I'm divorcing you, Nigella: Saatchi breaks news to wife in exclusive statement to the Mail on Sunday and says he's 'sorry it's over'... but insists she put her hand on his throat too
- Charles Saatchi has begun divorce proceedings against Nigella Lawson
- Said he made 'heartbreaking' decision after she refused to defend him
- Disclosure brings the couple's ten-year marriage to a bitter end
- Saatchi was seen clutching Ms Lawson's throat and tweaking her nose
- Pictures were published a week later in a Sunday newspaper
Multi-millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi has begun divorce proceedings against Nigella Lawson just four weeks after he grabbed her at a celebrity restaurant in London, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The former advertising tycoon, 70, says he has made the ‘heartbreaking’ decision to formally separate from the television chef because she refused to defend his reputation after he was pictured with his hand around her neck at their table. He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I am sorry to announce that Nigella Lawson and I are getting divorced.
‘I feel that I have clearly been a disappointment to Nigella during the last year or so, and I am disappointed that she was advised to make no public comment to explain that I abhor violence of any kind against women, and have never abused her physically in any way.’
'Heartbroken': Charles Saatchi has begun divorce proceedings against Nigella Lawson
The sensational disclosure brings the couple’s ten-year marriage to a bitter end after weeks of speculation.
Saatchi was seen clutching 53-year-old Ms Lawson’s throat and tweaking her nose for 27 minutes in horrifying pictures taken during an argument at Mayfair restaurant Scott’s on June 9.
A week later the images were published in a Sunday newspaper and within hours Ms Lawson had fled to a £10,000-a-week bolthole with her son Bruno, 17. They have not spoken to each other since.
Despite repeated pleas from Saatchi his wife has refused to answer his calls or return his text messages. Today The Mail on Sunday can reveal the true story behind the collapse of their marriage, the brutal aftermath of the ‘strangle row’ – and the devastating physical fixation that destroyed one of society’s most glamorous couples.
Distress: The disclosure brings to an end the ten-year marriage between Saatchi (left) and Ms Lawson (pictured, right, five days after the 'throttling' picture was published)
Shocking: The picture that started the scandal, showing the hand of Saatchi, left, around his wife's neck at Scott's
Saatchi reveals that on the day the pictures were published, he was ordered by Ms Lawson’s PR advisor Mark Hutchinson to apologise for the assault and admit he was ‘ashamed’. He flew off the handle and asked his wife: ‘Are you crazy, you know that’s not the truth.’
Nigella said: ‘I think we have no choice.’ The couple then had a furious row in which he told her to ‘pack her bags and go’.
'I feel that I have clearly been a disappointment to Nigella during the last year or so, and I am disappointed that she was advised to make no public comment to explain that I abhor violence of any kind against women, and have never abused her physically in any way'
- Charles Saatchi
The following day, Monday, June 17, Saatchi voluntarily went to Charing Cross police station where he agreed to accept a police caution for assault. By then Ms Lawson had left the family home with her two children from her previous marriage to journalist John Diamond, Cosima, 19, and Bruno.
Ms Lawson is not aware of the divorce ultimatum being issued by her husband today and will be devastated by his claim that she is somehow to blame for failing to speak out in his defence.
Announcing his decision to start divorce proceedings, Mr Saatchi said: ‘This is heartbreaking for both of us as our love was very deep, but in the last year we have become estranged and drifted apart... The row photographed at Scott’s restaurant could equally have been Nigella grasping my neck to hold my attention – as indeed she has done in the past.’
Saatchi is said to have earned a fortune of up to £135 million while Nigella, daughter of former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, has wealth estimated at £20 million.
'It's heartbreaking but I've been a disappointment to her. I am sorry. It's over...' As Saatchi spells out end of the marriage, friends reveal how couple REALLY fell out
In the ugly aftermath of their fight at Mayfair restaurant Scott’s, Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson have faced an unbearable barrage of rumour and speculation.
The multi-millionaire art collector has been vilified as a wife-beater, his wife as the downtrodden victim of domestic violence. In fact, neither of these claims is true.
After speaking to friends on both sides, The Mail on Sunday can reveal the most authoritative account so far of the heartbreaking collapse of the couple’s relationship.
Once so passionate, their marriage has finally crumbled under the weight of the worldwide media storm unleashed by the publication of the pictures three weeks ago.
Couple: Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson dining outside Scott's restaurant in 2009
As Saatchi reveals in a statement to The Mail on Sunday today, the relationship is now ending in indignity, despair and divorce.
We can also disclose:
- The real reason the couple were arguing at Scott’s: Nigella believes her daughter, Cosima, 19, should go to Oxford like her rather than take up a permanent role at The Economist. Saatchi disagreed.
- How Nigella’s PR machine ordered Saatchi to confess publicly his ‘shame and humiliation’ at assaulting his wife – and Nigella agreed with this plan.
- How the couple then had an explosive fight in which Saatchi told Nigella: ‘Pack your bags and go.’
- How Saatchi believes that Nigella’s willingness to take her PR advisor’s advice over his own ultimately tore them apart.
