Gorby] The tour: At a town near you, the man Mrs Thatcher could do business with, a founder of the New World Order, the one and only

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It was, according to the man who had brought him to Britain this week for a series of lectures, 'a chance to be in the same room as history'. Jon Smith, the sports impresario who acts as agent to the England football team and used to own the London Monarchs American football franchise, was convinced that Mikhail Gorbachev would be big business.

'In America they call it Gorbymania,' he enthused. 'I think we're more reserved in this country, but there is no doubt people will want to give him their thanks. Yes, you will see our version of Gorbymania.'

Outside the Secretary of State for Scotland's official residence in Edinburgh, where Mr Gorbachev was due to arrive for a lunchtime engagement on Tuesday, Gorbymania manifested itself as half a dozen people stamping on the pavement in the cold.

'A good celeb-spotting spot this,' said one. 'You get all sorts arriving here. I've seen Major and some princess from somewhere. Where was it now? Thailand?'

'Well if that Gorby doesn't hurry up just now,' added a woman next to him. 'I'm away for my lunch.'

In the event, the last president of the Soviet Union arrived 90 minutes late, well past lunch-hour. Hatless and cheery, the man who ended the Cold War decamped from his limo and extended a hand to Ian Lang, the Secretary of State, who was waiting to greet him.

'We've met,' Gorby informed Mr Lang. Or rather his interpreter did, in an accent oddly similar to Stephen Hawking's voice box. 'Have we?' said the Secretary of State, in a twist on the usual form when the public meet the famous. 'Oh, yes, yes, I remember, yes.'

With that, Mr Gorbachev, his wife and a party of some 30 hangers-on swept inside, to one of many meals with the great and the good (the other John Smith was there) they will eat in the next few days.

Trotting in the former president's slipstream, wearing one of those duvet-padded track-coats that football managers favour, was Jon Smith. Mr Smith had had the idea of promoting a Gorbachev British tour three years ago. Not one to under-sell his clients, he explained that the idea had come to him when he was looking at his newly born son: 'I remember thinking, because of Mikhail Gorbachev, the world will be a safer place for my son to grow up in,' he said. 'The following day I phoned David Mellor, an old pal, and I said, listen David, how can we get Gorby over here?'

So began a three-year process of negotiation, interrupted by coups, elections, passport seizures and the failure of England to qualify for the World Cup. But Smith persevered and eventually persuaded his man to come over and lecture.

Mr Gorbachev has a much higher standing abroad than he does in Moscow, where he is viewed as a sad has-been. So, rather in the way Jack Nicklaus plays in over-50s golf tournaments, he tours the 'former world leader' circuit, talking. He flew into Scotland from Germany, where he had been on an all-star bill with Henry Kissinger and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

Mr Smith reckoned that a talk-tour here would be a big seller. 'What I want to try to do is present Gorbachev as a piece of living history,' he explained.

It is not a cheap exercise. Mr Smith will not disclose the sum that he has guaranteed the Gorbachev Foundation, the charitable body from which the ex-president and his wife draw tidy salaries in foreign currency, but it is rumoured to be about pounds 500,000. He will try to recoup the money from ticket sales to the lectures and the Question Time event due to take place last night in Central Hall, Westminster. 'Just think,' he said, 'your chance to put a question directly to the man who created history.

'I am acutely concerned that we present him in a manner commensurate to his position. In some respects I'd love to promote politics as showbiz. But I think it would not be appropriate here. On the other hand, it's got to be entertaining.'

Mr Smith, no doubt, was hoping for better fortune than Jorge Romero, an Argentinian promoter who lost so much money taking Mr Gorbachev round South America that he went bankrupt and committed suicide in April. In Edinburgh, however, where Mr Gorbachev was to speak to 2,000 people at the university, it was a sell-out. An hour before kick-off, an articulated lorry was seen backing into the car park: 'That'll be his speech arriving,' said the Russian columnist Vitali Vitaliev, who had heard him in action before.

In the foyer of the lecture hall, a student in a gown was holding copies of Mr Gorbachev's books. 'I've not sold any,' he said. 'You want one? I wouldn't blame you if you didn't. I don't care, I'm not on commission.'

Inside on every seat was a glossy programme detailing the Gorby tour. The introduction was by David Savage, the chairman of Astec, the mobile phone company that is the principal sponsor of the tour and 'proud to be associated with the Gorbachev Foundation'. Inside were pictures of Mr Gorbachev with Reagan, with Bush, with Major and with Jon Smith ('proud to introduce you to the man who changed the world').

By the time Mr Gorbachev was due to start, the hall was packed with folk who had paid up to pounds 12. He arrived very late, to a standing ovation. Sadly, his entrance was as exciting as things got. Over an hour's rambling platitudes about a 'common European House', stiffly delivered through an interpreter, proved less entertaining than Mr Smith's usual promotions - Gazza, say, or seven-foot American basketball players at Wembley. Though the audience listened with considerable politeness, several appeared to prefer sleep.

Things came alive when questions were asked. 'Did Mr Gorbachev have any regrets?' a woman asked. 'Read my book, due out in a year,' he replied. 'I hope it doesn't cost pounds 25,' said Sir Edward Heath, who had introduced Mr Gorbachev, to considerable laughter.

Afterwards Mr Smith was elated. 'History,' he said. 'History in the flesh.'

Before the talk, history had met history as Mr and Mrs Gorbachev enjoyed a guided tour of Edinburgh castle. In the Great Hall, Mr Smith took their guide to one side. 'Hurry them through,' he instructed. 'They've got an important meeting and we're running late.' But the man who helped to rid the world of the threat of nuclear warfare lingered over the weaponry on display. 'Did they actually use these swords?' he asked, running his finger down a fearsome blade.

Raisa Gorbachev, meanwhile, was intrigued by a tiny window set high up into one wall - designed, the guide informed her, to allow women to eavesdrop on men-only functions in the hall.

'Mikhail Sergeyevich,' she said excitedly, pulling Mr Gorbachev by the arm away from the swords. 'Look up there. It's just like the one in the Kremlin. You know, where the Tsarina used to sit. Imagine, just like the Tsarina.'

Her husband, as he did for much of the time, smiled genially and said nothing. He looked relaxed, in great shape. But at close quarters, you could see that his healthy complexion was due, in part, to a bit of help: he was wearing make-up - the Gorbachev foundation, presumably.

The reason became clear as Mr Smith chivvied all hangers-on out of the hall. 'Really sorry,' he said, oozing politeness, 'but Mr Gorbachev's got a private meeting here now, so, sorry, sorry ' The 'private meeting', it transpired, marked an important stage in Mr Gorbachev's transition from world statesman to world celebrity. It was a photo session for Hello] magazine.

(Photograph omitted)