Conrad black

In praise of January

Gstaad According to a little bird, Boris has gone from brilliant to bawd, and according to me this village has gone from unlivable to perfect in one easy week. The slopes are empty, the snow is excellent, the restaurants now take reservations, and the slobs are visible but not dominant in town. If April is the cruellest month, according to T.S. Eliot, January is the nicest one as far as yours truly is concerned. The liver has a break, the insect-eating grinning imbeciles have gone back down to the cities, and my brain cells are beginning to function again. It’s only a short break, three weeks, and then the mobs

Lord Lucan, Joan Collins and the greatest dinner ever

There’s a narrow stretch of Chelsea, south of the King’s Road from Oakley Street to Ormonde Gate, that reminds me of post-war London when I first came here with my dad. Names such as Margaretta Terrace, St Loo Avenue, Alpha Place and Robinson Street bring back sweet memories of youthful innocence and desire. London back then was big on rep but ranked last on comfort. Much later, towards the end of the 1950s, Queen’s Club held the second biggest tennis tournament in the land and had just one shower in the men’s locker room. (With a dirty white curtain.) It is often said that schoolboys derive no benefit from fine

The myth of American freedom

Gstaad Imagine a beautiful, sexy woman, an Ava Gardner or a Lily James, with a wart on the end of her nose. It stands out, whereas on an ugly mien it would go almost unnoticed. Noise in stunning and peaceful surroundings disturbs more than it would in grating, jarring cities. Last week, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, after yet another record snowfall, I was cross-country skiing and stopped for a picnic lunch with Lara and Patricia, two married friends of mine who had left me miles behind. They were using the new skating method of cross-country skiing (I remain traditional, gliding on the double track). A cloudless and very blue

Barbara Amiel is a cross between Medusa and Maria Callas

If this book becomes a Netflix blockbuster, as it surely must, Barbara Amiel presents us with an opening image. She describes, during a visit to see her husband Conrad Black in prison, watching a Monarch butterfly rise above roadside debris: You couldn’t miss it in that bright early morning sunscape of trash cans and crumpled paper cups, so intense the colours and so large its wings as it did a parabola over a little triangular patch of wildflowers growing off to the side of the service area at Turkey State on Interstate 95. Let me have a think about whom that might metaphorically represent. We find out later: This book

Did Panorama use tabloid methods to lure Diana?

As time passes, there is — blessedly — ever less need to pay attention to ‘untold’ stories about Diana, Princess of Wales; but the Channel 4 documentary Diana: The Truth behind the Interview did make me sit up a bit. It revealed, and the BBC does not deny, that Martin Bashir and Panorama colleagues caused fake invoices to be created purporting to show that a rogue employee of Charles Spencer, the Princess’s brother, had sold stories about her to newspapers. It seems this forgery — and Panorama’s assurances about Bashir’s good character — persuaded Lord Spencer to meet Bashir and to urge his sister to do the same. The result

Barbara Amiel: My memoir has cost me my best friends

The only female writers of importance I have personally met are Margaret Atwood and Joan Didion, both of whom are rather short. That, I realise, is an advantage of sorts. You have less height to lose. Didion is 5ft 1in according to her Wiki entry, and Atwood, a tiny powerhouse, is listed optimistically as 5ft 4in, but that I think is like the Hollywood actors who I know are several inches shorter than listed heights, having stood breathlessly when Robert Redford walked passed me outside Bloomingdale’s in New York City. I mention this because after completing my third book, the first two written over 40 years ago when I was

Diary – 25 July 2019

So the party of family values has chosen as leader a man of whom to say he has the morals of an alley cat would be to libel the feline species. Thus the Tories, with two women PMs to their credit, have achieved another historic first: scuppering the belief — argued by the Daily Mail in my 26 years as editor — that politicians with scandalous private lives cannot hold high office. I make no comment on this, or about the 31-year-old minx who is the current Boris Johnson bedwarmer, but ask you instead to spare a thought for Petronella’s abortion, Helen’s love child, Marina’s humiliation and her four children’s agony.

