Nigella’s ‘damage limitation’: I’m not proud of cocaine use

Nigella Lawson arriving at Isleworth Crown Court
Nigella Lawson arriving at Isleworth Crown Court
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Nigella Lawson told a court today she would rather be “honest and ashamed” than “bullied with lies” after revealing details of her past drug use.

The TV cook said she was “not proud” after admitting she has taken cocaine and cannabis but denied her admission was “damage limitation”.

“I’m not proud of the fact I have taken drugs but that does not make me a drug addict or a habitual drug user,” she said.

Ms Lawson said she objected to stories “peddled” by her ex-husband Charles Saatchi, including that he was checking her nose for cocaine when he was photographed gripping her throat outside Scott’s restaurant in central London.

“The fact is, I would rather be honest and ashamed... I wasn’t going to be bullied with lies,” she said.

“Mr Saatchi was not examining me for cocaine. That’s a story he made up afterwards to clear his name.”

Ms Lawson was continuing her evidence in the fraud trial of two of her former personal assistants.

Wearing an all-black outfit, she was greeted by a huge pack of photographers, reporters and cameramen as she arrived for a second day at Isleworth Crown Court in west London.

Jurors were previously read an email sent to Ms Lawson from Mr Saatchi in which he said the defendants would “get off” on the basis that she was “so off her head” on drugs she allowed them to “spend whatever they liked”.

Yesterday Ms Lawson denied being a drug addict and spoke of the “intimate terrorism” she suffered at the hands of Mr Saatchi.

She said she first took the class A drug with her late husband John Diamond when he found out he had terminal cancer, and on another occasion later during her troubled marriage to Mr Saatchi.

But the 53-year-old, who also admitted to smoking cannabis, said the idea that she is a “drug addict or habitual user of cocaine is absolutely ridiculous”.

“I did not have a drug problem, I had a life problem,” she said.

Francesca Grillo, 35, and her sister Elisabetta, sometimes referred to as Lisa, 41, 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 cook and her ex-husband to spend more than £685,000 on themselves between 2008 and 2012.

The Grillo sisters, of Kensington Gardens Square, Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them.

Under cross-examination by defence barrister Karina Arden, representing Francesca, Ms Lawson denied using her evidence to explain herself in front of “the world’s press”.

“I felt it was my duty to come,” she said.

“I certainly felt it would be an unpleasant experience but that’s not a good enough reason not to do one’s duty.

“I prefer to keep my private life private.”

Ms Lawson denied lying to police when she disputed the drug allegations against her and said it was the “extent” of her drug use that was untrue.

“It was not true in that my ex-husband was saying that he was getting cocaine out of my nose at Scott’s and that I had been completely off my head for 10 years,” she said.

“I actually did say at the time it was the extent that was not true.”

She told the court her first use of cocaine with Mr Diamond was in 1999.

Referring to her admission of drug use yesterday, Ms Arden put it to Ms Lawson that it was “a case on your part of damage limitation”.

Ms Lawson replied: “No, I was asked the question and I responded.”

The celebrity cook, standing in the witness box wearing the same high-heeled boots as yesterday, took issue with Ms Arden referring to her as “the lady of the house”.

Repeating the term back to the barrister, Ms Lawson said: “I don’t think it is the job of a woman to run a house.”

She said it was the job of herself and Mr Saatchi.

When asked if the multimillionaire Saaatchi Gallery owner really had an interest in the house, Ms Lawson said: “Absolutely. He would go round and point out marks he wanted removed.

“He is a person with a tremendous eye for detail.”

Ms Lawson said that among other duties, Francesca would organise Mr Saatchi’s frappuccinos and sew buttons on his suits.

Ms Arden asked if Francesca did the food shopping, to which Ms Lawson replied: “I do a fair amount myself.”

Ms Arden then said: “This is no criticism of you as a domestic goddess.”

Speaking about giving presents to her staff, Ms Lawson said she did so “to show gratitude or because I like them, and it pleases me to give presents when I can afford it”.

When asked by Ms Arden if she felt it was important to keep her team happy, Ms Lawson said: “You must always thank someone for doing a good job. It’s not enough just to pay them.

