Daily MailNigella is barred from U.S. over drug confession: Domestic Goddess turned back at Heathrow trying to board L.A. flight
By Sam Marsden and Neil Sears
Published: 16:09 EST, 2 April 2014 | Updated: 17:56 EST, 2 April 2014
U.S. authorities deny entry after TV chef's admission about cocaine use
She was stopped from boarding and a witness says she 'did not look happy'
Nigella was forced to confess taking class A drug under oath in trial last year
Her TV career in America now hangs in the balance as U.S. clamps down
U.S. can ban foreigners even if they haven't been convicted of a drug offence
Nigella Lawson has been banned from the US because of her court confession that she took cocaine.
Humiliatingly, the celebrity cook was stopped from boarding a flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles, the Daily Mail can reveal today.
Her television career in the US - she is a judge on talent show The Taste - is now in peril.
The 54-year-old ‘Domestic Goddess’ was forced to confess under oath during a trial last year that she had snorted cocaine seven times and smoked cannabis in front of her children.
Although Scotland Yard did not act over her confession, the US authorities are taking a tougher stance.
Miss Lawson arrived alone at Heathrow’s Terminal Five on Sunday morning to catch a direct British Airways flight to LA.
She is thought to have checked in and passed security before being told she could not board her plane. She had to return to the first class check-in to arrange to collect her hold luggage.
‘She didn’t seem to say much, but she did not look happy,’ said an onlooker. ‘She could not get on the flight so she had to turn around and leave.’
Miss Lawson is thought to have tried to enter the US by registering online for permission to travel and confirming she had not been arrested or convicted of offences including taking illegal drugs. But the US can also decide to bar foreigners who have committed drugs offences without ever being charged. Would-be travellers can apply to have the ban lifted, but this can take months.
Miss Lawson wrote on Twitter in the early hours of Sunday that she was ‘packing for my holiday’ – including a picture of a sun hat and some Colman’s mustard.
The specific grounds on which she was barred entry to the US have not been confirmed. And it is not known if she was stopped at passport control or at the departure gate where passports are often scanned.
She is now expected to engage lawyers to ensure she can travel freely to America, which she regularly visits for pleasure and for work. The US Department of Homeland Security’s customs and border protection department said it could not comment on individual cases.
But a spokesman said foreigners who had admitted committing drugs offences in the US or another country were deemed to be ‘inadmissible’.
‘In general, an alien found inadmissible will need a waiver of inadmissibility,’ he added. ‘Depending on the basis of their refusal they may be eligible to apply in advance of travel for a temporary waiver of inadmissibility. The waiver application process can be lengthy.’
Airlines are required to supply US security officials in advance with details about all passengers on flights to America so they can be screened against Washington’s ‘no fly list’ of suspects linked to terrorism.
The carriers must also check that passengers have a valid visa or other authorisation to enter the US before they take off from the UK.
Weeks after her cocaine confession, Miss Lawson was allowed to fly into America on New Year’s Day to film a live interview promoting the second series of The Taste USA.
The show was broadcast in January and February, having been filmed before the TV chef’s admission of drug-taking.
But American border protection officers appear to have hardened their position since January.
Steven Heller, a US immigration lawyer based in Lewes, East Sussex, said her celebrity status as the ‘Domestic Goddess’ may have counted against her.
‘I strongly doubt that if someone who was not particularly notable made an admission in court proceedings about past drug use, it would come up,’ he said.
Since the start of this year, the American authorities have enforced a stricter interpretation of the law on excluding people who admit an offence, he added.
Mr Heller is confident that Miss Lawson will eventually be able to get a visa to travel to the US, although the process could take some time.
‘I’m sure she can get a waiver. The typical wait time is about 20 to 25 weeks but you can get it done in a matter of days. You need to demonstrate a need for it to be handled quickly,’ he said.
Being blocked from America caps a torrid 12 months for Miss Lawson, who has endured a very public divorce from her former husband Charles Saatchi.
The marriage broke down irrevocably after Mr Saatchi, 70, a wealthy art collector, accepted a caution for assault when newspapers printed pictures of him with his hand around his wife’s throat outside Scott’s restaurant in Mayfair in June.
Miss Lawson then had to give evidence at the trial of her former housekeepers, Francesca and Elisabetta Grillo, who were accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from her and Mr Saatchi.
While insisting she had never been an addict or habitual user of drugs, she confirmed she had taken cocaine.
She said she needed the drugs to cope with the death of her first husband, John Diamond, and the ‘intimate terrorism’ of her second, Mr Saatchi.
The TV cook also described how she ‘smoked the odd joint’ of cannabis in the last year of her marriage to Mr Saatchi to make ‘an intolerable situation tolerable’.
But she maintained that she was now drug-free, telling the jury: ‘I did not and do not have a drug problem, I had a life problem. I decided to address that.’
Francesca Grillo’s barrister suggested in court that Miss Lawson had played down the extent of her drug use, in part to keep alive her dreams of success in the US.
Karina Arden told the jury: ‘You may think about her breaking into the American market – that means she wouldn’t want it coming out for that reason, because you all know about the Americans taking a strong line in relation to foreigners with drugs.’
Miss Lawson was never arrested, and Scotland Yard said in January that she would not face any police action over her admission of drug-taking, in part out of fears that charging her would deter other court witnesses from telling the truth.
It would be no surprise if Mr Saatchi was delighted at the US authorities’ moves to bar his ex-wife from the country.
In a furious email which he sent her last year, he revealed his contempt for her burgeoning American TV career, saying: ‘Bravo, you have become a celebrity hostess on a global TV gameshow.’
Other British celebrities said to have found it more difficult to gain entry to the US as a result of convictions or drug use include Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss, Russell Brand and Oasis stars Noel and Liam Gallagher.
A spokesman for Miss Lawson said: ‘We would never comment on Nigella’s travel plans.’
A BA spokesman said: ‘Due to data protection laws, we cannot comment on individual customers.’