A rare British species, a womanising ex-foreign secretary, kissed and told about his brief affair with a yellow-eyed temptress last week, and it brought back memories of a similar tryst on the part of yours truly. Boris Johnson reclined on a bed of straw with a purring cheetah and lived to write about it, although I am certain there were plenty of Brussels sprouts hoping for a different ending to the affair. Never mind. Boris and the cheetah met at Howletts, the John Aspinall Foundation-owned wild animal park in Kent, a place I used to know well.
A bit of antebellum lore: if your name is carved on a commemorative column, enjoy it. I am told that mine is on one at Howletts, but perhaps that is hearsay, as I have not been there since the founder’s death back in the year 2000. Aspers was a close friend and over the years I contributed greatly to animal welfare via his various casinos. About 40 years ago, down in Kent for the weekend, I was challenged by some jerk I had called a coward for reasons I no longer remember. He bet me £500 or £1,000 that I wouldn’t spend one minute inside the cage petting the tigers. Aspers coached me and encouraged me to take the bet. He taught me to make a sort of hissing sound, which tigers liked, and also not to feel nervous. The latter I could do easily because of my martial arts training. Mind like the moon and all that.
There was, of course, a tragic precedent: Robin Birley. Robin had gone in as a 12-year-old, and the tiger had turned out to be pregnant. She grabbed poor Robs by the head and only Aspinall’s superior physical strength — he pried the beast’s jaws open — saved him. Robin bears the scars to this day, but he loves Aspers. Anyway, I went in under the clock, hissed and kept a mind like the moon. I petted the beast and when the minute was up came out fast, grabbed the man by the throat and demanded the moolah. (He paid.)
Wild animals are an endangered species, and they are bred safely down in Kent and prepared for the wild. I find no nobler cause than that, and as I get older tend to agree with John Aspinall who said to Simon Fraser (Lord Lovat) in my presence when a wounded buffalo had killed the shooter, Simon’s younger brother Andrew: ‘Sorry, Simon, but when it comes to animals vs man, I always take the side of the former.’
Do-gooders and other phonies may worry about the human species, but we have gone from almost two billion when I was born to seven billion by the time I leave this earth. In the meantime, since 1900 we have lost 500 species — the innocent ones — and lions, tigers, polar bears and elephants are close to extinction. As we argue endlessly about whether some horror woman called Begum should be allowed to return to some dump in the East End, beautiful elephants are being shot so that some Chinese tart can wear ivory.
I find it very hard to swallow the fact that Chinese gangsters are behind the slaughter of elephants for profit and we stand by bowing and scraping to them. Killing an elephant should mean an automatic death penalty for all involved. Tanzania is down to 43,000 pachyderms thanks to our East Asian friends, Vietnam included.
And speaking of horror people, my old friend Imran Khan did not exactly cover himself with glory last week. A 21-gun salute, 3,500 pigeons released, a fighter-jet escort, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, plus a gold-plated submachine gun: all these were given to an individual whose regime has killed innocent children in Yemen via the manly art of starvation. Step forward, Mohammed Bone Saw, Saudi strongman and coward par excellence.
Mind you, Pakistan is in dire need of Saudi money to ward off an economic crisis. The trouble is that what Saudis pledge and what they do are two very different things. Saudi Arabia imports poor Pakistani workers and then refuses to pay them. When the labourers complain, they are jailed, and in return for future lucre Pakistan says nothing. And as he’s hailed a hero, MBS is releasing 2,000 Pakistani prisoners held in Saudi jails, many of whom are totally innocent, imprisoned for claiming their wages.
Imran once told me there was no al-Qaeda terror organisation. It was a figment of the CIA’s imagination. If he was suspicious of the Americans, I wonder what he really thinks of the Saudis. Perhaps he should ask the underpaid Sudanese mercenaries the Saudis are using in Yemen. Saudis are too cowardly actually to engage in combat, and instead shoot the innocents from above.
Rolling out the red carpet for such a monster is a golden duck for Imran. Even Amazon, the greediest company since Facebook, and its leader, the matinee idol Jeff Bezos, have gone cold on Saudi because of its murderous habits. Bezos says it’s because Khashoggi wrote for his newspaper. I don’t believe a word of it. The Saudis were behind the leaks about Bezos’s love life, or so the bald Errol Flynn has been told. A pox on all their houses, and they’ve got plenty of them.