Charles Saatchi told a court today that he held the neck of his former wife Nigella Lawson last June “to make her focus”.
He was speaking at the Isleworth Crown Court trial of Italian sisters Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo, who are accused of using credit cards loaned to them by the celebrity couple to spend more than £685,000 on themselves.
Referring to the incident outside London restaurant Scott's, Mr Saatchi said: "I was not gripping, strangling or throttling her. I was holding her head by the neck to make her focus, can we be clear?
"Was it about her drug use? No."
He also further explained
When asked if he believed allegations that Miss Lawson was a habitual cocaine user, the art dealer said: "I do not know."
Asked by barrister Anthony Metzer QC, defending Elisabetta Grillo, to explain what he meant in the email he sent to her, Mr Saatchi said: "I was very upset. I wasn't laughing, I was broken-hearted."
He said it was a "terrible, terrible mistake" on behalf of their lawyers that it had been seen more widely.
"Why this went any further than to Nigella - she must have thought there was an agenda she thought this would serve," he added.
Questioned about the drug-taking allegations, Mr Saatchi told the court: "It was hearsay. I personally have absolutely no knowledge that Nigella has ever taken a drug ever.
"I don't like drugs at all and I didn't like reading what the Grillos said was the culture in my house."
Asked if he believed the claims, Mr Saatchi went on: "I may have believed it but I may have been completely wrong and they may have been deluded.
"Like I said, you like proof in this courtroom and I cannot provide proof."
Mr Saatchi described the "Higella" reference as a "silly pun".
He was also asked about why he wrote in the email that his ex-wife now had a "free pass".
Mr Saatchi told jurors: "In one of the very rare conversations I've had with Nigella since we split, I asked her whether she was happy.
"And she said she was happy. And I said 'What was this all about?'
"She said 'I'm happy because I don't feel I have to ask for a pass to do what I feel like doing'.
"And I said to her 'You never had to ask for a pass, you could do whatever you liked. If you wanted to have a girls' night or go to a party then you were free to do so. What do you mean?'
"I was just being nasty," he added.
"This is not a very pleasant email but I was very, very upset.
"What I gathered was now that she was divorced from me she was free to do whatever she wants."
Getting more and more frustrated at Mr Metzer's line of questioning, Mr Saatchi asked him if he expected Ms Lawson to come to court and say she told the defendants they could spend what they liked, and added: "Not a chance."
He also said to Mr Metzer: "You're trying to get me to say something which I'm never going to say."
The court heard that Mr Saatchi's legal representatives sent a letter to Ms Lawson after it seemed that she no longer wished to appear as a witness.
"The purpose of that letter was to say to Nigella 'You cannot just walk away from this trial and see it as my problem because I paid their wages'," he said.
He said the letter "worked" and he withdrew it "the moment it worked".
Under intense questioning from Mr Metzer, Mr Saatchi said he refuted the suggestion that his former wife's mind was so "addled" by drugs that she was not aware what she had or had not permitted the sisters to buy.
"Are you asking me whether I think that Nigella truly was off her head?" he asked.
"Not for a second. Over this whole period she was writing books very successfully and appearing on television shows very successfully."
Mr Saatchi said of Francesca's role: "I don't think it was exactly the most gruelling job in the world."
He described the sisters' jobs as "a fairly flexible way of living".
Mr Saatchi said Francesca had "a completely free range" and said she slept next door to him.
"As far as I was concerned she was very happy with the way we lived," he added.
Recalling when the matter first came to his attention, Mr Saatchi said: "I rather foolishly thought I would overlook it as them getting carried away and being naughty."
He added: "It gives me great pain to see them in this situation."
The multi-millionaire also said he does not spend his days "fussing about even very large sums of money".
Mr Saatchi denied that he told Francesca he would "hunt her and destroy her", or that he banged on a table during a discussion about the expenditure.
Banging his hand down on the surface in front of him, he said: "There was no banging on the table and no threats of any kind.
"I was trying to save her from herself."
He said he was "horrified" that Francesca had given "this rather distasteful story".
Mr Saatchi walked towards a frenzy of waiting cameramen and photographers' flashes as he left the court and made his way to a vehicle.
The case was adjourned until Wednesday when Ms Lawson is expected to appear as a witness.