The TV chef said she was reluctant to testify in a case involving two former assistants

By Andrea Billups
Updated December 04, 2013 08:45 AM
Credit: Neil Warner/Splash News Online

Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, testifying Wednesday in a fraud trial against two former personal assistants who once worked for her and ex-husband Charles Saatchi, said on the stand that he was bent on destroying her after a restaurant argument earlier this year went viral.

“He said that if I didn’t go back to him and clear his name he would destroy me,” Nigella told Isleworth Crown Court in West London.

Lawson, 53, struggled to maintain her composure on the witness stand, noting she was reluctant to testify in a case where two former assistants have been charged with spending more than a million dollars on luxury goods on her husband’s credit card, which they’d had access to for household purchases.

The two former assistants, Italian sisters Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, have denied the embezzlement charges.

Standing throughout the morning session in calf-length black skirt, black suede boots and a fitted black blouse with white collar, the occasionally feisty Lawson also described the period since her divorce from Saatchi as “a long summer of bullying and abuse.”

Lawson told attorneys that her ex-husband, 70, a wealthy global advertising executive and media mogul, threatened her when she balked at appearing in court.

Describing her ex-husband, she said, “Yes, he did have a temper and I don’t think anyone can be in any doubt he had a temper.” She also noted that Saatchi “didn’t like to take part in family life.”

She added that he would shout and swear at her frequently, confiding in a personal assistant of their fractured home life: “I don t know how long I can take this.”

The Taste judge also responded to drug allegations that came in an email this summer from her ex-husband, who alleged Lawson had been using cocaine and marijuana daily. He was forced to refute those charges, testifying last week that he’d never actually seen her use any drugs.

Lawson told attorneys that such drug-use rumors were circulated on a “PR blog” in a desperate attempt to clear Saatchi’s name after he was photographed with his hands around her neck in a restaurant row.

Such allegations were “dedicated to salvaging Mr. Saatchi’s reputation and destroying mine,” said Lawson, who had previously asserted that that the fraud case was designed to put her own life on trial – not the two defendants.

Lawson also testified that her ex-husband was threatened by her own financial independence in their relationship. When an attorney referred to her divorce as “unfortunate,” Lawson quickly snapped: “I don’t regard it as unfortunate.”

“When I left him I took no money even though I was entitled to it,” Lawson also said, before adding that her independence “used to irrirate Mr. Saatchi.”

Reporting by PHIL BOUCHER