What's the point of Taki if he isn't offensive any more?
The ageing womaniser and 'Spectator' columnist talks to Matthew Bell about David and Boris
Sunday 16 May 2010
The first test for any incoming editor of The Spectator is Taki: to sack him or back him? One of the magazine's longest-running columnists, his dispatches from the frontline of the international beau monde have achieved cult status, though he is as notorious for his racist rants.
Soon after Fraser Nelson took over last summer, he telephoned the 73-year-old columnist, announcing he had bad news. "But the bad news was that nobody had asked him to sack me," laughs Taki Theodoracopulos, from the end of a phone in Manhattan. To a professional irritant, this must be a blow, as there have been calls for Taki's head ever since he started the High Life column in 1977. The millionaire playboy has breezily called himself a "soi-disant anti-Semite" and peppers his conversation with words like "wop", "yid" or "dago"; yet he has survived seven editors and five proprietors. Tomorrow, he publishes an anthology of the past nine years, the last half of which has been relatively controversy-free. Has this been deliberate?
"I have calmed down," he admits, "I try to be a little more pensive now and write comment pieces rather than extracts from my diary." Asked if he regrets what he has written in the past, he screams: "Of course" – explaining that he would often dash off a column in the heat of an emotion and then feel quite differently two hours later.
This week's column includes no racism, and no gossip about the Kennedys or Goldsmiths; instead it is a comparison of the political situations here and in Greece, concluding: "What's a little stealing from the crooks of the EU, with a little help from Goldman Sachs, that is?"
This is still classic Taki – forthright and provocative, and firmly anti-banker. Taki was ahead of the curve on that, blasting City mega-bonuses long before the recession, even if his objection came from the viewpoint of a plutocrat lamenting the deluge of new millionaires.
The son of a shipping magnate, Taki has never needed to work, yet wealth has not made him idle: in addition to his weekly Spectator column, he has four other columns, edits Taki's Magazine, and co-founded The American Spectator. The only break from his Spectator column was a spell in Pentonville, after he was caught trying to board a plane in possession of cocaine: "At least I got a book out of it."
His energy has also famously been channelled into his sex life, and his advice to lovelorn men is to pursue a girl until she gives in, even if it's out of sympathy. He is currently in pursuit of The Spectator's deputy editor, Mary Wakefield, though his chances are considered slim.
His enthusiasm for writing is admirable, even if English is not his mother tongue. "When I started, William Buckley said you either go back to school and learn what a dangling participle is or you do it by ear. I'm lucky to have a great editor [arts editor Liz Anderson] at The Spectator – sometimes I read my column and there are some sentences that look awfully good," he laughs.
As you would expect, Taki shares his magazine's enthusiasm for the new Conservative Prime Minister, although he has never met him. "I'm more of a Boris man," he says, referring to his former editor. Taki's endorsement may be toxic to a modern Tory, but he remains loyal to Boris Johnson, who refused to sack him despite an investigation by the Met into one particularly forthright column in which Taki wrote: "Only a moron would not surmise that what politically correct newspapers refer to as 'disaffected young people' are black thugs, sons of black thugs and grandsons of black thugs ..."
Taki has been sued five times, his most recent opponent being Lady Colin Campbell, whom he wrongly accused of being a man. He lost them all, but he delighted in a legal victory against Mohamed Al Fayed, who failed to demand costs from Taki and the group of others who had financially backed Neil Hamilton's libel action. He still thrills at the memory: "Attacking big shots is always fun. I only go for the big guys, and they deserve it."
Taki remains an active sportsman, having played tennis professionally for Greece. His daily routine involves judo in the morning and a walk round Central Park; reading the papers and writing a column, followed by karate in the afternoon; in the evening he goes out "and gets drunk".
He spends every winter in Gstaad, and has homes in Greece and London; but asked where he feels most at home, he says New York, before making a typical sideswipe over the city's racial diversity. Quite why he feels entitled to claim New York for his own over its millions of other immigrants defies logic. But racism has never been logical; nor, for that matter, has Taki.
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