LONDON (AP) — Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson said Wednesday that ex-husband Charles Saatchi threatened to destroy her if she did not clear his name after he was photographed holding her throat outside a restaurant.
Lawson, 53, was appearing as a prosecution witness at the fraud trial of her former assistants Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, a case that has exposed details of the TV star's tempestuous domestic life.
She said she had been reluctant to take the stand because she had already been subjected to a campaign of "bullying and abuse" from Saatchi, whom she divorced in July.
"He said to me at the start that if I didn't go back to him and clear his name he would destroy me," Lawson said.
And she accused Saatchi of spreading "false allegations of drug use" against her.
"I have been put on trial here ... and in the world's press," she said,
The Grillos — who are sisters from Italy — are accused of using credit cards loaned to them by Lawson and Saatchi for household expenses. The cards were then allegedly used to buy hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of luxury clothes, accessories and stays at high-end hotels.
Earlier, Lawson told a jury at Isleworth Crown Court in London that one of the accused employees was "a rock" who helped her overcome the trauma of her first husband's death — but left the family feeling betrayed by her misbehavior.
Lawson, famous for her sensuous manner and "domestic goddess" image, said Elisabetta Grillo — known to the family as Lisa — had been "a stalwart and helped me through a really difficult time" after the death from cancer of her first husband, John Diamond.
"I loved Lisa. My children loved Lisa," said Lawson, dressed in black and appearing nervous but composed. "She came to me at a very difficult time and she was a rock. I would have done anything for her."
Lawson said she had showered Grillo with gifts, including a 7,000 pound ($11,500) set of dentures. But she said her employee's behavior became increasingly bitter and unkind to Lawson's children.
She was read a list of expenditures by the Grillos, including stays at luxury hotels and purchases from Yves St Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel. Lawson said she had not authorized them.
"It's very difficult when you find out that someone you have loved and trusted could behave in that way," Lawson said, her voice breaking. "In my heart of hearts I do not believe Lisa to be a bad person. But I believe her to have not a very strong moral compass."
The case has been overshadowed by details of the breakdown of the 10-year marriage between Lawson and art collector Saatchi. Lawson repeatedly referred to her former husband as Mr. Saatchi throughout her testimony.
Defense lawyers have claimed Lawson used illegal drugs including cocaine, citing an email from Saatchi in which he referred to her as "Higella." They have suggested Lawson turned a blind eye to the Grillos' lavish expenditure in return for them keeping quiet about her drug use.
But Saatchi told the court last week that he had never seen Lawson taking drugs. He said the email was written in anger and he regretted sending it.