In this October 9, 2012 file photo, English food writer, journalist and broadcaster, Nigella Lawson poses during the 28th MIPCOM (International Film and Programme Market for Tv, Video,Cable and Satellite) in Cannes, southeastern France. Image Credit: AP

Nigella Lawson was left reeling by husband Charles Saatchi’s ‘cruelty’ on Sunday after he announced in The Mail on Sunday that he would be seeking a divorce.

In a final, crushing act of emotional control, he released an extraordinary statement to say that the marriage was over — without giving her any warning of his intentions.

Friends say Lawson, 53, was willing right up until the end to give the union another chance and has been left ‘floored’ and ‘blindsided’ by his actions.

There will now follow a legal battle over the couple’s assets, which are estimated at around £150 million (Dh819 million), and include their £12 million home in Chelsea.

Saatchi does his best to blame Lawson for the split in his statement, saying that the decision is ‘heartbreaking’ but that the couple had ‘become estranged’ and had been drifting apart for a year.

And, as justification for the now-notorious photographs where he seems to be grabbing her by the neck, Saatchi even accuses the celebrity chef of holding him by the throat in arguments at home.

Finally, and cuttingly, he says that he has been forced to act in such a drastic way because his wife failed to defend him in public, instead choosing to rely on her business advisers for guidance.

It’s an astonishing attack by Saatchi, 70, who is apparently concerned with salvaging his reputation and legacy as one of the nation’s great art collectors. And while Lawson is devastated and appalled by this turn of events, she has refused to hit back.

Her publicist, Mark Hutchinson, insisted yesterday that there will be ‘no comment’ from Lawson, even in these highly charged circumstances.

However, her friends are shocked and aghast at what Saatchi has done. ‘The cruelty of it takes your breath away,’ says one. ‘Nigella is devastated.’

They say she takes great issue with his account of the reasons for the split. While Saatchi says that in the three weeks since she left their home she has not returned his calls, Lawson’s friends say that the precise opposite is true. And they add that Saatchi has not apologised at any point for his actions.

However, they say, Lawson is refusing to respond publicly because she is desperately worried for their children. The couple were together raising her teenagers, Cosima, 19, and Bruno, 17, from her marriage to the late writer John Diamond, and Saatchi’s daughter, Phoebe, 18, from his second marriage.

A friend told the Mail: ‘Nigella is absolutely floored and blindsided by the statement. That he would do something like this when there are the children to consider amazes her. Charles is seeing himself and his feelings as the most important part of the equation. It really is stunning behaviour.’

She added: ‘Nigella finds the idea that she didn’t help him over the pictures ludicrous. What was she meant to say? She very nearly had a nervous breakdown with the stress she was under.

‘Nigella was trying to protect him by saying nothing in public. It was so difficult for her because she was hoping all the while that they could reconcile and put it behind them, but he never apologised in private or in public and made very little effort to even talk to her.

‘And then comes this, which just shows you how much he cares about his reputation, rather than her.’

Saatchi said in his statement he had ‘clearly been a disappointment’ to his wife over the past year, and that they had been drifting apart.

But those close to Lawson insist this is far from the case. They say she wanted to patch up the marriage. Indeed, she had not engaged lawyers and had not envisaged a bitter divorce battle.

‘The idea that she was disappointed in the marriage is news to her,’ the friend says. ‘Maybe he was, but she was not.’ Some suspect that, despite his tribute to his ‘lovely wife’ who is ‘the most wonderful woman in the world’ he might have his eye on a new conquest.

That, at least, would explain why he was not at pains to put the marriage back together. True or not, this possibility was much aired over glasses of chilled champagne at last’s week society events, including the Serpentine summer party and the Spectator party. It might explain why Saatchi is taking this woefully public scandal so much in his stride.

Lawsons marriage started to unravel after pictures were taken of Saatchi holding her throat during an argument at the Mayfair restaurant, Scott’s, on June 9. They were published in a red-top newspaper a week later.

It has been since said that they were arguing over Lawson’s son, Bruno, whom Saatchi was said to be keen to move out of their Chelsea home.

And it has also been claimed that they had fallen out because Lawson believes her daughter, Cosima, should go to Oxford University as she herself did, rather than take up a permanent role at The Economist Magazine. Saatchi, seemingly, vehemently disagreed.

Saatchi’s friends say that once the pictures of the row were published, Lawson’s PR man Mark Hutchinson advised him to apologise for the assault and admit he was ‘ashamed’.

His reaction was to furiously decline, saying that he had not assaulted her. ‘They both know it wasn’t an assault,’ a friend of Saatchi’s said yesterday.

But Lawson, guided by her advisers, thought he should apologise in public. Another furious row erupted, say friends, and she packed her bags and left in a taxi to a £10,000-a-week flat with her son. Her key possessions — food blender and all — were to follow her in a removal van.

