The animosity between Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi didn't end when they signed on the dotted lines of their divorce papers and parted ways over the summer. They're now pulled into a court battle that's ugly with allegations of physical abuse and drug use being hurled between the domestic goddess and her ex-husband.
Their History: The British celebrity chef and her media mogul ex, who married in 2003, made headline news in June after photos of him appearing to choke her during a restaurant spat went viral. He described the incident as a "playful tiff," but she was radio silent … until she filed for divorce, citing ongoing unreasonable behavior. Their marriage officially ended on July 31.
The Court Case: The exes are now witnesses in a fraud case against two former assistants. Elisabetta "Lisa" Grillo, 41, and her sister Francesca, 35 allegedly stole more than $1.1 million from couple, charging dental treatments, driving lessons, and other personal items to Saatchi's credit cards. The women deny the theft charges and are waging their own against the star cook, painting her as a cocaine addict who okayed their spending as a way of keeping her drug use a secret. The trial is taking place in West London.
Nigella's Testimony: On Wednesday, "The Taste" judge took the stand and admitted she was reluctant to testify because the fraud case has turned into a "witch hunt" against her. Nigella, who has two children from her first marriage, seemed to suggest that Charles was behind the nasty allegations as he vowed to ruin her after the "choking" photos were made public. "He said that if I didn't go back to him and clear his name he would destroy me," she told Isleworth Crown Court. During their marriage, he would often "shout and swear" at her and "didn't take part in family life." When a lawyer used the word "unfortunate" to describe Nigella and Charles's divorce, she replied, "I wouldn't say unfortunate." She also said that since their divorce, she has endured "a long summer of bullying and abuse." As far as the Grillo sisters go, she acknowledged she wasn't familiar with every one of their purchases, but she knows she didn't authorize them to buy personal items with her husband's credit card.
Nigella's Response to the Drug Allegations Against Her: She was also asked about the drug use allegations which came from an email Charles sent her over the summer suggesting she used cocaine and marijuana daily and "allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked." The TV chef then detailed her drug use for the court, testifying that she used cocaine about seven times in her life — once in 2010, when subject to "acts of intimate terrorism" by Charles, and the other times with her first husband, who died in 2001. She admitted she smoked pot fairly recently. Nigella said the drug rumors were concocted by Charles, who has been trying to clear his name since he was seen with his hands around her neck. And the "false allegations that I was a habitual user and drug addict" were "dedicated to salvaging Mr. Saatchi's reputation and destroying mine."
Charles's Testimony: On the stand last week, Charles was asked about his email suggesting Nigella was abusing drugs. He testified that he never saw her use them and had no evidence she did. Addressing their marriage, he was "utterly heartbroken" it ended because he "adored" her. "I wish this last year had never happened. If you think I am taking any pleasure from this situation then you are greatly mistaken," he said. As for the photos of him grabbing her neck, he said he was trying to get her to look at him. "I wanted her to focus on what we were talking about," he said. And when asked about the Grillo sisters, the whole point of the case, he said he did not authorize them to make the personal expenditures.
The Defendants: The Grillo sisters are from Italy. Elisabetta started working as a nanny for Nigella during the foodie's first marriage — over a decade ago — and her sister later joined the staff as a "a housemaid." They racked up a bill of more than $1 million over four years making purchases on Charles's credit card at stores including Prada and Louis Vuitton — and spending the night in posh hotels like the Ritz in Paris. The cards were issued to the couple's five personal assistants for personal spending for Nigella and the family. The defense team for the women has suggested that Nigella ignored the Grillos' spending in return for their silence about her drug use.
What's Next? The trial continues for the Grillo sisters. Nigella is expected to return to the stand on Thursday so she can be cross-examined by the defense. As for things with Charles, don't expect her to wave a white flag. On the stand, she said the last time she spoke with him was Aug. 25 — after which she changed her phone number and email address.
- Crime & Justice
- Nigella Lawson
- Charles Saatchi