The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 2 (wherein Black drops a lot of names)
We already knew Conrad Black was well connected, but we didn’t know just how well until we read this week’s chapter. Black is as casual about his dinners with the Pope and Princess Diana as we are about a Sunday nosh at the Pickle Barrel. No big.
For example, French ambassador Daniel Bernard apparently called Israel a “shitty little country” over dinner, while Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) catalogued Europe’s woes. Of course, no social calendar is complete without dates with the Royal Family, and according to Black, the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne are the smartest of the bunch, with the Queen in tow (although she lacks imagination, apparently). For good measure, the Baron also lists off the names that populated Hollinger’s advisory board, a regular boys’ club that included the likes of Newt Gingrich, Henry Kissinger, Gianni Agnelli of Fiat, William F. Buckley, former Israeli president Chaim Herzog, former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and David Brinkley.
However, the high society life did take its toll on Conrad and Barbara. He laments the public image of Amiel leading Black into a web of ostentatious profligacy, symbolized by the photos of the pair dressed as Marie Antoinette and Cardinal Richelieu. But really, he insists, Barbara leads a simple, nocturnal life, and only has about six friends. Um, sure.
In between tales of caviar and bubbly with the world’s richest humans, Black also makes sure to offer—wait for it—his opinions on world affairs. (Shocking, we know.) For example, the Irish question (hooligans, the lot of them), the dawn of the EU (Western Europe is basically a pathetic excuse for a continent), and Israel (the land never belonged to the Arabs to begin with, and for good measure, contrary to popular lore, Barbara is not such a “peppy Zionist”).
Conrad ends the chapter by insisting that despite his sphere of influence, the only public policy request he’s ever made is to ask Mike Harris’s government to impose mandatory helmet laws for cycling in the park. A true man of the people.
In the words of the Lord:
• On Irish protesters: “I have always found it difficult to understand the appeal of a political movement whose raison d’être is to stage provocative and insulting marches through the residential neighbourhoods of other religious groups. This is perverse even by Irish standards.”
• On the Royal Family: “It would be an exaggeration to say that the hereditary principle has endowed the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth with a super-abundantly gifted first family. Their intelligences vary, but they work hard.”
• On his friendship with the iconoclastic Clermont Set: “From my earliest days as a resident of London, I became something of a habitué of these people…Though I was not prepared to join them in their unholy apostasy, I loved them in a way. They were more loyal to me than much of London’s orthodox society.”
• On his and Barbara’s public image: “The legend created by my opponents in the media that features Barbara and me as latter dissolute Caesars, lolling and social climbing in palaces brought from my pilferage of public companies, is unfounded in all respects.”