Nigella back in control in gentle US TV grilling

  • People
  • Friday, 03 Jan 2014

Assured appearance, but show dodges drug issue.

ALMOST a month after she stepped into the witness box and admitted taking cocaine and smoking cannabis, Nigella Lawson has used her first television interview to describe the experience as “mortifying”, to attack the English legal system and to insist that her “only desire” throughout the fraud trial of two former personal assistants was to protect her children.

Despite ill-founded suggestions that she had signed an exclusive deal with Oprah Winfrey, the self-styled Domestic Goddess chose to give her first interview since the trial to ABC’s breakfast show Good Morning America. The network is also home to Lawson’s reality cooking programme, The Taste, which comes to Britain next week.

Although she had appeared on the Jan 2 show to plug her own show, Lawson was inevitably asked about the trial of Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who were cleared in December of defrauding Lawson and her ex-husband, Charles Saatchi, of £685,000 (RM3.7mil).

She was not, however, questioned about the repeated allegations made in court over her drug use.

Asked whether she had felt herself to be on trial even though she had only been giving evidence, a smiling Lawson replied: “I did.”

What followed was largely a reheated version of the statement she issued following the acquittal of the Italian sisters, in which she bemoaned the fact that the trial had become a “ridiculous sideshow” about her private life and called for witnesses to be given the right to address false claims made about them in court.

“It’s one of the niceties of the English legal system that you’re not allowed any counsel if you’re a witness but maybe that will change,” she said. “Maybe that’s good.”

During her two days of evidence, Lawson had admitted taking cocaine six times with her late first husband, John Diamond, following his discovery that he had terminal cancer. She also told the court she had taken the drug again in 2010 - at a time when she felt she was being subjected to acts of “intimate terrorism” by Saatchi - and had smoked “the odd joint” during the last year of her marriage to the millionaire art collector.

Lawson, wearing a sweetheart neck black dress, told Good Morning America that she couldn’t remember much about her time in the witness box because “you are so focused on answering the questions to the best of your ability that actually you don’t have the normal awareness of yourself”. But maybe, she added, that was a good thing.

“To be honest, to have not only your private life but distortions of your private life put on display is mortifying but, you know, there are people going through an awful lot worse,” she said. “To dwell on any of it would be self pity and I don’t like to do that.”

Reflecting a little more on the trial – during which she frequently and sternly asked counsel not to mention her children by name – she added: “My only desire really was to protect my children as much as possible, which, alas, I couldn’t do. But that’s what I wanted to do.”

With that, she segued deftly on to the more familiar and comforting subject of food: “Actually, since then, I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate, had a very good Christmas and I’m into the new year.”

The chocolate reference raised a laugh from the audience, which signalled the end of the Lawson interview. The show then moved on to the other chef judges on The Taste, including Anthony Bourdain and a segment on pie-tasting.

The Taste has already run for a season in the US. While it began with strong viewing figures and ratings of six million, the audience had dwindled to half that by the final episode.

Its British premiere will cap the most tumultuous few months of Lawson’s professional life.

In a statement released after the jury acquitted the Grillos, Lawson complained of being “maliciously vilified” in court simply for doing her “civic duty”.

Those packed inside court eight at Isleworth, west London, had been party to an unprecedented and uncomfortably close survey of everything from Lawson and Saatchi’s rapidly crumbling marriage to their vast domestic expenditure and even Saatchi’s breakfast habits.

But the court also heard claims that the Grillos had been “devoured like lambs” in the bitter emotional and legal battle raging between their former bosses. At one point, the sisters, from southern Italy, were even compared to Berlin at the end of the second world war, subject to “crushing forces on both sides”.

As Anthony Metzer QC, representing Elisabetta Grillo, explained to the jury before it retired: “This is a case with no winners.”

The trial proved an embarrassment to the prime minister, David Cameron, too, after he was publicly rebuked by the judge for interfering with the course of justice by declaring himself “a massive fan” of Lawson in an interview with the Spectator.

Nor has the smoke from the trial yet cleared: although Lawson emphatically denied being a habitual drug user, the London Metropolitan police has announced that it will review evidence relating to her admission that she had taken cocaine. – Guardian News & Media

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