“Everyone in life needs to feel appreciated.”

Ms Lawson said she tried “as much as possible to foster a friendly atmosphere at work”, but added that it “wasn’t always possible” and that there were “some hostilities”.

Ms Lawson said she “became involved” with Mr Saatchi after Mr Diamond died.

“It would be fair to say that not very long after my first husband died I began to become involved with Mr Saatchi,” she said.

The court heard that Francesca took a number of holidays with Ms Lawson’s children and stepchildren, including trips to Paris, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and the south of France.

Ms Lawson said Mr Saatchi was “very much a cash man” and would have given Francesca money to take on the trips for their children.

Ms Arden asked about an instance when Francesca was called while on holiday.

She said: “There was one occasion when you couldn’t find the remote, you contacted her in Spain.”

Ms Lawson replied: “Yes, that would have made Mr Saatchi very irritable.”

The food writer admitted there were “no written-down rules” about the use of Mr Saatchi’s company credit card by the PAs.

“It was known, because it was spoken, that they were not for personal use except if directed,” she said.

Ms Lawson said she would occasionally treat staff by browsing online to find an item they wanted.

Ms Lawson added “I think any normal person would think that someone else’s credit card could not be used freely for someone else.”

Ms Lawson said she was aware of an “awful lot of cabs” being hired.

“In my waters, did I feel there was something funny going on? Yes, I probably did,” she said.

“Mr Saatchi said ‘Every time I bloody draw up to this house there is a cab’.”

When asked by Ms Arden about specialist cleaners who came to their homes, Ms Lawson said Mr Saatchi “likes to have control over every element”.

She said: “You make the wrong assumption if you think I was in control of the decisions, and I don’t think for one minute your client would disagree with me.”

Speaking about weekends in which she would have been happy to spend time with the family and do her own washing up, Ms Lawson said she “complied” with her ex-husband’s decision to call in help.

Ms Arden said the former couple’s home had a “silver room” - 12 feet by 12 feet - filled with tea services, candlesticks and trays.

The barrister said silver cleaners visited once or twice a month and charged £400 per visit.

Ms Lawson disputed this, saying that “mostly the silver looked awful” and she was glad to see the back of it.

When Ms Arden suggested that she probably did not clean the silver herself very often, Ms Lawson said: “I do like cleaning silver and cleaning shoes. I find it incredibly therapeutic.

“I think it’s a rather wonderful task. Very therapeutic.”

Ms Lawson said that sometimes Mr Saatchi was “in a bad mood”, so Francesca was “frightened” of asking him for any cash she might have needed to pay out.

At one point when Ms Arden went to consult with Francesca, Ms Lawson stood with her hand on her hip and shaking her head.

She said Francesca had a “good gig” and during a discussion about specialist cleaners who came to their homes, she said: “She was the cleaner who never had to clean.”

As the discussion about cleaning went on for some time, Ms Lawson said: “This must have been the cleanest house ever in the world.”

At one point, Ms Arden referred to Mr Saatchi as Charles and quickly apologised, to which Ms Lawson replied: “I don’t mind what you call him.”

Judge Robin Johnson stopped Ms Arden as she began to talk in detail about the morning routine in the family home, expressing irritation at her telling the court what Mr Saatchi ate.

“What he had for breakfast is neither here nor there,” he said.

Ms Lawson said soon after that she often made him his breakfast, and Ms Arden suggested that was “a very rare occasion”.

Laughter broke out around the packed courtroom on a few occasions at some of Ms Lawson’s responses to Ms Arden’s questions.

When Ms Arden was asking if a property owned by Mr Saatchi was sold for £25 million, and Ms Lawson said she was not aware of the exact sum, the barrister said the £25 million figure had been reported in the press, to which the TV star replied: “Then it must be correct.”

Ms Arden told Ms Lawson that she shares her “penchant for things Italian”, and said she did not mean that as a criticism.

Ms Lawson said: “I don’t see how that could ever be interpreted by anyone as a criticism.”

Earlier Ms Lawson said there had been a “feeling of sisterhood” in her home among the staff.

Describing Francesca, Ms Lawson said “there was some element of the fantasist” with her.