The day after the photographs were published, June 17, Saatchi voluntarily went to Charing Cross police station where he agreed to accept a police caution for assault. He says Lawson told police that he had never assaulted her.

He also released a statement describing what had passed between them as a ‘playful tiff’ which followed an ‘intense debate about the children.’

He said that he had applied no pressure to her throat and added that she had cried because they were arguing.

And so Saatchi carried on about his business, looking unconcerned while his wife appeared pale and distraught. He even has gone back to Scott’s, where he enjoyed a meal. He has also been out for meals with various friends. But as the furore continued, Saatchi’s denials came thick and fast. A week ago he said that some of the pictures showed him removing mucus from his wife’s nose, not abusing her.

‘Even domestic deities sometimes have a bit of snot in their nose. I was trying to fish it out,’ he said. His words could hardly be more calculated to publicly humiliate Lawson.

But while Saatchi has been vocal in public, privately things have been very different. Both sides claim there has been hardly any communication. He says she never called him and declined repeated attempts to talk, and messages of love. She says he never called her, and never apologised.

Lawson seems to have come under heavy pressure from friends and family to call time on the marriage, but she declined to do so.

One friend said yesterday: ‘She would have kept him, and kept the marriage, right until the moment he made the statement they were going to divorce.’

And according to associates of Lawson, Saatchi saying that they had a ‘playful tiff’ made it impossible for her to talk ‘as it would look like she was covering up for him’.

One said: “Nigella thinks the pictures are very humiliating. She’s embarrassed and ashamed she is being portrayed as a victim of domestic violence and her husband as a wife beater.

“If only he’d said in the first place that the pictures were horrific and he was very ashamed, she says she could have pointed out that he’d never hurt her.”

Instead, amid much acrimony and behind-the-scenes recrimination, both sides will this week be engaging lawyers. Saatchi has a fortune estimated at £135 million, while Lawson is worth around £20 million. Some of her money has been earned during the marriage, while much of his pre-dates it. Their chief shared asset is the home in Chelsea they bought together in 2010.

Saatchi, who has been married and divorced twice before, has spoken bitterly in the past about how well wives do in divorces — and has spent huge sums on lawyers’ fees as he has fought to minimise his payouts.

Last year, he joked in a book, after referring to his own two divorces: “Wives make excellent housekeepers. They always manage to keep the house. Boom boom!”

But friends say there is unlikely to be a serious legal skirmish — neither side is said to have the stomach for that.

Interestingly, though, it is Lawson who is left counting the high cost of having been Mrs Saatchi. For, constrained by his hatred of publicity and the media, she has turned down numerous offers to roll her brand out globally over the ten years of their marriage.

The source says: “Charles never liked her being famous. He real Lawson ly used to cringe if people came up when they were having a meal and wanted her autograph, he found it terribly irritating. I suppose it didn’t suit his ego to be seen as Mr Nigella Lawson because he is so used to all of the art crowd bowing their knee to him.

“She can now see she turned down a lot of chances to do more, partly so she could be at home and provide that stability for the children, but also because he didn’t like it. Now she is starting to wonder what she did that for.”

The marriage appears to have been extremely tense in recent years, since they moved to their lavishly converted factory in Chelsea in 2011. Perhaps the demands of running a blended family were high, particularly if you are an aesthete who likes to spend weekend poking around obscure artists’ studios.

He likes only the cleverest adult company, and to be amused, whereas Lawson — although posh enough to employ others to do her shopping — is more down to earth.

She rejoices in the absorbing business of raising a family. The presence of three teenagers — and their friends — seems to have been a source of irritation to Saatchi.

Nigella said in an interview in 2008 that she and Saatchi didn’t see eye to eye on the best way to bring them up.

He, for instance, wanted to leave a slice of his fortune to them, but she felt strongly none of them should expect any money when their parents died.

And it seems there were arguments over parenting on several fronts. Saatchi is, apparently, like a Chinese Tiger Mother to the children, with a chilliness that doesn’t match his wife’s nuturing domesticity. “Charles expects the world from everyone, and can be extremely insensitive to other people’s feelings,” an associate said.

Of her children, Bruno — a sixth former with a passion for the electric guitar and skateboarding — seems to have been an issue. It is Bruno who accompanied her on forays to look at possible new homes in South West London. He and Cosima will stay with her in Los Angeles while she makes a second series of her America cookery challenge show, The Taste.

Interestingly, Phoebe Saatchi has been invited to stay at their rented home — but it remains to be seen whether she will take up her stepmother’s offer. While their children are all virtually adults, thereby sparing the family a custody battle, one can only imagine how painful such a high-profile divorce will be for them.

And so, Lawson is set to leave the country this week.

It seems that the Domestic Deity has no stomach for a fight — especially one fought on such terms.