How We Met: Naim Attallah and Richard Ingrams

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The Independent Culture
The Palastinian-born publisher, film producer and financier Naim Attallah (62) was born in Haifa. He came to Britain after the war to study engineering, taking over Quartet Books in 1976, then launching the Literary Review. He is also chief executive of Asprey, the jewellers, and wants to write a

novel. The writer, Richard Ingrams (55) is the son of a banker and went to Oxford. He edited the satirical magazine Private Eye until 1987, writing occasionally about the man he called the 'Ayatollah'. He is now the editor the Oldie Magazine, of which Attallah is the main shareholder.

NAIM ATTALLAH: My name had been in Private Eye once or twice. The magazine was always saying horrible things about me. Like when I was producing The Slipper and the Rose with David Frost. It was to be the Royal Command Performance. At the same time, Quartet was publishing the first Helmut Newton book, called White Women. And on the cover there was this bottom; you know, the woman with the black stockings.

Then, while we were filming The Slipper and the Rose, the Queen Mother and Princess Michael came to watch us shooting. Then they had lunch with us. So there appeared a story in Private Eye called 'Ayatollah Disgusting' or something like that, saying, 'Now the Ayatollah is bragging to his friends about how he and the Queen Mother are on such close terms'. It said I was showing Helmut Newton's picture of the nude to my friends, saying, 'Just to show you the extent of my friendship with her, this is the bottom of the Queen Mother'.

It was all very embarassing to me and I got very, very angry. I knew people were suing Richard, but I was just starting out and not financially very strong. Yet I was amazed because people were saying to me, 'Don't get so upset about it. You've made it.'

'What do you mean I've made it?'

'Naim,' they said, 'Don't you understand, if you get mentioned in Private Eye it means you've joined the club? You have achieved a certain status in life.'

I didn't know much about Richard, except that he was very eccentric, very puritanical. So I felt apprehensive at the prospect of meeting him. In a way, he also represented a sort of public school prankster. Since I'd never been to public school, that kind of thing was quite alien to me. I kept on thinking, am I going to like him, is he going to like me? So I was really quite worried.

But when we met I discovered he's not at all like his public image. To start with, he looks physically benign. And then when you get to know him, he's very gentle, very understanding.

One day, Bron (Auberon Waugh), who was working for me, says, 'Naim, Richard Ingrams has a daughter who's looking for a job. Can you find her one at Quartet? She's not very qualified academically to be an editor, but she's very bright and energetic. She's called Jubby. You'll like her.' I felt such a sense of relief. I thought to myself, 'That's wonderful: I'll have the best of both worlds. Because I like Jubby, and now he can't attack me as his daughter works here.'

Not at all. What happened was that Jubby would go home and tell her Dad what was going on at Quartet. And Dad, of course, would put it in Private Eye. The next day, Jubby would come to work, and she'd say to me, 'You're going to kill me. I promise I didn't tell him; it was an accident. I can't control what he does.' So employing Jubby wasn't an insurance at all. The attacks were as violent as before.

Then Jubby told me she was going to pose naked for some photographs with her brother. It was for a book we were doing called Naked London. I then said, 'Oh no Jubby, your Dad will kill me. I'm in enough trouble with Private Eye without you posing in the nude.'

After the session, she called me on the phone: 'Nami, Nami' - my nickname - 'it was really great. I'm coming round to show you the Polaroids.' Anyway, she brought me these three Polaroids which I knew she would show them to everybody. So I took them away and I put them in my wallet.

The next day, I was going to New York, where I had to see a bank manager. And while I was there, the bloody things fell out on the table. He must have thought what a seedy customer this is carrying this naked woman around. I'll never forget it.

The next thing was Jubby rang me up, and said, 'Guess what. Dad knows about the book. He's just summoned me to Private Eye.'

After a bit, she came back. 'Guess what,' she said, 'Dad thinks it's very funny. He's ringing up the Evening Standard to tell them Brian Sedgemore is in the book naked.' But he wasn't in it at all. It was all a joke. Richard was marvellous about it. Eccentric he may be, but the thing I admire most about him is this amazing relationship he has with Jubby. You see, she's is a free spirit really. That's her great attraction. And you love her dearly for it. But she got us into such troubles. She even got Bron and me banned from the Reform Club when she peed in the gents. We can never go back there ever again.

But as far as Richard was concerned, whatever Jubby did he would find a reason not to be angry with her. He's amazingly supportive. That's one of his greatest qualities.

RICHARD INGRAMS: Naim doesn't remember this, but in fact the very first time we met was when we were both invited to appear on Radio 4's Midweek. I remember it specially, because I'd been invited there by Libby Purves to interview Mary Whitehouse. But I never got a chance because just when I got to my second question, Libby Purves just butted in, saying, 'Mrs Whitehouse, one thing I have always wanted to ask you is . . .'

I'd had a cup of coffee with Naim beforehand. I'd heard of him because of course he'd been in the Eye. He had this reputation of employing all these girls. Bron's daughter had worked there. If your daughter wanted a job, the chances were she was going to get one with Naim. There weren't many people like that.

And we were all worried. I mean, people like me and Bron who had daughters were worried about getting them jobs - particuarly if they weren't qualified academically, which Jubby wasn't. That's why I was very relieved. If you looked at her CV, you wouldn't have employed her. That's the trouble nowadays. People go by how many A-levels you've got.

I'd also heard other things about Naim. He'd been involved in various controversies about the Middle East because he's fiercely pro-Palestinian. There was a celebrated one involving Roald Dahl when Dahl reviewed God Cried, which was about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and was published by Naim. It made a lot of ripples, that one. And because I've always been accused of anti-Semitism, it probably aroused my interest.

Then, after Jubby started working for Quartet, I began to see Naim quite regularly. There were all these parties, and Jubby would come to me and say, 'We're going to have to dress up in leather.' So I was torn between my loyalty to my daughter, and my fear and disgust. I remember a lot of parties like that.

I didn't really disapprove. But what I did disapprove of was that she appeared in this book of photographs where everyone is in the nude. She and her brother Fred. I realised there was no point in opposing it. If I had opposed it, they would have just gone on all the same. Naim is the first rich person I've met whom I like. I've been through a lot of things with people like Jimmy Goldsmith and Robert Maxwell - all those very rich men. But Naim is attractive because he doesn't have any of their characteristics. And he likes jokes. Practical jokes. Jubby was always ringing me up and telling me what Naim was up to. He didn't like the things about him in the Eye. I know he complained about them, but he didn't really mind.-

(Photograph omitted)