The Grillo sisters: Nigella's 'kitchen confidantes'

Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo Elisabetta and Francesca Grillo spent thousands on luxury holidays and designer clothes

In her 2011 book, Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, Nigella Lawson wrote, "I give heartfelt thanks to... my kitchen confidantes: Lisa and Francesca Grillo".

The pair had been working for the celebrity chef for years and were considered like "family".

But two years after Ms Lawson publicly thanked them, the Grillos were appearing in court accused of fraud.

The trial heard the sisters - who arrived in the UK from Calabria, in Italy, in 1999 and worked as personal assistants to Ms Lawson - had been spending tens of thousands of pounds each month on luxury holidays and designer clothes.

They claimed the spending, which totalled £685,000, had been authorised by Ms Lawson in return for them not revealing her drug use to her second husband Charles Saatchi.

'A stalwart'

Elisabetta, 41, who is also known as Lisa, had known Ms Lawson since 1999 when she began working as a nanny for the food writer in her family home in Shepherd's Bush, west London. In 2001 she was joined by her sister Francesca, 35.

Ms Lawson described Elisabetta as "a stalwart" in court, who helped her through the death of her first husband, journalist John Diamond.

"She came to me at a very difficult time in my life," Ms Lawson told the court. "She was a rock. I would have done anything for her."

When Ms Lawson married Charles Saatchi in 2003 the sisters stayed with the family, but their role changed as the couple's children grew older.

Mr Saatchi told the jury: "The truth is, there was no real need for us to keep them both on but we both liked them very much and we found work for them."

The sisters were employed as personal assistants and given a variety of duties including - Elisabetta claimed - travelling around London buying copies of one of Mr Saatchi's books, in order to push it up the bestseller list.

Nigella Lawson In court Nigella Lawson denied being an addict or having a drug problem

The court was told Francesca worked long hours and "lived and breathed" the couple, while Ms Lawson confided in Elisabetta when her marriage to Mr Saatchi became strained.

However, there were tensions in the house and in 2004 Elisabetta moved out and took another job.

She told the court: "I wanted to be out of the house... it was stressful because Charles was not easy."

She returned three and a half years later after working as a sales assistant at a shoe company, but despite returning to the pay roll, Elisabetta chose not to live with the couple.

Asked why she went back to work for the family, Elisabetta told the jury: "I thought it might be better but it got worse."

Her unhappiness was noted by Ms Lawson, who told the court her attitude became "increasingly bitter" as time went on.

'Jail better than Battersea'

In 2012 Mr Saatchi's accountant, Rahul Gajjar, noticed spending on the Grillo sisters' credit cards had rocketed. Francesca had been running up an average monthly bill of £48,000, while Elisabetta spent £28,000.

The Grillos' credit card purchases

  • £4,700 on flights to New York
  • £2,000 on hotels in New York
  • £1,280 at the Ritz hotel, Paris
  • £723 Chloe dress
  • £5,385 at Miu Miu London
  • £2,650 at designer store Prada

These included Francesca spending £64,000 in June 2012 on luxury holidays and designer clothes from Miu Miu and Prada. However, she told the court the purchases had been authorised by Ms Lawson, who "was extremely generous".

Mr Gajjar said he challenged the sisters over their spending and they were at first apologetic. However, when he wrote to the pair outlining how they should repay the debt, Elisabetta complained they were "being treated worse than Filipino slaves".

As part of a repayment plan, they were also offered the chance to live rent-free in Ms Lawson's house in Battersea, south-west London. However, Mr Saatchi told the court Francesca refused, declaring: "I'd rather go to jail than go to Battersea".

Meanwhile, Francesca said Mr Saatchi had warned her: "Hide anywhere in Italy but I will find you and destroy you".

'Off your head'

During the trial the sisters claimed that they had a "tacit understanding" with Ms Lawson that they could keep spending as long as they did not "shop her" drug use to Mr Saatchi.

The jury heard that Elisabetta never confronted Ms Lawson about her drug use as she "did not want to embarrass her".