Diary – 11 July 2019

I am beginning to feel like a sort of fairground curiosity: one of those pickled things in jars that Victorians stared at. It is Boris’s fault. Because I once had a close friendship — all right, all right, a tendresse — with Mr Johnson, I am pointed at, photographed, and harried in the aisles of shops. Soon members of the public will be tearing off bits of my clothes — something Russian peasants used to do with anyone who had met the Tsar, as if this would bestow some of Batiushka’s divine status. Tabloid journalists doorstep me, believing I have the answers. I am a female Zoltan Kapathy; not so much an

High life | 23 May 2019

Goody goody gumdrops! The Donald has pardoned Lord Black and I couldn’t be happier. Conrad got a bum deal and spent three and a half years behind bars for charges I always believed to be phoney, most of which were overturned. Never mind. One can’t get back the years wasted in a cell for as good a mind as Conrad’s, but one does emerge from the pokey stronger. The Big Bagel Times reported the Black pardon in a manner that can only be described as constipated. Black is a conservative, which is a red flag to envious lefties. But there’s something else. I have spoken to medical experts about the

The ballad of Conrad Black

Conrad Black, who was jailed in the US for fraud and obstructing justice, has been pardoned by Donald Trump. Here Peter Oborne profiles the former media mogul and his wife Barbara in an article published in The Spectator in 2004: A few weeks ago executives were endeavouring to bring home to Conrad Black the full horror of his personal and corporate predicament, when a sight met their eyes. His wife Barbara, clad only in a leotard and shades, had swept into the room. For a moment nobody spoke. ‘Oh Conrad,’ Barbara Black proclaimed: ‘Let’s just get out of here. They hate us.’ Barbara Amiel was born in Watford, and she enjoyed

It’s time you made some enemies, George

Dear George Osborne, I thought it worth passing along some advice about your new job. I’ve never edited a news-paper, but I’ve been in the business for 32 years and I’ve seen a fair few come and go. I’ve also worked for the Evening Standard in various capacities. Indeed, my first job in journalism was doing shift work on Londoner’s Diary. That’s not a bad place to start on Fleet Street (your predecessor did) and you could do worse than sit at the desk for a few weeks. Liz Smith, the veteran American newspaper columnist, describes gossip as ‘news wearing a red dress and running ahead of the pack’ and

Why Conrad Black was right about the genius of Trump

At least two former Spectator figures understood things about the recent American contest which eluded most commentators. The first is our former proprietor, Conrad Black. Disagreeing with the anti-Trump conservative National Review, for which he writes, Conrad filed a powerful piece at the time of Trump’s nomination: ‘What the world has witnessed, but has not recognised it yet, has been a campaign of genius.’ He enumerated virtually every issue where Trump was nearer to the voters than Democrats, the media, and other Republicans. The second is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, nowadays the Telegraph’s international business editor. In the 1980s, Ambrose wrote wonderful pieces from central America for The Spectator, the only British

The Spectator’s Notes | 17 November 2016

On a day when much fuss was being made about ‘false news’ on the net, it was amusing to study the Times splash of Tuesday, greedily repeated by the BBC. It concerned a ‘leaked’ memo, ‘prepared for the Cabinet Office’ and ‘seen and aided by senior civil servants’. The memo, from a Deloitte employee, was in fact unsolicited. It was not a bad summary of why the government’s Brexit plans are confused, but its status was merely that of journalism without an outlet. By the use of the single word ‘leaked’, a piece of analysis was turned into ‘news’ — false news. At least two former Spectator figures understood things

