Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson said she has used cocaine multiple times in her life but called claims that she was a drug addict "absolutely ridiculous" when she testified in a London court Wednesday in a trial involving two of her former personal assistants, who are accused of spending exorbitant amounts of her family’s money.
Lawson told jurors she used cocaine six times when her previous husband, John Diamond, was terminally ill with cancer, and admitted to using it in 2010 while she was with her second husband, advertising mogul Charles Saatchi, according to Central News UK's CourtNewsUK service.
She said she was offered cocaine by a friend during a difficult period in her marriage with Saatchi in July 2010.
"I was having a very, very difficult time,'' she said, according to CourtNewsUK. "I was being subjugated to intimate terrorism by Mr Saatchi."
Italian sisters Lisa and Francesca Grillo are accused of spending nearly $1.15 million over nearly five years by abusing credit cards linked to the personal account of Lawson’s ex-husband, advertising mogul Charles Saatchi. The Grillo sisters, who worked for Lawson for more than 10 years, have denied the accusations and allege that Lawson, 53, abused cocaine, marijuana and prescription drugs regularly and let them spend the money as long as they kept her secret.
Lawson denied the accusation that she was a "drug addict or habitual user" of cocaine in court Wednesday and said that while she was very generous to the sisters, including buying one a new set of teeth and getting them a membership to a nightclub, there was no authorization for them to spend large sums.
She testified that she used cocaine with Diamond when he was dying from cancer.
"One time was when my husband knew his cancer was terminal, and he was introduced to it by a friend who thought it would help,'' she said, according to CourtNewsUK. "'And I did on maybe six occasions and joined in with him — it was a small amount. It gave him an escape, but I didn't want an escape because I had to look after him and the children."
Saatchi, 70, testified that when the sisters’ accusations of Lawson’s drug use came to light, he asked other household staff and his daughter about them. He testified that he believed “Nigella had a severe cocaine habit that stretched back a very long time. She took this, and cannabis, and she shared it with her children, for a very long time.”
Lawson admitted to smoking marijuana "relatively recently" and in front of her children, but said she has since stopped, according to CourtNewsUK. She claims that July 2010 was the only time she used cocaine in her 10-year marriage to Saatchi and that she sought counseling afterward.
"I concluded that I did not have a drug problem, I had a life problem, and I needed to attend to that, and I did seek out a therapist,'' she told the jurors, according to CourtNewsUK.
She also holds Saatchi responsible for spreading what she says are false accusations. The two divorced after an incident in June in which photographs showed Saatchi holding Lawson by the throat outside a restaurant.
“I have been put on trial here,’’ she said. “It comes after a long summer of bullying abuse, and I find it like another chapter in that.”
Lawson also spoke out about the incident at the restaurant.
"Charles told everyone that he was taking cocaine out of my nose,'' she said, according to CourtNewsUK. "But what actually happened was that somebody walked by with a very cute baby in a stroller and I said, 'I am so looking forward to having grandchildren,' and he grabbed me by the throat and said 'I am the only person you should be concerned with — I am the only person who should be giving you pleasure.' That is what happened."
Saatchi sent her a scathing email in October, calling her “Higella,’’ and writing, “I could only laugh at your sorry depravity. Bravo, you have become a celebrity hostess on a global TV game show and you got the pass you desired, free to heartily enjoy all the drugs you want, forever.” However, Saatchi added that he had never personally seen evidence that Lawson was taking any drugs.
Allegations of substance abuse by Lawson were made on a blog following the incident outside the restaurant.
“The allegations on the blog were dedicated to salvaging Charles' reputation and destroying mine,’’ Lawson told the court, according to CourtNewsUK. “He said to me that if I didn't go to him and clear his name, he would destroy me, and also started spreading false allegations of drug use and in particular the awful incident in Scott's. I felt his way of getting this out was to use this case.
“These allegations appeared in a PR blog that had been dedicated to salvaging Mr. Saatchi's reputation and savaging mine. I felt that this would not become a fraud case, I would be put on trial, and actually that is what has happened.”
Lawson added that Saatchi’s lawyer sent her a threatening letter when she indicated she may not testify at the Grillos’ trial, CourtNewsUK reported.
“He had said to me if I didn’t get back to him and clear his name, he would destroy me,’’ she said.
Lawson's attorney told the court that she and Saatchi paid Francesca $45,920 a year and Lisa received $41,000 a year, but that between 2008 and June of 2012, Francesca had spent more than $951,000, while Lisa spent more than $172,000 during the same time frame. Lawson added that she was “flabbergasted” when she learned the extent of Francesca Grillo’s spending. She also became visibly upset when asked about Lisa Grillo, according to CourtNewsUK.
“It was very difficult when I found out that someone who I trusted has behaved in that way,’’ Lawson said. “In my heart of hearts, I did not believe her to be a bad person. I would have done anything for her.”
Lawson testified that Lisa had been a “rock’’ for her when her first husband, John Diamond, became terminally ill with cancer, but that Lisa became “bitter’’ and treated Lawson’s children poorly when she worked for Lawson and Saatchi.
“She was not at all hard-working towards the end and most of the time she was on Facebook,’’ Lawson said. “I do not think her bitterness was towards me personally — I think it was towards her life.”
While Lawson occasionally gave the sisters gifts, she said she was clear about what they were authorized to spend.
“I was very, very careful not to say something was unauthorized if there was even a flicker of doubt,’’ she said.