Dec 4 2013
Nigella Lawson accused her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, of threatening to "destroy" her as she gave evidence today in the trial of their former personal assistants on fraud charges.
The celebrity cook 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 this morning.
Her former PAs, Francesca Grillo and her sister Elisabetta, sometimes referred to as Lisa, are accused of committing fraud by abusing 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 by the TV presenter and Mr Saatchi to spend more than £685,000 on themselves, the jury has heard.
Taking to the witness box, Ms Lawson told the court that the "awful incident at Scotts (restaurant)", when Mr 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."
Ms Lawson, dressed in an all-black outfit, 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.
Ms Lawson said the allegations on the blog were "dedicated to salvaging Mr Saatchi's reputation and destroying mine".
Anthony Metzer QC, defending Lisa Grillo, asked Ms Lawson if Mr 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 Mr Saatchi was patriarchal and traditional, Ms Lawson claimed that he "didn't like to take part in family life".
Questioned by Mr Metzer about whether she thought Mr Saatchi's background conflicted with hers, she replied: "I don't understand why my marriage is pertinent to you."
Ms Lawson, who stood for the entirety of her evidence, said that while her late husband, John Diamond, left some debts, she did not use Mr 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.
Ms Lawson, 53, added that her independence could "irritate" Mr Saatchi.
Mr Metzer asked whether Ms Lawson "confided" in Lisa about Mr Saatchi's temper.
"Yes," she replied.
The barrister then asked whether Ms Lawson discussed with Lisa that she was contemplating leaving her then-husband.
"It wasn't so much a discussion," she said.
"I may have said I didn't know how much longer I could take this."
Mr Metzer said: "You confided in Lisa that Mr Saatchi had been shouting and swearing at you?"
Ms Lawson replied: "I think she may have even heard some of it, yes."
Mr Metzer asked the food writer whether Lisa confided in her that Mr Saatchi had shouted and sworn at her too.
"He did sometimes lose his temper. I'm not sure he did so at her," she replied.
"I have to say it was not beyond impossible to imagine. But I don't remember any such confidence.
"I remember her saying he's very much like my father."
She told the court that Mr Saatchi wanted at least one of the sisters to be working, but the pair were both given time off over the Christmas period.
"I did explain to him that it was Christmas," Ms Lawson said.
Elisabetta, 41, and co-defendant Francesca, 35, both of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.
When asked by Mr Metzer if she agreed that she shared a liberal and bohemian background with her late husband Mr Diamond, who was diagnosed with cancer, she said: "I fear my father might take exception to that."
She had to correct Mr Metzer for saying her team call themselves Team Nigella.
"No, they call themselves Team Cupcake," she said.
Ms Lawson told the court she was "flabbergasted at the extent" of the alleged fraud by the Grillo sisters.
Speaking about Lisa, Ms Lawson 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."
Ms Lawson, 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".
She said Lisa left the job at one point and she continued to pay her for three months so she would not get "too anguished" about finding a new job.
She added: "I didn't want her to feel that she had to stay with me."
On Lisa's return, she was "increasingly bitter", Ms Lawson said.
"She broke our heart."
Ms Lawson 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," she 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."
Ms Lawson 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.
Ms Lawson told the court that in life she is "often in the role of counsellor", adding: "And it's a role I gladly take."
She said she is "quite an open person" and speaks her mind.
When asked by Mr Metzer if her PAs were expected to look "presentable", she laughed at the notion, saying: "I'm afraid to say that I often do not look presentable.
"I don't really mind about appearances."
When Mr Metzer asked if she moved into Mr Saatchi's house after, or around the time of, their wedding, Ms Lawson said: "I think it was quite a bit before then. Sorry to shock you."
The court heart that Lisa wanted to move out of the family home, and Mr Metzer put to Ms Lawson: "The reason she wanted to live in private accommodation is because she said she didn't want to live with Mr Saatchi ever again?"
Ms Lawson replied: "Yes."
She also said she had "absolutely no idea" about the limits on the credit cards given to the defendants.
Ms Lawson said she was "incredibly close" to all of her assistants.
"I tend to trust everyone implicitly and often that's not rewarded," she said, a dding: "I'm still trusting actually. I refuse to become a bitter untrusting person."
Ms Lawson refuted Mr Metzer's claim that she would use credit cards belonging to Mr Saatchi to pay for exercise classes, manicures and pedicures.
"I paid for them sometimes by cash and sometimes by cheque," she said, a dding: "Personal trainers don't take credit cards."
Ms Lawson said: "Charles kept a huge stash above the fridge."
When the judge asked if she meant a "stash of cash", she said she did, a dding: "He did like huge wads of cash because he didn't like to use credit cards."
Mr Metzer asked Ms Lawson: "Do you have it in for Lisa now?"
She replied: "No, I so don't."
In relation to whether she bought gifts for Lisa, she said: "She might say 'Look at these shoes in Vogue' and I would say 'You know, darling, let me buy you those shoes'."
But she said it would be a particular gift.