Nigella Lawson rejected from US: Chef invited to apply for American visa days after being turned away for admitting past drug use
Adam Sherwin is Media Correspondent at The Independent and an award-winning writer who specialises in covering the entertainment, broadcasting, music and popular culture industries. Previously Media writer and diarist at The Times, he was a co-founder of the Beehive City media and entertainment website. As regular contributor to BBC London 94.9 Radio station, he was named Music Business writer of the year at the awards of influential music industry site Record of the Day in 2006.
Thursday 03 April 2014
Nigella Lawson has been invited to the US Embassy to formally apply for a travel visa after being turned away from a flight to Los Angeles at Heathrow on Sunday because she confessed to taking drugs.
The celebrity cook could be required to undergo a drugs test to secure the visa, following her admission under oath last year that she had taken cocaine and smoked cannabis.
At the trial of her and ex-husband Charles Saatchi's personal assistants, the self-styled “domestic goddess” admitted snorting cocaine on seven occasions but said she had been drug-free since 2010.
Although Scotland Yard took no action, the US immigration authorities subsequently informed British Airways that Ms Lawson, 54, would not be allowed into the country, after becoming aware of her confession.
The US Department of Homeland Security has the power to bar as “inadmissible” foreigners who have committed drugs offences, even if they have never been charged.
The star, planning to visit Los Angeles for a holiday, was stopped at the boarding gate and forced to return to the first class check-in to retrieve her luggage.
The US Embassy said that Ms Lawson did not face a permanent ban and opened the door to her swift admission, once she has applied for a visa.
A spokeswoman for the US Embassy said: “There are several ways of legally travelling into the United States and Ms Lawson has been invited to come to the Embassy and apply for a visa for travel to the U.S. We understand she has professional requirements for U.S. travel and these matters are generally handled routinely and expeditiously, so stand by.”
Weeks after her cocaine confession, Ms Lawson was allowed to fly into America on New Year’s Day to film a live television interview promoting the second series of her cookery show, The Taste.
Although Ms Lawson learned in January that Scotland Yard would take no action, the US authorities decided to take a tougher stance after failing to flag the issue before her previous visit.
Ms Lawson is thought to have registered online for permission to travel to via the US Esta [electronic system for travel authorisation] website.
She would have been able to tick "no" to the boxes that ask if the applicant has been arrested or convicted of offences including taking illegal drugs.
Lawyer Susan McFadden, who specialises in US immigration law, said Ms Lawson was unlucky because her fame had drawn attention to the comments in court about drugs.
She said: “The problem comes when one also has to answer a question as to whether you are a drug abuser or addict. Typically any person who has used drugs within the last year can be considered a drug abuser or addict.”
Ms McFadden said Ms Lawson would be advised to visit a doctor who holds a contract with the US embassy in London, who would carry out an assessment to confirm that she was drug-free.
If the doctor confirms she is free to travel, she could obtain a visa in a number of weeks, the lawyer said.
Had Ms Lawson consulted a lawyer familiar with securing travel visas beforehand she may have avoided the embarrassment of being turned back.
A spokesman for the Homeland department’s customs and border protection branch said: “In general an alien found inadmissible will need a waiver of inadmissibility. They may be eligible to apply in advance of travel for a temporary waiver of inadmissibility.”
Drug admissions have not prevented celebrities including Russell Brand and Keith Richards from travelling freely to the US. Louise Mensch, the former Conservative MP, who said taking class A drugs left her with mental health problems, moved to New York to live with her American husband.
Ms Lawson admitted drug use at the trial of her former housekeepers, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, who were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from her and Mr Saatchi.
Francesca Grillo’s barrister suggested in court that Ms Lawson had played down the extent of her drug use, in part to keep alive her dreams of television success in the US.
Karina Arden told the jury: “You may think about her breaking into the American market - that means she wouldn't want it coming out for that reason, because you all know about the Americans taking a strong line in relation to foreigners with drugs.”
No turning back
Despite a string of drug convictions, Pete Doherty was allowed to fly to the US. He made it to New York’s JFK airport before being sent on the next flight home in 2010.
Russell Brand, who spoke publicly about his heroin addiction, was granted a US visa in 2007 after volunteering to undergo a drugs test. The comedian has been drug free since 2003.
Amy Winehouse had to perform at the 2008 Grammy Awards via satellite from London after she was banned entry to the US over her arrest for drug possession in Norway in 2007.
Kate Moss struggled to obtain a US work visa following the 2005 “Cocaine Kate” tabloid front page, which showed the model apparently chopping and snorting a white powder.
Former crack addict Shaun Ryder has kept US immigration authorities busy for 25 years. Happy Mondays were allowed to perform in 2010 but dancer Bez was refused a visa due to his drug convictions.
Singer Kyle Falconer’s 2007 conviction for cocaine possession prevented Scottish band The View from touring the US until permission was finally granted in 2011.
US visa rules
- Airlines must check all passengers have a valid visa or other authorisation to enter the US.
- British citizens must register online before their trip under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation [Esta].
- Passengers must confirm they have never been arrested for, or convicted of, an offence involving “moral turpitude”: criminality including everything from murder to wilful tax evasion, or relating to illegal drugs.
- People who are not eligible for an Esta must apply to the US embassy for a visa, and in most cases will have to undergo a face-to-face interview.
- Those who fail to meet requirements must apply for a “waiver” to overturn the decision to bar them.
- The US authorities have tightened immigration requirements since 9/11. All passengers are screened against Washington's “no fly list” of suspects linked to terrorism.
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