‘I do not have a drug problem, I have a life problem’
TV chef says she was isolated, fearful and unhappy when she last took cocaine, in 2010
In five hours of testimony, Nigella Lawson painted a picture of a 10-year marriage to Charles Saatchi that was “difficult at many stages and also deeply happy at some stages”. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga
After a week of swirling allegations of a decade of daily drug use by one of Britain’s best loved TV chefs, Nigella Lawson stood upright in the witness box and braced herself for the inevitable question. Was she or had she ever been a drug user? And with that, the self-styled “domestic goddess” revealed to court eight of Isleworth crown court in west London that she had taken cocaine with her dying first husband, John Diamond, more than a decade ago.
She also admitted to taking the class A drug again with a friend in the summer of 2010 at a time when subject to what she described as acts of “intimate terrorism” by her second husband Charles Saatchi.
But the television cook, who appears on screen in the United States as well as Britain, denied to the court that she had a drug problem. Instead, she chose to admit to “a life problem” and it was that which had brought her to taking the drug again.
For all the qualification, it was a momentous confession from the 53-year-old as she appeared as a witness on the fourth day of the trial of the former assistants to her and Saatchi, Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, sisters from southern Italy, who stand accused of defrauding the couple of £685,000.
Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta Grillo, who Lawson had earlier described as “a rock” and “a stalwart” suggested that Lawson’s former home in Shepherds Bush had been littered with credit cards with white powder on them, while rolled up £20 notes were found on her desk and small envelopes were left on the toilet cistern after weekends.
Lawson strongly denied the claims and said she was now “cannabis, cocaine and any drug free”. Had she taken cocaine every day? “People who do that are a lot thinner than me,” she replied.
Dressed in sober black, Lawson was keenly aware her appearance, in which she is a witness and not a defendant, had the potential to damage her and she complained it had the feeling of “a witch hunt”. Earlier, photographers had waited in large numbers behind barriers, creating a runway down which the television star strode for the very public hearing.
The Grillos, Lawson told the court, were responsible for “cashing in my reputation” while Saatchi had been engaged in “a campaign to ruin me”.
Judge Robin Johnson had allowed the drug questions as part of a “bad character” defence being run by the Grillos who claim Lawson allowed them to spend as they wished in exchange for them keeping her drug use secret from Saatchi.
“I have never been a drug addict,” Lawson said. “I have never been a habitual user. There are two times in my life when I used cocaine. One time when my husband knew his cancer was terminal.
“On maybe six occasions, I would join in with him. It was a small amount but nevertheless it gave him some escape. I, however, didn’t want escape as I needed to look after my children and earn a living.”
She took it again in July 2010 with a friend while going through “a very, very difficult time – I felt subject to acts of intimate terrorism by Mr Saatchi”. She said she felt “totally isolated, in fear and just unhappy”. The experience left her “spooked”, she said. “The idea that I am a drug addict or a habitual user of cocaine is completely ludicrous.”
She added she had “a life problem” rather than a drug problem and underwent counselling.
Metzer checked if she was happy this account was correct as it had been given under oath. Her reply was unequivocal: “That is my evidence on oath.”
Lawson was asked about her cannabis use. She conceded that “with shame”, she has used the class B drug during the last year of her marriage to Saatchi which ended this June.
“I smoked the odd joint ... it made an intolerable situation tolerable,” she said. “It is a false friend and it is not a good idea ... Like many of my generation I never experimented with drugs when young and I don’t even know how to roll a joint.”
Her solution, she said, was to get others in the household to roll the drugs for her.
In five hours of testimony, she painted a picture of a 10-year marriage to Saatchi that was “difficult at many stages and also deeply happy at some stages”. She spoke of Saatchi’s “emotional abuse that was very wounding and difficult”, “bullying” and how she believed he had set his lawyers on to her with a simple instruction: “get her”.
Lawson described how Saatchi held her by the throat in a photographed incident at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair, not because he believed she had been taking cocaine but because she remarked she was looking forward to being a grandmother. “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.’”
When pictures of the incident appeared in a Sunday newspaper, it led to the break-up of their marriage. Saatchi accepted a police caution for assault.
According to Lawson, Saatchi later insisted that she give evidence in the Grillos’ case, adding if she didn’t “he would destroy me”.
Later, she said: “He started spreading false allegations of drug use, in particular the awful incident at Scott’s, and I felt his way of getting things out was to use this case.”
Metzer read a statement signed by her in October in which she said Saatchi “will do whatever he can to damage not only my interests but the interests of my children, and the Grillo trial will give him this opportunity”. Throwing her arms wide she told the jury: “And look how it has played out.”
– (Guardian service)