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Nigella Lawson: Domestic goddess who fell to earth

By Una Brankin

Nigella Lawson started her media career writing about beauty products and skin-care. She gave good no-nonsense advice and was, of course, a great advertisement for her column. I saw her up close in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin nearly 20 years ago when she'd just started focusing on food.

Under her immaculate make-up she seemed to have the most flawless skin I'd ever seen, so smooth that a journalist friend of mine asked her what type of foundation she used. Friendly and forthright, she had no hesitation in recommending the quite expensive brand Shiseido, a Japanese brand, claiming it covered a multitude of sins.

She also said that women need a certain amount of fat in their diets, advice mirrored by the skincare guru Estee Lauder, who said we should all eat butter for our complexions. Nigella's exquisite face has fared well over the two decades despite the heartbreak of watching her husband John Diamond succumb to cancer, and having to put up with her second husband Charles Saatchi, described in court as "bullying".

She looks after her skin well with £220 facials by Vaishaly Patel, at a Marylebone Clinic frequented by the equally radiant Sophie Dahl and Gwyneth Paltrow, and has her dark eyebrows professionally sculpted by having threading treatments twice a year at £600 a pop.

From the photos of her entering Isleworth Crown Court, she has a few more fine lines on her face, like the rest of us these days, but the lack of any real wrinkles at 53 has led to speculation that she has had subtle fillers in the naso-labial folds and a tiny bit of baby-Botox in her forehead. Whatever she has had done, the extra few pounds she carries so well have stood to her, preventing the sunken-in cheeks skinny-minnies have to stuff with dermal gels for want of a bit of body fat.

Nigella did lose weight after being horrified by those frightful pictures of her in some sort of baggy wet-suit and matching cap on a beach, looking like an upright seal, but she likes her food too much to starve herself. When she needs to lose a few pounds she's said to fill up on Thai broths and zero-calories noodles, and goes a few extra rounds with her personal trainer James Duigan, whom she shares with pouty Rosie Huntington-Whitley and Elle Macpherson.

Leaving court a little wilted looking after standing throughout her five hours in the witness box, the only real giveaway of her age was a little laxness in the skin under her chin. But let's face it – Nigella is the same age as Madonna, who would look ancient without her injections and face-lift. She looks closer in age to her fellow domestic goddess Gwyneth. More importantly, however, she seems a lot more likeable.

Little Miss Perfect's actress mother Blythe Danner claims women are jealous of Gwyneth because "she excels at everything". The same could have been said of Nigella – I know lots of women who couldn't stand their husbands and boyfriends fancying her – but I don't know any who envy the position she has found herself in. Nigella is human; Gwyneth comes across as an icy robot, although she's probably all right underneath.

Poor Nigella has been forced to admit her all too human flaws and mistakes in public, as if she were on trial herself. Admitting to having dabbled in cocaine, she rightly pointed out that regular users would tend to be thinner than she is.

"Regular cocaine users do not look like this," she told the court yesterday. "They are scrawny and look unhealthy." Cannabis on the other hand leads to what users call the 'munchies'. As for class A drugs, the journalist Cosmo Landesman came to Nigella's defence at the weekend, writing that she had resolutely turned down his offer of cocaine at some social event in London she was attending with John Diamond. He described her as shy and slightly awkward – not what you'd expect given her flirtatious and slightly coquettish presenting style.

When I saw her, though, I did notice she was naturally very expressive and animated. She was obviously encouraged by her director to ramp it up a notch for the Domestic Goddess series that turned her into an icon and a fantasy figure for legions of men. It's hard to resist a sex symbol who can cook.

How Charles Saatchi must have resented the attention she attracted. He's a typical control freak; she's "quite an open person," as she described herself in court. She's a family person; he dislikes family get-togethers and, as it transpired in court, was so incensed by her looking forward to the prospect of grandchildren that he clutched her neck in that famous incident at Scott's restaurant in Mayfair, London, and declared he was the only one she should be concentrating on. Yesterday in court she objected to Saatchi's claim he was checking her nose for the drug outside the upmarket restaurant in Mayfair, denying she kept cocaine in a hollowed out book, and asserting, "If you think I would sabotage my health and leave my children orphans you are wrong.'

So, as Mrs Merton would say, what on earth did Nigella see in the £100m art and advertising tycoon? Saatchi was a friend while John Diamond was alive, and was said to be "comforting" Nigella very soon after the journalist's death. Alarm bells should have pealed deafeningly when Saatchi left her to pick up the tab for their meals on their dates while courting. And although he seems to have become more generous after they married, Nigella claimed in court that she wasn't allowed to take out money using the couple's credit cards. He left a wad of cash on top of the fridge for her to use for expenses instead but it could be argued that nasty Saatchi would have driven any wife to drugs. Admitting yesterday that she is "not proud" of her past drug use, Nigella told the court she would rather be "honest and ashamed" than "bullied with lies". Apart from that beautiful healthy face making a lie out of the claim that she's an habitual drug-user, how could she have done her job so well if she was "off her face" for 10 years?

Her sense of betrayal is palpable over the allegations by her two former personal assistants – Elisabetta, also referred to as Lisa – and Francesca Grillo.

The Italian sisters are denying the charge of spending more than £685,000 on credit cards loaned to them by Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi.

Questioned by Karina Arden, defending Francesca Grillo, Nigella denied using her evidence to explain herself in front of "the world's press".

She also denied keeping cocaine in a hollow "fake book" along with jewellery belonging to her mother and grandmothers.

The jewellery box also contained wedding rings she exchanged with her late husband John Diamond, including one he received after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the court heard.

It was also put to her in cross-examination by the defence: "Your daughter (Cosima) told you about the occasion when she was in the study with a friend and found the book, found the cocaine, called Francesa, who tried to make up some sort of excuse to cover your tracks".

But Nigella insisted: "No, I've never heard that."

After the court was told she went into a 'state of panic' when she temporarily lost the book, Nigella said: "I was in a state of panic because I though I had lost my late mother's and late husband's jewellery, and my wedding ring". She added: "No, not drugs".

When it was suggested to her that she had been a regular user of cocaine during the whole period Francesa was with her, but escalating over the past five years, she insisted that this was "categorically not the case".

She said: "I did not want to come to court because I had been menaced and there were allegations, and instead of it being a trial of your client, I would be put on trial.

"Up until yesterday, I've never spoken about anything that has happened over these past months because I wanted to keep my private life, private."

She added: "I felt it was my duty to come.

"I certainly felt it would be an unpleasant experience but that's not a good enough reason not to do one's duty."

She admitted there were "no written-down rules" about the use of Mr Saatchi's company credit card by the PAs.

"It was known, because it was spoken, that they were not for personal use except if directed," she said.

"I think any normal person would think that someone else's credit card could not be used freely for someone else."

The trial continues on Tuesday.

Secret of that composed look

The TV chef has been arriving at court with her signature 60s look firmly in place. Notably fond of eyeliner, a favourite of hers is By Terry Ombre Blackstar in Black Pearl which can be used as both shadow and liner and probably used to create the cat-flick liner for her appearance.

That was teamed with false eyelashes and Georgio Armani Eyes To Kill Mascara.

To keep with the 60s theme as usual Nigella teamed her strong eyes with a nude pale lip provided by By Terry Baume de Rose instead of a lipstick.

The star recently said that her look was inspired by her mother and that she has been wearing the same 60s-style eyeliner with nude lips since she was a teenager.

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