The husband of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson says disturbing photographs of him repeatedly grabbing his wife's neck at a London restaurant merely showed a "playful tiff."
Both U.K. press and international media are abuzz over disturbing photos snapped of Lawson and her husband, Charles Saatchi, in a restaurant called Scott's about a week ago. The shocking photos show the 70-year-old art collector grabbing Lawson by the neck.
At one point during their heated conversation, Lawson appears to be pleading with her husband as he grabs her throat as her eyes widen in alarm. Saatchi also tweaked his wife's nose and used his wrists to push her slightly backwards in her seat.
Soon after, Ms. Lawson was seen leaving the restaurant in tears.
"The pictures are horrific but give a far more drastic and violent impression of what took place," Saatchi reportedly told London's Evening Standard.
Lawson has not commented publicly about the incident. London police have said that while Ms. Lawson had not filed a complaint, they were "aware" of the physical exchange and "inquiries are in hand to establish the facts of the incident."
Domestic violence is taken very seriously in the U.K. and London Metropolitan Police say they will want to investigate the incident even if Lawson never files a complaint.
"The staff at Scott's are aware of the allegations in the media today but did not see anything untoward happen within the restaurant. As this is now a police matter we cannot comment further."
The couple had just finished eating dinner at a seafood restaurant last Sunday when Saatchi is alleged to have started an argument. Lawson, 53, was tearful throughout as her husband grabbed her neck on four occasions, using both his hands.
Following the abrupt exchange, Lawson dabbed her eyes with a napkin while her husband tapped his cigarette package on the table. Lawson drank a glass of wine and at one point leaned across the table and kissed his cheek.
In the U.K., Saatchi is best known for masterminding the election campaigns of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away recently.
The incident ended with Saatchi marching away from their table while his wife followed, wiping her tears on the way.
One person who witnessed the incident was quoted as saying, "It was utterly shocking to watch. I have no doubt she was scared. It was horrific, really. She was very tearful and was constantly dabbing her eyes. Nigella was very, very upset."
Others quoted in the Daily Mail story say the couple has volatile relationship and claim to have been heard them bickering in public.
Despite the public scene, Lawson gave no indication of the incident on her Twitter account. Most recently she tweeted that she was celebrating the end of her children's school year by making them a lasagna and brownies.
Yesterday, Lawson's 17-year-old son Bruno was seen helping his mother into a cab before Mr. Saatchi left in another taxi soon after.
In Monday's Evening Standard, Mr Saatchi said: "About a week ago, we were sitting outside a restaurant having an intense debate about the children, and I held Nigella's neck repeatedly while attempting to emphasise my point.
"There was no grip, it was a playful tiff.
"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."
Lawson has two children, Bruno and Cosima, 19, with her former husband John Diamond, whom she met while both were working at The Sunday Times newspaper. Diamond died of cancer at 41 shortly after his wife made her TV debut in the popular series Nigella Bites.
In a 2007 interview, Saatchi was dubbed "the exploder" in an interview with Lawson, who said, "I'll go quiet when he explodes and then I am a nest of horrible festeringness."
In a more recent interview, Lawson revealed she was physically abused by her mother when she was a child.
Last November, she told FT Weekend: "I never thought I could please her. She was funny but depressed and so sensitive to noise. 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."