The truth about Nigella Lawson’s alleged affair

Nigella Lawson might be taking some time for herself and skirting the spotlight for the time being, but that doesn’t mean that the British chef and renowned television presenter isn’t a hot topic of conversation both in and out of foodie circles. That’s, in part, due to the contentious fallout from her 2013 split from her former husband, business mogul Charles Saatchi, and the ensuing campaign Saatchi apparently embarked on to damage Lawson’s reputation. According to an exposé published by Sunday People (via the Mirror) in December 2013, publicist Richard Hillgrove was allegedly hired by Saatchi to eviscerate Lawson’s reputation, which included publicizing the chef’s issues with substance abuse and accusing her of setting up the now-infamous shot of Saatchi grabbing her by the throat. 

Another facet of Hillgrove’s alleged defamatory PR onslaught had to do with the very inception of Lawson’s relationship with Saatchi. Hillgrove alleged on his personal blog, per Sunday People, that the courtship began while her first husband, John Diamond, was battling oral cancer, and continued for six months before Diamond succumbed to the disease in 2001 — a theory Saatchi actively promoted.

While Hillgrove’s accusations over an alleged affair were later picked up by mainstream media outlets in early 2014, causing a media maelstrom, is there more to the story than meets the eye? Let’s take a look.

Nigella Lawson's first marriage ended in tragedy

While Nigella Lawson might be known best for her de facto foodie empire, the bonafide, press-monikered “Domestic Goddess” first made her name as a journalist; not a chef. Her work in journalism ultimately served a more unlikely outcome — it became the grounds for meeting her first husband, journalist John Diamond, in 1986. Both were employed by The Sunday Times — Lawson as a deputy literary editor and Diamond as a lauded columnist — and eventually wed in Venice in 1992, after a years-long courtship, per the BBC.

Lawson then embarked upon a freelance writing career, eventually pivoting to food writing as a columnist for VogueDiamond was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1997, just year prior to Lawson launching her first cookbook, 1998’s How to Eat, which would go on to sell millions worldwide. Over the next few years, Lawson became known as an international expert gourmand, releasing a follow-up cookbook, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, in 2001 and debuting her first show, Nigella Bites, in the UK. At the same time, Diamond was writing about his cancer treatment and battling for his life.

Diamond succumbing to his illness in March 2001. According to the BBC, his last words to Lawson were read at his funeral service: “How proud I am of you and what you have become.”

Nigella Lawson's first husband may have known Charles Saatchi's motives

It was during the end of John Diamond’s life that Charles Saatchi seemed to emerge as a leading player when it came to Nigella Lawson. Saatchi, a businessman, art collector, and ad executive, had been considered one of Diamond’s closest friends, but the millionaire who would become Lawson’s second husband was allegedly overt about his feelings, whether lust or love. According to a 2002 profile published by Vanity Fair, Diamond purportedly told another friend, actress Maria McErlane, the following: “Charles [Saatchi] has been fabulous and kind to me … so who cares if he’s trying to get into Nigella’s pants?”

According to Saatchi, he and Lawson began having an affair within the last six months of Diamond’s life. According to the Mirror, news of the alleged affair emerged less than six months after Saatchi and Lawson were granted a decree nisi divorce in a 70-second hearing in July 2013. Saatchi, with the help of his publicist, Richard Hillgrove, reportedly spread the rumor that the affair had occurred and claimed Lawson had lied in a court of law about how their relationship began.

Leading up to Saatchi’s public accusation, however, were Lawson’s own assertions that Saatchi had been a bad actor when it came to their domestic life. 

Nigella Lawson's ex ran a smear campaign against her

In 2013, a shocking photo emerged that appeared to show Charles Saatchi physically assaulting Nigella Lawson. The celebrity chef later testified in court that Saatchi had engaged in violence and “intimate terrorism” against her, according to The Guardian. She also alleged that Saatchi had threatened to destroy her reputation unless she cleared him during her testimony. It was later reported that a number of Saatchi’s accusations against Lawson, many of which were spread by his PR man, Richard Hillgrove, were false.

As for Lawson’s alleged affair with Saatchi during the end of John Diamond’s life: According to a 2014 report by the Mirror, an unnamed insider who was close to Diamond told the tabloid that “John himself sanctioned the ­relationship when he knew he was going to die,” adding that he “actively encouraged Nigella to date Saatchi.”

While we might never know what the true story is, it’s safe to say that when it comes to the data at hand — including the reports about Saatchi’s smear campaign — it’s hard to take Saatchi’s word, period.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. You can also find more information, resources, and support at www.thehotline.org.

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