The conman who duped thousands with a patently absurd story

In the early months of 1981, investors in a Swiss fund stuffed with cash, diamonds and gold began arriving at a five-star London hotel to await an audience with the fiscal wizard making them fabulously rich. Dr John Ackah Blay-Miezah would turn up in his grey chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, clad in an immaculately tailored suit and clasping a big cigar in bejewelled hands. Then he would regale them with tales from his student days at the University of Pennsylvania, even singing the famous Penn fight song, and talk of developing Ghana using wealth plundered by his close friend Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first post-independence president. ‘No one could create such a

A tragicomic lecture about Gold at Edinburgh Festival

A chilly August in Edinburgh. Colder than it’s been for 20 years and the city looks scruffier than ever. Locked Portakabins squat in elegant stone courtyards. Unused site machinery lies abandoned outside neoclassical museums. Pavements and bridges are scarred by ugly steel roadblocks, and lurid street signs mar the visual harmony of virtually every thoroughfare. The place seems to be governed by a crew of philistine control freaks whose bossy urges affect the festival staff. You can’t move anywhere without a lecture. ‘Go this way, not that way, mind your head, ascend the steps on the left to avoid those coming down on the right, and take off your jacket

Did Rishi Sunak really make an £11 billion blunder?

Could Rishi Sunak really have saved the taxpayer £11 billion by insuring against higher interest rates last year? That was the extraordinary claim made by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and in the Financial Times on Friday. The NIESR claims that the government could have saved the money had the Chancellor taken up the institute’s own suggestion last year and forcibly converted £600 billion worth of reserves held by commercial banks at the Bank of England into two year fixed-rate bonds. By failing to foresee rising inflation and interest rates, the FT asserts, the Chancellor has blown even more money than Gordon Brown did by selling

Fun, good-natured and schmaltzy: Phantom of the Open reviewed

Phantom of the Open is a comedy-drama telling a true story that would have to be true as no one would believe it. The subject is Maurice Flitcroft, a crane operator who took up golf at 46 after seeing it on the telly and entered the British Open in 1976, achieving the highest score ever. (‘Does that mean he’s won?’, asked his wife.) Dubbed ‘the world’s worst golfer’, he then hoaxed his way into further Opens, much to the incandescent rage of the snobbish authorities, and you’ll be rooting for him, of course. This is a British underdog film like The Duke – but with some Eddie the Eagle mixed

Why we go for gold

After taking James Bond hostage, Auric Goldfinger does what all Bond villains do when in a position of power — he spills the beans. ‘Mr Bond, all my life I have been in love,’ he tells him. ‘I have been in love with gold. I love its colour, its brilliance, its divine heaviness… I ask you, is there any other substance that so rewards its owner?’ You don’t have to be a criminal mastermind to understand what Goldfinger means. The hunger for gold is ancient and shows no signs of abating. The metal’s enduring value is dictated above all by scarcity: it makes up just one 500,000,000th of the Earth’s

Peru’s beauty has been a real curse

As the planet gets more and more ravaged, the mind can begin to glaze over at the cumulative general statistics — so much rainforest lost, so many glaciers melted, so much less oil left. Joseph Zárate’s masterly new book reminds us that when it comes to fighting on the front line of the environmental wars, it’s all in the detail, and that nothing is quite as simple as might at first appear. Some years ago I went to a remote area on the border between Peru and Bolivia where a meteorite had landed on a small village and caused mass poisoning. The hospitals had filled up both with the locals

The problem with investing in gold

The gold price, we keep being told, because investors are seeking a ‘safe haven’. The first part of that sentence is true – from £1100 per ounce at the beginning of this year, gold has surged to £1500 per ounce this week. But are those buying it really doing so because it is ‘safe’ investment? Come off it. It is easy to get on the wrong side of a stock market or property boom, but gold has proved are a far more insidious destroyer of wealth over the decades. Had you fallen for the lustre of gold in 1980, when it was selling for £280 an ounce it would have

Patronising, clichéd and corny: BBC1’s Gold Digger reviewed

Some last taboos, it seems, can remain last taboos no matter how frequently they’re confronted. Grief, the menopause, masturbation, mental illness are all routinely described that way whenever they get depicted on television — i.e. quite often. But perhaps the sturdiest last taboo of the lot is that older women can have sexual feelings: something that appears to come as a rather patronising surprise to TV folk every time they tackle it — i.e. quite often. The latest example of such bravery is Gold Digger (BBC1, Tuesday), a drama keen for us to understand that a woman of 60 can still be both desirable and a goer — although not

Sebastiao Salgado – master of monochrome, chronicler of the depths of human barbarity

Occasionally, we encounter an image that seems so ludicrously out of kilter with the modern world that we can only flounder in antiquity for appropriate descriptions. We see a black and white photograph that shows a swarm of tiny figures, ant-like in their relentless pursuit of some mysterious purpose around the edges of a dark, cavernous maw, and we say it’s biblical, epic, ancient. We invoke the building of the pyramids, the Tower of Babel or Dante’s Inferno. Our artistic sensibilities might point us towards the darker paintings of Jan Brueghel the Elder or the apocalyptic waxwork tableaux of Gaetano Zumbo. What we seldom imagine is a 1980s Brazilian gold

If investors are fleeing to gold this is not the time to be smug

It came as no great surprise that the UK economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the second quarter, following a first quarter in which growth had been artificially boosted to 0.5 per cent by stockpiling ahead of the original 29 March Brexit deadline. It’s fair to claim, as our editorial did two weeks ago, that the UK has performed better than expected for the past three years — particularly in terms of job numbers, which rose again in April to June despite the growth setback. True also that we’re in no worse shape than our European neighbours, and that our flexible, if painful, exchange rate will help us cope

In the realms of gold

A thought kept recurring as I read Toby Green’s fascinating and occasionally frustrating book on the development of West Africa from the 15th to 19th centuries: that the money in my pocket was just a piece of polypropylene. And what is that worth in the greater scheme of things? The thought occured because money and its predecessor, barter goods, play a central role in the story Green has to tell in this monumental volume. The shells of the title are cowries, which for centuries were accepted as currency across the region. Cowries are not native to West Africa and had to be shipped from the Indian Ocean. But they worked

Should we be returning to the safe haven of gold?

