Nigel Lawson, a razor-sharp journalist who went on to be Chancellor under Margaret Thatcher. He is now Lord Lawson of Blaby and heavily engaged in the intellectual battle over climate change science. Her mother was Vanessa Salmon, an heiress to the Lyons catering fortune.

Mother and daughter had a fraught relationship because of depressive Vanessa’s mood swings. There was a rapprochement later. Her older brother, Dominic, is a journalist who edited The Sunday Telegraph, London.

Nigella was educated at the University of Oxford, where she read languages and worked as a waitress. She wrote book reviews and restaurant criticism for The Spectator and worked on the books pages of The Sunday Times, London. She also wrote a column for The Times. It was her first husband, John Diamond, another Times columnist, who suggested that she should write books about food.

Diamond was diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and died in 2001, after documenting every twist and turn of his illness in wonderfully warm and witty columns in The Times and in a bestselling book.

Saatchi, who had been married twice before, supported Nigella while Diamond was dying and she moved in with him after he died. They married in 2003. In interviews Nigella has offered glimpses of their life: Saatchi watching horror films in bed while she read a book about the greatest cheesecakes of all time. Saatchi doesn’t “really like proper food — he prefers a bowl of cereal”.

The TV career went from strength to strength as viewers lapped up the scenes of her domestic life. The reality was that the kitchen that appeared to be in her home was in a TV studio and her real domestic life was in another identical kitchen in a house with a man who guarded his privacy so jealously that he didn’t turn up at his own parties.

It would be understandable if Nigella had what therapists like to call “abandonment issues”. As well as Diamond, her mother and her sister Thomasina both died of cancer, at 48 and 32, respectively.

She wrote her first cookbook, How To Eat, to memorialise the cooking of her mother and sister. “So many of my conversations with them hinged on what we were cooking and How to Eat was a means of continuing the conversation,” she said in an interview.

In earlier interviews, Nigella spoke of the darkness that sometimes engulfed her. “I feel so bitter about the world that I don’t think I can do anything to improve it,” she once said. “As long as my children don’t die before me and I don’t die when they are young, then I will be happy.”

On another occasion she said: “I’m good in a crisis, but I do get rather beaten down by things. I can be very strong but sometimes I need to be covered up in a duvet.”

Nigella is reported to have relocated to a Los Angeles hotel in June, two months earlier than planned, to film the second series of her US show The Taste.

The competitive cooking programme on ABC has launched Nigella into the American consciousness, pulling in 6.1 million viewers and inspiring one critic to rhapsodise about her “passionate, telegenic star power”.

For now, Nigella’s culinary empire has not been affected. If the drug charges stick, American television may be less willing to employ Nigella.