Nigella Lawson at Isleworth Crown Court in west London on Wednesday. (Reuters)
London, Dec. 4: Nigella Lawson today told a court that her ex-husband Charles Saatchi had threatened to “destroy her”.
The TV chef also made it clear she was not “off her head” on cocaine.
Nigella, dressed entirely in black apart from a white collar on her shirt, admitted she had been reluctant to give evidence in the trial and spoke of her ex-husband’s reaction. “He had said to me if I didn’t get back to him and clear his name he would destroy me,” she said.
It was the moment that the media have been waiting for since Nigella had uttered not a word since last June when photographs appeared of Saatchi with his hand on her throat.
What came across today was that if ever there was any feeling between Nigella and Saatchi, it has all but disappeared. There is not much love lost between the two.
In his court appearance, Saatchi had said how much he still adored his ex-wife and how sorry he was to lose her. On Friday, Saatchi had also told the court that he had “no proof” that Nigella had ever taken drugs.
The couple divorced in July after 10 years of marriage.
Today Nigella accused her ex-husband of threatening to “destroy” her as she gave evidence in the trial of their former personal assistants on fraud charges.
The celebrity chef told the court she had been “put on trial” over false allegations of drug use and had endured a “summer of bullying and abuse”.
She faced dozens of photographers and television crews from around the world as she arrived at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.
Her former personal assistants, Elisabetta (Lisa) and Francesca Grillo, Italian sisters aged 41 and 35, are accused of committing fraud. They abused their positions by using a company credit card for personal gain.
Prosecutors claim the Italian sisters lived the “high life”, spending the money on designer clothes and handbags from Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Vivienne Westwood. The pair are accused of using credit cards loaned to them to spend more than £685,000 on themselves, the jury has heard.
Nigella told the court that the “awful incident at Scotts (restaurant)”, when Saatchi was photographed holding her by the throat, was followed by false allegations of drug use against her on a “PR blog”.
She said: “I have been put on trial here where I am called to answer, and glad to answer the allegations, and the world’s press, and it comes after a long summer of bullying and abuse. I find it’s another chapter in that.”
She said the allegations on the blog were “dedicated to salvaging Mr Saatchi’s reputation and destroying mine”.
Anthony Metzer QC, defending Lisa Grillo, asked her if Saatchi had a temper. “Yes, he did have a temper and I don’t think that anyone can be in any doubt he had a temper,” she said.
Asked if Saatchi was patriarchal and traditional, Nigella claimed that he “didn’t like to take part in family life”.
Questioned by Metzer about whether she thought Saatchi’s background conflicted with hers, she replied: “I don’t understand why my marriage is pertinent to you.”
Nigella, who stood for the entirety of her evidence, said that while her late husband, John Diamond, left some debts, she did not use Saatchi’s money to pay them off. “I’m an independent woman and I used none of his money to pay off my husband’s debt,” she said.
Nigella, 53, added that her independence could “irritate” 70-year-old Saatchi.
When asked by Metzer if Nigella agreed that she shared a liberal and bohemian background with her late husband John Diamond, who was diagnosed with cancer, the celebrity chef said: “I fear my father might take exception to that.”
She had to correct Metzer for saying her team call themselves Team Nigella. “No, they call themselves Team Cupcake,” she said.
Nigella told the court she was “flabbergasted at the extent” of the alleged fraud by the Grillo sisters.
Speaking about Lisa, she said: “It’s very difficult when you find out that someone you have loved and trusted could behave that way. In my heart of hearts I do not believe Lisa to be a bad person. I believe her not to have a very strong moral compass.”
She added: “Lisa had been a stalwart and had helped me through a very difficult time when my first husband died. She came to me at a very difficult time in my life.
“She was a rock. I would have done anything for her.”
Nigella, who referred to her multimillionaire ex-husband as “Mr Saatchi” when giving evidence, said she once took £7,000 out of her savings to pay for Lisa to have her teeth fixed, giving her “incredible confidence”.
Nigella said Lisa left the job at one point and she continued to pay her for three months so Lisa would not get “too anguished” about finding a new job. Nigella added: “I didn’t want her to feel that she had to stay with me.”
On Lisa’s return, she was “increasingly bitter”, Nigella said. “She broke our heart.”
Nigella told the court that while Lisa had become “like a member of the family”, she became “bitter” later on.
“She was not at all hardworking towards the end,” Nigella said. “Most of the time she was on Facebook. I do not think her bitterness was towards me personally. I think it was towards her life.”
Nigella told the court she believed the amount allegedly claimed by the defendants was “a lot higher”.
“I was very, very careful not to say something was unauthorised if there was even a flicker of doubt,” she said.
When Metzer asked if she moved into Saatchi’s house after, or around the time of, their wedding, Nigella said: “I think it was quite a bit before then. Sorry to shock you.”
Nigella also said she had “absolutely no idea” about the limits on the credit cards given to the defendants.
Nigella said she was “incredibly close” to all of her assistants. “I tend to trust everyone implicitly and often that’s not rewarded,” she said, adding: “I’m still trusting actually. I refuse to become a bitter untrusting person.”