Toby Young Toby Young

Memo for Prince Alwaweed bin Talal – here’s how you handle Forbes

I feel a twinge of pity for Prince Alwaleed bin Talal — and it’s not often you can say that about a billionaire Saudi businessman. According to Forbes, he’s worth $20 billion, making him the 26th richest man in the world. But is he? The prince has disputed this estimate of his net worth, claiming the true figure is $29.6 billion. That would place him in the world’s top ten.

The reason I feel sorry for him is not because his wealth may have been underestimated, obviously. Rather, it’s because Forbes has made him the subject of a pitiless hatchet job in the current issue, ridiculing him for trying to persuade the magazine to rank him higher in its annual list of the world’s richest people. His sin, apparently, is to take the Forbes rich list too seriously. The magazine’s editorial staff are in the odd position of having lost respect for the prince because he pays attention to what they write about him. The subtext of the 3,000-word exposé is: ‘You actually care about where we rank you in our annual list of the world’s richest people, a list we’ve been making a huge song and dance about for the past 13 years and which is virtually our magazine’s sole raison d’etre? Loser.’

That may sound paradoxical, but having worked for a glossy American magazine for the best part of five years I can assure you that this attitude is far from unusual. At Vanity Fair, the seventh circle of hell was reserved for those pathetic creatures — movie stars, Hollywood moguls and, yes, Saudi billionaires — who called up the magazine asking to be invited to its annual Oscars party. Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief, would reel off their names with disgust, shaking his head in disbelief.

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