In court Francesca said she had not seen Ms Lawson taking drugs, but she had regularly found rolled up bank notes with white powder on them in Ms Lawson's handbag.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson were married in 2003 but divorced 10 years later

Giving evidence, Ms Lawson admitted taking cocaine a handful of times with her first husband when he was terminally ill and once during her marriage to Mr Saatchi. She denied having a drug problem or being an addict.

Mr Saatchi told the court he had "no proof" his ex-wife ever took drugs, although the court was read an email he sent her in which he accused her of being "so off your head on drugs" she had allowed staff to spend "whatever they liked".

The Grillos said their former employers had not spoken to them since they were arrested in August 2012, but the sisters were convinced they had done nothing wrong.

"I still think I was allowed," said Elisabetta.

"And I was allowed, Nigella told me. I felt I was right. I am right."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC London



19 °C 6 °C

BBC Local Live

    Shot PC Yvonne Fletcher remembered 11:15: Guy Smith BBC London's Home Affairs Correspondent

    tweeted: Met commissioner paying tribute to PC Yvonne Fletcher, killed 30 years ago today. Killer still not caught.

    Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe
    Met vows to catch PC's killer 11:04:

    Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said officers are "determined to make sure we catch the person responsible" for the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed 30 years ago.

    Memorial plaque of PC Yvonne Fletcher

    The 25-year-old officer was shot dead outside Libya's London embassy in St James's Square, central London, on 17 April 1984. A two-minute silence has been observed at the spot where she was gunned down.

    Barnet FC stadium row 10:54:

    A councillor who voted for Harrow Borough Council not to fight Barnet FC's planning appeal over the Hive stadium says he does not want to put taxpayer's money at risk, reports the Harrow Times.

    Signal problems 10:42:

    National Rail has said a signalling problem between Hayes and Elmers End is causing delays of up to 20 minutes to trains between Hayes and London Charing Cross.

    Mother at 12 10:29: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    Shannon Doyle, from the charity Straight Talking, told Vanessa Feltz that she was 18 years old when she had her child and had thought bringing up a child would be "easy" but later realised the child took up all her time.

    If she could she would wish to change the age at which she had her baby. Children need to be made more aware of how not to get pregnant and the implications of being a teenage parent, Ms Doyle said.

    Crystal Palace result row 10:17:

    Cardiff's 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace in early April should not be allowed to stand, the Welsh club have said in a five-page letter obtained by the BBC.

    Cardiff City playing Crystal Palace

    The document, sent by club lawyers to the Premier League, alleges Palace boss Tony Pulis knew sporting director Iain Moody was trying to obtain Cardiff's starting line-up before the game.

    North Circular lanes blocked 10:03:

    TfL Traffic News tweeted: [A406] North Circular Road (Westbound) at the junction of Hale End Road - lanes 1 & 2 blocked due to a collision. Q's beyond Waterworks.

    Palace help Arsenal 09:58: Brendan McLoughlin BBC Sport

    Everton handed the initiative back to Arsenal in the race for fourth as their seven-match winning streak ended with a damaging defeat to Crystal Palace.

    Jason Puncheon's half-volley and Scott Dann's header put Palace in control before Cameron Jerome added a third for the Eagles to see them win 2-3.

    Mother at 12 09:50: BBC London 94.9 Radio

    Speaking on the issue of a north London 12-year-old girl becoming a mother, Christine from Stratford told Vanessa Feltz that Britain had lost its moral compass and the "circumstances are appalling".

    Christine says she tells her 12-year-old son not to go up to their friends' bedrooms without an adult's permission. She has also told him that if he becomes a young father he would be stuck in a home looking after the child while his friends built their careers.

    TfL strike over pay row 09:44:

    Supervisors and managers at Transport for London (TfL) have voted to go on strike in a row over pay and pensions.

    The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said 1,000 staff had backed action by 3-1 in protest at a wage freeze and cuts to their final salary pensions.