High life | 27 October 2016

I was not on the winning side of the debate, despite giving it the old college try. Thank god for my South African friend Simon Reader, who coached me just before I went on. Mind you, my side felt a bit like Maxime Weygand, the French general who, in June 1940, was happily smoking his pipe back in Syria when he got the call to take over the French army. The Germans had already taken Holland and Belgium and had breached la Ligne Maginot, Gamelin had thrown in the towel, and Paul Reynaud had called for a fresh face to stop the mighty Wehrmacht. ‘Gee, thanks a bunch,’ said Weygand,

Conrad Black joins The Spectator’s Trump vs Clinton debate

A subscription to The Spectator buys you more than just full access to the world’s greatest magazine. It also means a ticket to our subscriber-only events and debates, and our next one is in a few weeks: a debate about Clinton vs Trump, moderated by Andrew Neil, on Tuesday 18 October. Conrad Black, formerly publisher of The Spectator, will be making the case for voting Trump along with Bob Tyrell, founder and editor-in-chief of The American Spectator. The FT’s Gideon Rachman will make the case for Hillary, joined by the playwright Bonnie Greer. It’s a pretty good line up: my hunch is that this one will sell out in a couple

The Spectator’s notes | 3 March 2016

The government, or at least David Cameron’s bit of it, seems to think that trade is something that takes place because of a trade agreement. The order is the other way round. People trade, and have done for several thousand years, because it is to their mutual advantage. After a bit, governments come along and try to direct and often impede it, but in the modern world of instant communications, ready transfers of money and container shipping, this has become blessedly difficult. A friend, Edward Atkin, who has made a large fortune out of Avent baby bottles and like products, tells me: ‘I have never known or asked whether any

Express redundancies: Richard Desmond’s nemesis is called in to rally the troops

With Richard Desmond’s Express Newspapers currently considering another round of redundancies in order to hit a £14m cost savings target, his remaining staff are making sure they are prepared for the worst. Mr S hears word of a chapel meeting scheduled for this week which will feature a very special guest. Desmond’s nemesis Tom Bower is set to appear before the troops at the NUJ meeting where he will offer staff advice on how to deal with Desmond should they be threatened with redundancy. The invitation is unlikely to please the newspaper proprietor given the pair’s tempestuous relationship. ‘Let’s just say the meeting had better not be in the office as Desmond will not want Tom anywhere near him,’ Steerpike’s spy says. In 2005

The delicious cant of the Guardian is such a treat on a Saturday morning

One of the highlights of my week comes on a Saturday morning, when I make myself a cup of fair-trade coffee and settle down to read the letters page of the Guardian. My wife usually joins me — it’s a sort of date thing, romantic in its own way — and we sit there cackling, our cares and woes forgotten for a while. Sometimes it is the smug little commendations of some earnest article that has uncovered the suffering of an hitherto unreported minority of the population — that stuff is quite funny. But then all newspapers print letters from readers telling them how good they are. Much more fun

The missed New Year opportunities I would have rowed the Atlantic for

 Gstaad The very end of 2014 laid an egg, and an expensive one at that. I missed David Tang’s bash in London because I thought it too much to fly over for a cocktail party, but my restraint cost me quite a lot. It would have been worth rowing across to see Tony Blair schmoozing my old proprietor Lord Black. Two more wrong choices followed: I skipped Jemima Goldsmith’s party as well as her brother Ben’s wedding for a shindig of my own —one that turned out to be a bust. None of my gels turned up, but a lot of strangers did, and, to add insult to hurt feelings,

From jailbird to social butterfly – the return of Conrad Black

The former proprietor of this magazine, Conrad Black, is in London at the moment with his gorgeous wife Barbara, and I’ve got very bad news for those of his enemies who predicted that he’d be a social pariah when he got out of jail. At lunches, parties and dinners I’ve attended this week in his honour, he and Barbara have been feted by the leader of one of Britain’s largest political parties, a household-name supermodel, a former foreign policy adviser to a revered prime minister, members of the royal family, a senior industrialist, a former Commonwealth prime minister, a former British foreign secretary, several House of Lords colleagues of his