- How Saatchi feels he has no other option but to file for divorce because she refused to defend him in public and say he never hit her.
- How the couple have not spoken a word to each other since Nigella left the family home after the pictures emerged on June 16, and she has refused to answer his ‘begging’ calls and text messages.
It now seems hard to believe but when Saatchi and Nigella were first told, on Friday June 14, that a newspaper was preparing a story about a fight at a restaurant they genuinely thought nothing of it.
Story: When the couple were first told a newspaper were preparing a story about a fight at a restaurant they thought nothing of it
It was not unusual for them to argue, particularly in recent months, and so they carried on as normal, making plans for their summer holiday in Europe despite background tensions in their marriage.
It was not until that Sunday morning, when they saw the images of the ‘grappling’ on the front page of a newspaper, that they realised the gravity of their situation.
A friend reveals: ‘They both understood, straight away, how terrible the whole thing looked. They were appalled. Charles was utterly shellshocked. They both were. They just stood and looked at each other and said, “What are we going to do?” ’ In the end, it was this question – and their wildly differing responses to it – that sounded the death knell for their ten-year marriage.
GRILLED FISH FOR FIVE YEARS
When your wife is a renowned chef it might seem like the passport to a wonderfully varied world of dinnertime treats.
Yet for the past five years Charles Saatchi has eaten only fish each night.
‘When he goes out to restaurants the chefs know to bring him his own off-menu fish. It is always steamed or grilled and there mustn’t be any oil,’ a friend revealed. ‘It’s the same at home. Nigella cooks him his own separate meal of fish. And he never eats any of the puddings she makes. She doesn’t mind, she finds it quite endearing.’
The art collector is known for his bizarre eating habits. In 2008, in The Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, Nigella admitted her husband had shed five stone in nine months by eating nothing but eggs, three for each meal, always hard boiled or scrambled.
As the couple stood, horrified, in the £14 million mansion where they built their marriage, they turned on one another.
‘Charles’s immediate response was to say, look, these are not what they seem,’ said the friend. ‘He agreed they’re horrible but he knows that to a certain extent they’re also telling a lie. He wishes to God he hadn’t done it but he wasn’t exerting any pressure, or trying to scare her. He would never hurt her or any woman.
‘Nigella knows that but her response was to consult her public relations advisor who said, “No. Charles has got to make a statement saying he’s very ashamed and apologise for ‘assaulting’ you.” ’
The advice from PR agent Mark Hutchinson was, Saatchi believes, the grenade that truly destroyed their chance of reconciliation.
‘They had the most furious row, far worse than anything at Scott’s. At Scott’s they were fighting about Cosima [her daughter with first husband John Diamond].
‘They were talking about whether she should stay at The Economist or go to Oxford University like her mother. Nigella loved university but Charles thought she should think about staying at The Economist.
‘He was frustrated because it was Nigella’s daughter they were talking about and he felt she wasn’t listening to him. That’s when he reached over and – yes – some wine had been taken, but they both know it wasn’t assault.’
So when Mr Hutchinson advised Saatchi to make a public statement of confession, as the world was gripped with the idea of Saatchi as a ‘wife beater’, he flipped. ‘Charles said to Nigella, “Are you crazy? You know that’s not the truth. If I say that the police will be round and arrest me. Do you really want me to do that to myself, to make a statement that will make me look like something you know I’m not and when you know that’s not what happened?”
Moving out: Miss Lawson's belongings were taken from the family home by removal men
‘She said, “Yes, I think we’ve got no choice.” That’s when Charles said, “If that’s how you feel about me, you’d better pack your bags and go.” ’
Nigella left their Chelsea home that same afternoon. The following day, in an ill-conceived attempt to put an end to the furore, Saatchi volunteered to go to Charing Cross police station where he admitted he had assaulted Nigella, 53, and accepted a caution.
However, in a much derided public statement, he undermined his actions by telling the London Evening Standard, where he is a columnist, that he had done this only to avoid the matter hanging over them and that it was nothing more than a ‘playful tiff’.
'They both understood, straight away, how terrible the whole thing looked. They were appalled. Charles was utterly shellshocked. They both were'
- A friend of the pair
According to Nigella, this was the fatal mistake that put her in a now-impossible situation. ‘Nigella feels that Charles was foolish and wrong to state that the incident was a ‘playful tiff,’ one said. ‘It made it impossible for her to say anything supportive as it would look like she was covering up for him.
‘Nigella has given a statement to the police that Charles has never hit her and she hoped it would be widely reported but it wasn’t. She is deeply private and doesn’t want to make any statement herself or have people pick over her marriage.
‘She thinks the pictures are very humiliating. She’s embarrassed and ashamed that she is being portrayed as a victim of domestic violence and her husband as a wife beater.
‘If only he’d said in the first place that the pictures were horrific and he was very ashamed, she says she could have pointed out that he’d never hurt her.’
Instead, they are now painfully aware that the image of Saatchi gripping Nigella’s neck while she reels back will be the one that defines their relationship.