    Delays on Eurostar 09:35: Paul Murphy-Kasp Journalist, BBC London

    Eurostar is running with delays of around two hours on all services in and out of St Pancras International station after a person was hit by a train near Lille in France.

    All lines near Lille are blocked while emergency services attend the scene, but Eurostar is advising anyone booked on a train to check-in as normal.

    On this day 09:27:

    In 1984, PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead outside the Libyan People's Bureau in central London.

    PC Yvonne Fletcher

    She had been policing a small demonstration outside the embassy.

    Your views 09:16:

    We've introduced BBC Local Live to bring you news, sport, travel and weather updates in one place. We'd like to know what you think.

    A return to Londonistan? 09:05: Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent

    The widely acknowledged failure of the Arab Spring uprisings to deliver democracy to the Middle East is reverberating here in Britain.

    With a backlash under way by some Arab governments against their opponents, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, could London once again become a haven for Arab dissidents bent on removing their own governments, as it was in the 1990s?

    Forensic evidence lost 08:55: BBC London 94.9

    Most cold cases are solved on forensic evidence, something that is missing in PC Keith Blakelock's case, Tony Meisels, the lawyer for Nicholas Jacobs, told BBC London 94.9.

    PC Keith Blakelock PC Keith Blakelock was stabbed 43 times

    He said the "forensic opportunities were generally lost at the time" of the riots in Tottenham in 1985 as the scene was cleared, and without forensic evidence the case would be difficult to solve.

    Seeking compensation? 08:46: BBC London 94.9

    Nicholas Jacobs has a "very strong case" for seeking compensation for being kept in custody for an extra night after being cleared of killing PC Keith Blakelock in 1985, Mr Jacob's lawyer told BBC London 94.9's Breakfast Show.

    Tony Meisels Tony Meisels says his client has a case for being held an extra night

    But Tony Meisels said his client is yet to decide whether he will seek compensation for being put on trial for a murder he did not commit.

    Cleared Blakelock suspect 'frustrated' 08:36: BBC London 94.9

    Tony Meisels, the lawyer for Nicholas Jacobs, who was cleared of the murder of PC Keith Blakelock has said Mr Jacobs was "frustrated" by the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to prosecute him.

    Following the trial Mr Jacobs was "emotional" and needed time to gather his thoughts before speaking to the media.

    PC Blakelock murder 08:26:

    The man cleared of killing PC Keith Blakelock has said he would feel "angry and disappointed at the system" if he was a member of the police officer's family.

    Nicky Jacobs Nicky Jacobs

    Speaking to BBC Newsnight, he said he would be outside court petitioning if he was in their position. Watch the full interview.

    Becoming a mother at 12 08:22: BBC London 94.9

    The father of a 12-year-old girl from north London, who became one of the country's youngest mums after giving birth to a baby girl, says it is better than finding out she is on drugs.

    Some people say social services or even the police should be involved. Vanessa Feltz is asking what do you think? Live from 09:00.

    Latest updates
    Travel 08:14: Paul Murphy-Kasp Journalist, BBC London

    There has been a collision northbound on the A2 Old Kent Road, near Albany Road, which is leading to delays.

    There is congestion on the M25, especially clockwise over the QE2 Bridge and anticlockwise approaching J16 M40.

    Trains and Tubes are all reporting no problems so far this morning. Keep up to date by following @BBCTravelAlert.

    Weather 08:05:

    It's a bright and dry start to the day, as this picture of the River Thames this morning shows.

    River Thames

    It'll be warm by the afternoon before cloud will gradually increase from the north with the risk of the odd light shower through to the evening. Highs of 15C (59F).

    08:00: Debabani Majumdar BBC London News

    Morning. I'll be here throughout the day bringing you the latest news, sport, travel and weather for London.

    You can tell me your news by emailing or tweeting @BBCLondonNews.



Elsewhere on the BBC

  • ChildMovie magic

    What do the similarities in children's movies reveal about cinema - and us?


  • JellyClick Watch

    Can Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone break the mould with his social Q&A Jelly app?

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.