All good things must come to an end, including summer holidays and bull markets. The bull run in US shares that began in the aftermath of the financial crisis in March 2009 has now officially passed the previous record of 3,452 more-up-than-down days from October 1990 to March 2000. This time round, the S&P500 index of US stocks has risen by more than 300 per cent — and that rise has continued throughout Donald Trump’s reign, despite his trade war threats and other follies. But it has not been reflected in major European markets, which have drifted sideways, and has been increasingly sustained by a small number of top tech

Is money an appropriate wedding present?

Dear Mary: I have been invited to the wedding of a distant relative through marriage, to her long-term partner. I did not expect to be invited, therefore would like to show my gratitude. However, there is no wedding list and they have specified on the invitation that the only gift they wish to receive is money. I find this to be slightly vulgar and frankly, given that they already own their home and are from relatively wealthy families, rather brass-necked. I do not wish to give cash in an envelope — à la Goodfellas — but would still like to get them something. What do you suggest? —C.S., Leicestershire A.

America Notebook | 13 December 2017

At the end of each year I pull out most of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made — I now have them going back nearly two decades. They make for curious reading: some years they seem less like an account of what I intend to do with my life than what I don’t. I never took voice lessons, or wrote an original song for the guitar given to me six years ago by my wife, or even learned how to play that guitar. I never learned Spanish, or how to cook. I didn’t write that book about Obama, or create a television drama about Wall Street, or swim a 50-metre

The icemen cometh

You wouldn’t want to stumble upon the Scythians. Armed with battle-axes, bows and daggers, and covered in fearsome tattoos, the horse-mad nomads ranged the Russian steppe from around 900 to 200 BC, turning squirrels into fur coats and human teeth into earrings. At their mightiest, they controlled territory from the Black Sea to the north border of China. They left behind no written record, only enormous burial mounds, chiefly in the Altai mountains and plains of southern Siberia. Chambers that weren’t looted in antiquity were preserved in the permafrost only to be discovered millennia later. It is thanks to Peter the Great and the expeditions he launched that so many

Jacqueline Gold, founder of Ann Summers, on how she became one of Britain’s richest women

Ann Summers chief executive Jacqueline Gold has been credited with transforming the lingerie company into a more female-friendly business – and in the process has become Britain’s 16th richest woman, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List. So what was the key to her success? Gold believes that identifying a gap in the market was what turned Ann Summers into such a recognisable brand. ‘I knew that women were desperate to buy sexy lingerie and sex toys, but there wasn’t anywhere they could do that which offered a female-friendly, safe environment.’ she explains. ‘I spoke to friends and saw that we could replicate the popular concept of ‘at home’

Age as allegory

Sky Atlantic — available only to Sky customers — has the cunning/infuriating policy of broadcasting the kind of programmes most likely to appeal to people who pride themselves on not being Sky customers. (Basically, the liberal, metropolitan you-know-what.) Now, to a list that includes Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, we can add The Trip, whose third series Sky has poached from the BBC. Like the first two — set in the Lake District and Italy — The Trip to Spain (Thursday) is directed by Michael Winterbottom and features Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan playing versions of themselves that feel teasingly close to the

Barometer | 25 August 2016

Golden years How many Olympic events would Team GB have to win before we could earn back the gold reserves sold by Gordon Brown? — Olympic gold medals are in fact gold-plated silver and contain only 6g of gold. Between 1999 and 2002 Gordon Brown sold off 395 tons of gold — enough to mint 64.7m medals. Assuming the number of golds on offer at the summer Olympics remains 812, as at Rio, that would mean winning every event at 79,679 Olympiads, taking us to the games of ad 320736. — It would be a different story if, as last happened in 1912, the medals were solid gold. With 500g

Everything is illuminated

One could honour God with prayer, of course, and build cathedrals, amass treasuries, turn choirs into stained-glass jewel boxes, carve portals with saints and sinners. But for the medieval monks bent over vellum in chilly scriptoria colour, too, was devotion: offertories of lapis lazuli, azurite, cinnabar, silver and gold, gold and more gold. Silver tarnished on the page, but gold remained exquisite, inviolable, and monks and scholars found a dragonish greed for it. War, weather, revolution, Henry VIII, Oliver Cromwell, acquisitive magpies, trophy-hunters and time have stripped gold and pigment from sculptures and ivories. Frescoes have been whitewashed, mosaics scuffed, stained-glass smashed, reliquaries melted and their gems dispersed, but illuminated

We are where we are, clinging to the life raft of cliché

My column calling Brexit campaigners ‘hooligans’ and ending ‘Reader, I voted Remain’, caused quite a stir — coinciding as it did with The Spectator’s eloquent call for Leave. ‘Pathetic,’ spat a famous columnist encountered in the street. ‘Your words and Farage’s poster resonated so much that I (reluctantly) voted Remain,’ emailed a broadcaster who had previously given me a talking-to on the virtues of freedom. ‘I quite like being a hooligan,’ declared a Leaver on Facebook, alongside a selfie with the Boris-bus emblazoned ‘We send the EU £50 million a day.’ ‘Did someone else write your last paragraph?’ growled a veteran politico a day before the poll. ‘We thought you