LONDON (Reuters) - Millionaire art dealer Charles Saatchi told a British court on Friday he had no proof that his celebrity ex-wife, TV chef Nigella Lawson, ever took drugs.
Earlier this week, two of Lawson’s former personal assistants alleged that she was a regular user of cocaine and other drugs as part of their defense in an ongoing fraud trial.
Lawson, often nicknamed the “Domestic Goddess” after the title of one of her best-selling recipe books, is a cookery author who is popular in Britain and the United States.
Saatchi and Lawson ended their 10-year marriage in July, and he accepted a police caution after newspapers published pictures of him with his hands around his ex-wife’s neck at a London restaurant a month earlier.
“I have never, never seen any evidence of Nigella taking any drug whatsoever,” Saatchi told Isleworth Crown Court in west London, where the two assistants are standing trial.
“Are you asking me whether I think that Nigella truly was off her head? Not for a second. Over this whole period she was writing books very successfully and appearing on television.”
Saatchi’s testimony contrasted with an e-mail dated October 10 that was read out to jurors in which he accused Lawson of being “off her head” and referred to her as “Higella”.
“I can only laugh at your sorry depravity. Of course now the Grillos will get off on the basis that you ... were so off your head on drugs that you allowed the sisters to spend whatever they liked,” the e-mail read, referring to the two PAs by their Italian surname.
Saatchi explained the discrepancy by saying he was upset at the time he wrote it. “I wasn’t really laughing,” he said. “I am utterly bereft that this private e-mail to Nigella has come back to haunt us both.”
Saatchi, 70, said on Friday he still “absolutely adores” Lawson despite their very public divorce.
“I‘m utterly heartbroken that I have lost Nigella and I wish this past year had never happened. I absolutely adore Nigella and I‘m broken-hearted to have lost her.”
Sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who worked for Lawson for over a decade, are accused of using credit cards given to them by Saatchi and Lawson to spend more than 685,000 pounds ($1.12 million) on themselves over four years.
They deny the accusations and their lawyers have claimed that there was a “tacit understanding” that the sisters were allowed to spend what they liked as long as they didn’t tell anyone about Lawson’s alleged drug use.
The court has been told by the prosecution that in the four months to June 2012 alone, Francesca Grillo, 35, spent an average of 48,000 pounds per month and 41-year-old Elisabetta 28,000 pounds.
At various times, the court has heard, the sisters spent lavishly on flights to New York, hotel stays, designer handbags and expensive clothes.
When Saatchi learned the amount the Grillos were spending, he said he thought they were being “naughty” and should accept penance for their actions.
He told the Italian sisters they could pay back the money they owed by accepting a 50 percent wage cut and continuing to work for the family but said his then-wife disagreed.
“She was very cross with me,” he told the court. “She said, ‘How could you do that? I would never have them in my house again and neither would the children.'”
Lawson is due to be called as a witness next week. The trial is to resume on Wednesday.
($1 = 0.6105 British pounds)
Editing by Gareth Jones and David Evans