Nigella Lawson's husband, art dealer and advertising mogul Charles Saatchi, said in a statement today that pictures of him with his hands around the neck of his celebrity chef wife only showed a "playful tiff," and not the "utterly shocking" abuse witnesses described.
His statement is the first since photographs were published of the 70-year-old gripping his hand around a tearful Lawson's neck on the terrace of a London restaurant. Public outcry was swift on social media and police were reportedly looking into the encounter.
Saatchi released a statement to The Evening Standard, where he was formerly a columnist.
"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. 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."
A spokesperson confirmed that Lawson had left the family's home with her children, and has not made any immediate plan to return.
"We had made up by the time we were home," Saatchi claimed, adding the move was simply due to media attention. "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."
The couple were wed in September 2003. Lawson was previously married to journalist John Diamond, who died of throat cancer in 2001. Famous for her best-selling cookbooks and BBC TV series, Lawson also stars as a judge on the ABC reality show "The Taste." She has been on tour promoting her latest book, "Nigellissima."