Celebrity chef wins damages over claims of drink and drugs binge

The celebrity chef Marco Pierre White won £75,000 High Court libel damages yesterday because two newspapers wrongly claimed he had a binge of drink and drugs.

The judge ordered The New York Times and International Herald Tribune to pay the costs of the three-day hearing, unofficially estimated at £480,000, and to make an interim payment of £160,000 which Mr White, 38, had already given to his solicitors.

Mr White, who marries his long-time girlfriend Mati tomorrow, said he had been defamed in 1998 with a "bombshell" sentence claiming he had a "well-publicised bout with drugs and alcohol".

The chef, of Curzon Street, Mayfair, central London, told the court he was angered and upset. He "very rarely" drank and might have a glass of wine "from time to time" during a social occasion. He added: "I have never taken drugs in my life. I object to drugs. It is just something I don't approve of. I think it's very destructive."

The newspapers accepted there was no truth in their allegation. But they said the article did not defame him because it did not lower his reputation as a chef or abusinessman.

The jury awarded Mr White £15,000 against The New York Times and £60,000 against the International Herald Tribune.

Mr White's counsel, George Carman QC, had said: "It is for me to say of him - but I'm sure he wouldn't say it of himself - he is probably the most outstanding and distinguished restaurateur and chef this country has produced in the last 25 years."

Immense talent, virtually unremitting hard work, ambition and complete passion had brought him success in "full measure". He was the youngest chef to obtain three Michelin stars and the "only Englishman to be so honoured in the gastronomic world".

Mr Carman said the papers hired detectives to dig up any "dirt" on him, stories of "sex and drugs and rock and roll".

Geoffrey Robertson QC, for the newspapers, claimed most of the article was "very positive" and suggested it had enhanced Mr White's reputation, showing he had become "a star in his own firmament".

Lawyers for the papers said they would appeal.