Nigella Lawson sees image sour in ugly court case

A fraud trial in London has soured the public image of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson. She is expected to be a key prosecution witness against two former assistants accused of taking her money. But now there are claims in court they were covering up the television star's drug abuse.

Lawson’s life was poised to take another leap in a new American television cooking show, but instead of the image of well-fed domestic bliss that has made Lawson a star on both sides of the Atlantic, she has become the central figure in an ugly court case.

The case centers around how two of her assistants, sisters Francesca and Elizabetta Grillo, had run up personal bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the family's corporate credit cards and how they got away with it only because they agreed not to divulge Lawson’s alleged cocaine habit to her now-divorced husband, the art collector and former ad man Charles Saatchi. 

The couple split up after an embarrassing photo of him with his hand around her throat in a restaurant was published last summer.

Lawson, for all her success, has not had an easy life. Her first husband died young, leaving her with two young kids to support, but her first book, “How to be a Domestic Goddess,” started her off on her skyrocketing career, and the marriage to the wealthy Saatchi seemed to consolidate her security.

She became not just a television chef but a role model, albeit a controversial one. Some women resented the implication that kitchen servitude was a route to domestic contentment.  She said long ago it was all meant as a joke.