Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Nigella Lawson's PA: I was given card to buy anything I wanted

Nigella Lawson's former personal assistant said she felt like part of the TV cook's family
Nigella Lawson's former personal assistant said she felt like part of the TV cook's family
Sisters Elisabetta, left, and Francesca Grillo, former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson, deny committing fraud by abusing their positions for personal gain
Sisters Elisabetta, left, and Francesca Grillo, former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson, deny committing fraud by abusing their positions for personal gain

One of the former personal assistants to Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson accused of defrauding the celebrity couple said she was given a bank card to withdraw her own salary and buy "anything I wanted".

Francesca Grillo (35) said she was handed a bank card upon first being employed by art dealer Mr Saatchi more than a decade ago, with the simple instruction to withdraw her £300-a-week wages and to buy anything she, Mr Saatchi, Ms Lawson or her children needed.

Grillo – who, along with older sister Elisabetta, denies fraud – told Isleworth Crown Court in west London that the card was used to furnish her new accommodation in the annex of Mr Saatchi's house, as well as pay for essentials such as groceries.

Giving evidence in her defence, Francesca said she played a key role in the lives of Mr Saatchi, Ms Lawson and the children – including housekeeping, shopping, taking the children to school, cooking meals and even cleaning up after builders to prevent Mr Saatchi from getting angry over the mess they left.

Asked by defence counsel Karina Arden about the way her wages were paid, Francesca said: "He (Mr Saatchi) gave me a card with my name on it.

"It was a Nat West card (with wages of £300 a week) to be withdrawn weekly.

"I was told to buy whatever I wanted with that card. I was to buy food for the house, laundry, anything the children wanted, anything Nigella or Charles wanted.

"When asked, I could get myself anything. Anything to do with furnishing my flat, travel..."

The defendants, of Italian descent, are accused of spending £685,000 on credit cards belonging to the celebrity couple to buy designer goods, as well as luxury holidays.

Francesca told the jury she still loved Mr Saatchi, Ms Lawson and the children – but said she was disappointed with the case being brought to court.

Asked how they were as employers, Francesca said: "I never see them like that, I saw them as a family."

She and Ms Lawson had a very close bond, akin to a mother-daughter relationship, the court heard.

Francesca said she appreciated everything the TV cook had done for her.

She was asked by Ms Arden about booking taxis on the family's account with a cab firm, and said she was allowed to order one whenever she needed to – whether for work or for personal reasons.

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