Wednesday 21 March 2018

Charles Saatchi 'blocked Nigella Lawson US TV career', jury told

Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson

Gordon Rayner

Charles Saatchi prevented Nigella Lawson pursuing a career in the US for years because he did not want her to be away from home, a jury has heard.

Miss Lawson had regular offers to appear on US television but her ex-husband put his foot down and blocked her American dream, it was claimed.

Miss Lawson finally established herself as a major name in America this year, months before the couple divorced, by appearing as a judge on the cookery contest The Taste.

Francesca Grillo, 35, who is accused of defrauding Mr Saatchi out of £580,000 she spent on a company credit card, said Miss Lawson often confided in her about the problems in the marriage during the 11 years she worked as a nanny and housekeeper.

Asked about Miss Lawson’s hopes of cracking the US market, she said: “Before she started her new show she had other offers, but she always put them off because Charles didn’t like the idea of her being away from home for too long.”

She said Miss Lawson told her she was unhappy partly because: “She is a very social woman, she is a people person, and Charles is quite the opposite. So many times she had to turn down going out because Charles didn’t approve.”

She confirmed evidence given by Miss Grillo’s sister Elisabetta, who is also accused of fraud, in relation to staff being told by Mr Saatchi to buy copies of his books to get them up the bestseller lists.

The jury at Isleworth Crown Court in west London was read a text message from Mr Saatchi to Francesca in April last year in which he asked her to: “Please buy 20 on Amazon, 10 on Waterstones, delivery to Eaton Square [the family home] thanks Charles.”

Another text said: “Let me know how many Amazon you’ve bought so I can see the effect on Amazon.”

Explaining why she often took out cash on the credit card, Miss Grillo said she would give the couple’s three children £80 per day each to pay for food, transport and cinema tickets.

She added that when she took the children on holiday “I would use cash because maybe I bought things for the children and wasn’t allowed to say it”. She did not specify what the secret purchases were.

Miss Lawson would often buy her gifts to thank her for working long hours, especially when she took the children abroad, including a pink fur coat from Miu Miu costing £5,000 and an outfit and shoes from the same store costing another £5,000 in February and June last year.

Asked why Miss Lawson had told the court she would never have agreed to such expensive gifts, Miss Grillo said: “I’m afraid Nigella said many things that are not quite true.”

Earlier, Sharrine Scholtz, a former accountant to Mr Saatchi, wept as she said she was falsely accused of stealing petty cash and misusing a taxi account when her relationship with her boss turned sour.

She said "threats" were made against her to persuade her to sign a confidentiality agreement when she left Mr Saatchi's art gallery company Conarco in 2009.

Miss Scholtz, 29, worked as an assistant to Mr Saatchi's financial director Rahul Gajjar for four years, starting in 2004.

She said she sometimes had to work 19-hour days, which led to her suffering from stress. When she complained to Mr Gajjar, he "forced me to take leave of absence" and offered a severance package if she signed a compromise and non-disclosure agreement.

She told the jury she had got the impression that if she had not signed the agreement: “Perhaps it would be me standing here instead of Lisa and Francesca.”

Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo deny fraud. The case continues.

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