Charles Saatchi admitted he has “no proof” whether his ex-wife Nigella Lawson has ever taken drugs as the private email he wrote to her referring to the TV chef as ‘Higella’ was read out in court on Friday.
The millionaire art dealer was giving evidence in the trial of two of the then couple’s former assistants who are accused of embezzlement. Italian sisters Francesca, 35, and Elisabetta Grillo, 41, allegedly spent £685,000 living the high life using company credit cards loaned to them by Mr Saatchi and Miss Lawson, who divorced earlier this year.
Mr Saatchi told Isleworth Crown Court: “I’m utterly bereft that this private email to Nigella has come back to haunt us both. The stories that the Grillos were parading were that Nigella had a severe cocaine habit that stretched back a very long time for the entirety of our marriage. What I was speculating here was that the Grillos would use this as a defence.”
The Grillos, both of Bayswater, west London, deny the charge against them. The sisters’ defence is that they were allowed to go on spending sprees in return for keeping Miss Lawson’s alleged drug use secret from Mr Saatchi.
Responding to defence barrister Anthony Metzer QC, he said: “I have never, never seen any evidence of Nigella taking any drug whatsoever… I have no proof.”
Asked if he believed the sisters’ claims, Mr Saatchi said: “I may have believed it but I may have been completely wrong and they may have been deluded.”
Mr Saatchi told the court that it was his ex-wife’s idea to give all five of their personal assistants credit cards. He said Miss Lawson was “very cross” with him when he told her he had confronted the Grillos about their alleged misuse of his company credit card. He said he thought the pair, who worked for the couple for more than 10 years, had been “naughty” but wanted to deal with the matter amicably. It was Miss Lawson’s idea to call the police, he added.
Mr Saatchi said he told the Grillos they could pay the money they owed off while continuing to work for them and living rent-free in a house in Battersea, central London, but his then-wife disagreed. Francesca saw the idea as “humiliating”, he said.
Mr Saatchi told the court: “(Francesca) said ‘I’d rather go to jail than go to Battersea… see you around’.”
Mr Saatchi, who repeatedly had to be told to speak up so the court could hear him, appeared upset when he was about to be handed the photographs of him appearing to throttle Miss Lawson earlier this year while the pair dined at Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair. Their publication instigated their divorce.
Referring to the pictures, Mr Saatchi said: “I was not gripping, strangling or throttling her. I was holding her head by the neck to make her focus, can we be clear?” Pre-empting the net question he added: “Was it about her drug use? No.”
Referring to Miss Lawson’s relationship with the Grillos, he told the court: “Do I think Nigella was so off her head on drugs she said ‘go and spend what you like’? Not for one instant… I don’t believe for one second she was so addled.”
After several hours in the witness box, Mr Saatchi said he wished 2013 had never happened and confessed that he was “utterly heartbroken” that his marriage broke down.
When asked if he had adored Miss Lawson during their marriage, he said: “I adore Nigella now. I absolutely adore Nigella and I’m broken-hearted to have lost her.”
The case continues.