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Sunday 8 December 2013


Nigella shows the world that she is not a victim

World's most beautiful chef displays intellect and inner strength in court appearance, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

The UK newspapers last Thursday were dominated by the same beautiful, haunted face, snapped as Nigella Lawson walked into court as a witness at the trial of Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, her assistants of many years, for defrauding her husband Charles Saatchi of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The defence case was that she had authorised the Grillos to do what they liked with Saatchi's credit card in exchange for not telling him she had been throughout their marriage a slave to legal and illegal drugs.

After public humiliation last June when photographs were published of Saatchi grabbing various bits of her head as they dined outside a Mayfair restaurant, Nigella had been through an acrimonious divorce, and dreadful press coverage centred on a private email Saatchi sent her after their break-up, in which he called her "Higella" and suggested she had poisoned her daughter with drugs and "trashed her life".

There was widespread speculation that her blossoming US career was now in jeopardy.

True, in evidence the previous week, Saatchi had said he didn't actually know if she'd ever taken drugs. But the defence was still trying to prove the truth of the allegations he had peddled earlier.

Would this very private and vulnerable woman be able to withstand a frightful going over on the witness stand from Anthony Metzer QC, who had left Saatchi pretty crumpled and who is described on his own website as "a great trial advocate . . . tenacious and effective in cross-examination, and leaves no stone unturned"?

Anyone expecting a victim didn't know their Nigella.

One reason she's such a godsend to the press is that she's famous in almost all strata of society. Few international celebrities tick so many boxes.

To some she's a sexy telly cook, to others she's posh totty, recently she's grabbed attention as a marital victim, but to the rich, famous and well-born among whom she usually moves she's a clever, well-educated woman with a distinguished intellectual and political lineage.

Some of the photographs of her arrival showed a middle-aged man whom the papers initially failed to identify but who was her brother Dominic, editor of The Spectator from 1990-1995 and for a decade of the Sunday Telegraph, and these days a heavyweight political commentator. His wife Rosa Monkton is a viscount's daughter, was one of Princess Diana's closest friends, and is a very successful businesswomen.

Nigel Lawson, their father, was a tough and intellectually fearsome chancellor of the exchequer under Margaret Thatcher. At 81, as chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank which challenges conventional climate science, he is to be found in the press and on the airwaves in fierce combat. After he split from their mother, an heiress, she married the celebrity philosopher AJ Ayer.

Nigella's cleverness and contacts took her to Oxford and into publishing, journalism and then food, and her strength of character carried her through the early deaths of her mother, her sister Thomasina, and her first husband,John Diamond, with whom she had two children. After marrying Saatchi, she was moving also among multi-millionaires and the art world.

That the woman is formidable was clear in court last week. Dressed in unpretentious clothes that suited her, she insisted on standing throughout the five hours of cross-examination, sometimes with her arms folded and occasionally with her hands on her hips. When annoyed at the scope of the questions, she pointed out that she was a witness, not a defendant. In her answers, she was direct and articulate.

Yes, she had taken cocaine: six times with her first husband when he was dying and in 2010 – when offered it by a friend during a bad period in her marriage – when "subject to acts of intimate terrorism by Mr Saatchi". Having taken it, "it completely spooked me. I went to my GP straight away".

There were odd joints smoked in the last year of her marriage which "made an intolerable situation tolerable, but it's a false friend".

Since having freed herself "from a brilliant but brutal man, I'm now totally cannabis, cocaine, any drug, free". Reminded by Metzer that she had given this evidence under oath, she replied simply: "This is my evidence on oath." When he absent-mindedly addressed her as "Mrs Saatchi", she glared: "What did you call me?" "Miss Lawson, I made a mistake. We all do," said Metzer, a rare admission from a barrister.

Next week, presumably the defendants will be explaining why they felt entitled to spend more than half-a-million of Saatchi's money on extravagances. Elisabetta Grillo was seen weeping in the dock when Nigella spoke of what a rock she'd been in the bad times and how she had loved her for it.

Nigella Lawson's had an awful year, but she's no victim.


Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards