British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson has reportedly left the home she shares with her husband, Charles Saatchi, after the pair were photographed having an apparently violent altercation over lunch this weekend. Although Lawson has not commented on the photographs, which have spurred allegations of domestic abuse on social media, a spokesperson for Lawson confirmed that she had moved out with her children.
Lawson, 53, who has gained fame in the U.K. for popular cooking shows like “Nigella Bites” and “Nigella Feasts,” was having lunch with her husband in London on Sunday, when photographers caught the couple having what appeared to be a fight. In the series of photographs published by the British tabloid The Mirror, Saatchi, 70, was seen grabbing Lawson’s neck in a choke hold several times before the beloved TV personality left the restaurant alone in tears.
After social media sites like Twitter exploded with accusations that Saatchi had physically assaulted his wife, he defended the incident, telling the London Standard that it had been nothing more than a "playful tiff." "There was no grip, it was a playful tiff," Saatchi said. "The pictures are horrific, but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place. Nigella's tears were because we both hate arguing, not because she had been hurt."
"We had made up by the time we were home. The paparazzi were congregated outside our house after the story broke yesterday morning, so I told Nigella to take the kids off till the dust settled," he added.
But fellow diners at Scott’s in Mayfair, an upscale seafood restaurant known for its celebrity clientele, told the publication that the scene was harrowing to witness. "It was utterly shocking to watch," an onlooker told the tabloid. "I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes."
“She had a real look of fear on her face. No man should do that to a woman. She raised her voice and got angry but at the same time was trying to calm him down, almost like you would try to calm down a child,” the witness added.
According to the Telegraph, it’s not the first time that the couple, who have been married for 10 years, have been seen having a vicious argument in public, or even the first time at that restaurant. Saatchi and Lawson reportedly ate there together last year, when photographers caught the wealthy art collector placing his hand over Lawson’s mouth during their meal.
Lawson, nicknamed by Brits “the Queen of food porn,” has opened up about how her mother, Vanessa Salmon, was volatile and often physically abusive to her as a child. “She was funny but depressed and so sensitive to noise,” Lawson told the Daily Mail of her mother. “The sound of a plastic bag being crinkled would send her deranged. She’d shout at all of us and say, ‘I’m going to hit you till you cry,’ and so I never would cry. I still don’t.”
“It was like children of alcoholic parents who know right away when they’ve been drinking, we always would know in an instant if it was going to be bad,” Lawson added. Lawson speculated that her feelings of never being able to make her mother happy led to an insistent need to please people as an adult.
A spokesman for the restaurant refused to comment on the allegations, saying, “We do not comment on the private matters of customers.” However, Scotland Yard acknowledged that it had been alerted to the matter and was working "to establish the facts in order to assess whether an investigation is necessary."