Ironically their relationship began, as it ended, in a celebrity restaurant. The first time they met was at a dinner at The Ivy, the West End haunt beloved by the rich and famous, where literary agent Ed Victor was hosting a dinner for the magazine editor Tina Brown.
Gravity: It was not until that Sunday morning, when they saw the images of the 'grappling' on the front page of a newspaper, that they realised the gravity of their situation
Among his guests were Conrad Black’s wife Barbara Amiel, Charles Saatchi, and Nigella. It was the first time Saatchi had seen the chef, still flush with the success of her first cookery book, 1998’s How To Eat, in the flesh. Ms Brown confirmed: ‘Charles asked Ed to seat her next to him as he had a crush. He was totally mesmerised by her all evening.’
But Saatchi would have to wait. He was still married to his second wife, Kay Hartenstein, mother of his 19-year-old daughter Phoebe. He divorced his first wife of 17 years, Doris Lockhart Dibley, in 1990, the same year he married Miss Hartenstein, a Conde Nast advertising executive.
Nigella, meanwhile, was married to journalist Diamond, father of Cosima and Bruno. Diamond had been diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997, dying from the disease in 2001.
Relationship: The couple's relationship began in a celebrity restaurant, The Ivy, where literary agent Ed Victor was hosting a dinner for the magazine editor Tina Brown
Saatchi was a great support to both throughout the illness. Two-and- a-half years after Diamond’s death, and apparently with his blessing, Saatchi married Nigella in a low-key ceremony at his Eaton Square home.
From the start the relationship was overtly – even oddly – physical. A friend says: ‘Charles and Nigella have always been very physical and demonstrative. He adores her while her love for him was like an addiction. She always talked about the smell of him, how much she loved it. They’re a bit like teenagers. There’s always lots of stroking, kissing, playful banter. I have never been to dinner with them when they haven’t sat next to each other.
‘They’re incredibly tactile. What people who don’t know them don’t realise is just how physical they are with each other.’
But Saatchi was not an easy man to live with. The Iraqi-born businessman could not have built Saatchi & Saatchi into the largest ad agency in the world, alongside his brother Maurice, without ruthless drive.
His ex-wife Miss Hartenstein has cast light on his mercurial manner, saying: ‘When the light shines on you, he is charming and amazing and special. I know, because he shone it on me. Then the light fades and there is darkness.’
As they settled into married life, Nigella the ‘ultimate pacifier’ learned how to deal with his moods, but she was still scared of his sharp tongue. Indeed, friends say that while he is difficult when in a temper, she is fond of quoting that Mae West line: ‘I like my men to be men: strong and babyish.’
‘He can be difficult, he’s never pretended otherwise. It’s often the way with brilliant men. It’s true Nigella is scared of his temper and of him lashing out verbally, but she’s never been frightened of him physically. In private, Nigella has told friends, that of course he has never lifted a finger to hurt her, although he can be difficult and overbearing at times.’
It was Saatchi, ever the advertising genius, who is believed to have come up with the nom de cuisine, Domestic Goddess, which did so much to propel his wife to fame. While he does not resent her success, there is little denying that living with a global phenomenon has taken its toll.
In the past year they have grown distant and suffered tensions over the litigation involving two former close aides now accused of siphoning money from the couple. The friend said: ‘They have drifted apart. He feels that maybe she was getting bored with him, and was unhappy with the marriage.
Married: Nigella Lawson with her previous husband journalist John Diamond
‘He is heartbroken – she is the love of his life – but he has instigated this divorce because he feels it’s what she wants or needs. Also because he feels so betrayed by the radio silence from her, despite his public vilification as a wife-beater.’
According to friends Saatchi has tried to contact Nigella countless times but she has refused to take any of his calls. One friend said: ‘He’s tried endless times... to say he loves her, to try to get her back and then just to discuss things, to ask her what she wants.
‘He’s distraught that after all he’s done with his life, this will end up being his legacy. He’s trying to keep busy, he’s working and looking after his daughter but we’re all worried about him.
'Charles and Nigella have always been very physical and demonstrative. He adores her while her love for him was like an addiction'
- A friend of the couple
‘Nigella’s agent only seems interested in protecting Brand Nigella - here and in the States – and seems to think it may look bad if she says anything in Charles’s defence. Whatever his faults, he’s not violent.’
Those closest to the couple have also told The Mail on Sunday that in the week after the row at Scott’s, their lives went on as normal.
‘Yes, they were having an argument that night in Scott’s and yes the pictures were awful. But Nigella left the restaurant crying because they’d had another row not because he’d threatened her physically. The pictures were taken the week before for Charles’s 70th birthday. The following week they ate at Scott’s again and had two dinner parties with friends. Everything was fine.’
But by ‘putting herself in the hands of her press agent’ that morning the pictures were published, a devastated Nigella has effectively ended their marriage.
A friend admitted: ‘In time they may well have split but it would have been done privately and with dignity. It’s hard to leave someone you still love even when you know you should. Charles is a strong, charismatic character, and she doesn’t want to be tempted to go back.’
Now, sadly, that avenue is no longer open to her.