Review of the year: Newsmakers

The faces of 2006
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The Independent Online


Medical history was made when this 38-year-old Frenchwoman became the first person to receive a partial face-transplant. In a two-hour press conference in February, Isabelle Dinoire, who had been disfigured by a labrador in May 2005, talked reporters through the 15-hour operation, carried out by Professors Bernard Devauchelle and Jean-Michel Dubernard. "I have a face again, like everyone else," she said. "I can open my mouth and I can eat ... [and] truly feel sensation in my lips, my nose and my mouth." When Dinoire, from Valenciennes in north-east France, was next photographed in November, little outward sign remained of the pioneering operation, in which 20 muscles were transplanted, along with several hundred nerve-endings. A British consultant plastic surgeon, Peter Butler, has now been given the go-ahead to carry out the world's first full face-transplant, expected to take place in London within months.


The French football icon Zinedine Zidane will forever be remembered as the man who completely lost it as the 2006 World Cup Final neared its climax in Berlin's Olympic Stadium. But the name of the Italian defender he head-butted may now be escaping people's minds. It had already been an eventful match for Marco Materazzi. He committed the foul that led to France's first-half penalty, then headed Italy's equaliser from a corner. Nobody quite knows what the lippy defender said to prompt his opponent's moment of madness. The two exchanged heated words before Zidane's head came crashing into the Italian's chest. Materazzi has since returned to club duty at Inter Milan, and recently released a stocking-filler book called What I Really Said to Zidane, offering no fewer than 249 alternative accounts of what happened in the run-up to the incident.


To the annals of British Winter Olympic history - think Torvill and Dean, Eddie the Eagle, the women's curling team - we can add the name Shelley Rudman. The Wiltshire whizz won silver in the Skeleton event in Turin, shooting down the mile-long course in 60.49 seconds, at speeds of up to 75mph, on a toboggan that resembled a tea-tray.


Spare a thought for the men who sued The Da Vinci Code's multimillionaire author Dan Brown, and lost. In April, Mr Justice Peter Smith threw out Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh's claim that Brown had lifted the "complete architecture" of their 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail for his international bestseller. Before a media circus at the High Court, Baigent was described as "a poor witness" by Smith, who added: "Those words do not do justice to the inadequacy of his performance. His evidence was comprehensively destroyed." They were left liable for both their own costs, and 80 per cent of those of Brown's publisher, Random House. The total bill was more than £1.8m. An appeal hearing is due in January.


The so-called "girl in the cellar", Austrian teenager Natascha Kampusch caused a sensation in August when she escaped a kidnapper after being held captive in his basement for eight years. In spite of having been incarcerated from the age of 10, Kampusch gave a series of captivating interviews, in which she was surprisingly elegant and poised, and devoid of self-pity. Questions remain about the exact nature of her relationship with her captor, 44-year-old Wolfgang Prikopil, who subsequently killed himself. A number of experts have said that they believe Kampusch developed Stockholm syndrome, whereby hostages begin to empathise with their abductors.

Kampusch's family background, and apparently lucrative relationship with the press, were also scrutinised. Since her escape, the 18-year-old's lawyers have been busily making claims on the estate of Prikopil, and taking action against the authors of an unauthorised biography, Girl in the Cellar.


In late March, an operation was mounted in Iraq involving 350 soldiers and 15 men in helicopter crews. The aim: to rescue Norman Kember, a 74-year-old peace activist from Pinner, north-west London, who had been kidnapped and held captive by insurgents for four months. Kember was freed, along with three other members of the Canadian Christian Peacemakers Team, but did not react in the expected way - he was criticised by General Sir Mike Jackson, among others, for giving belated and grudging thanks to the soldiers who risked their lives to liberate him. Other military figures were upset by Kember's reluctance to testify against his former captors, who called themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. They also accused him of adopting a cavalier attitude towards personal safety. Kember is publishing an account of his ordeal in March.


One thing led to another for the Civil Servant and her boss, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, at a Whitehall office Christmas party in 2002. A two-year affair ensued, and then this year, Tracey Temple found herself plastered across the front pages, after her jilted boyfriend Barrie Williams stole her old diary and phoned a newspaper. The full, gory details of the liaison emerged when the 43-year-old Temple sold an interview to the Mail on Sunday, in which she coined a new term, "getting bizzi", to describe Prescott's extracurricular activities. Temple was duly moved from her job as "diary secretary" to another Whitehall department. Mr Prescott soldiered on, but was stripped of many formal responsibilities. In the New Year, ITV will screen a feature-length docu-drama on the affair, Confessions of a Diary Secretary.


A national debate was provoked in July when Dr Patricia Rashbrook became Britain's oldest mother, at the age of 62. Her son, nicknamed JJ, was born by elective Caesarean section, having been conceived using a donor egg in a fertility clinic in Russia, under the direction of the controversial fertility specialist, Professor Severino Antinori. Although Dr Rashbrook, a child psychologist, has three grown-up children of her own, her second husband, 60-year-old John Farrant, had never been a father. In answer to criticism, she told a press conference: "What is important in parenting is not how old you are, but whether you are meeting all the child's needs, and we are very confident about doing that."


The man behind one of the year's more unlikely physical feats, Steve Vaught completed a 3,000-mile walk across America, in spite of weighing 30 stone when he started out. On arrival in New York in May, a year after setting off, his weight was down to 23 stone, and he had got through 15 pairs of shoes and 30 pairs of socks. "I'm glad I'm here, but for me, it has never been about the destination," he told reporters as he passed by the Empire State Building. "It's been about the journey. This is not about obsessing about numbers, or times, or dates, or miles. It's just about going on a walk and sort of having some time to get things straight."

Vaught, who, 15 years ago, was responsible for the deaths of two people in a traffic accident, had suffered from depression, and it's not clear whether the walk had the desired effect on his mental state. Two months later, a newspaper in his native San Diego found the 40-year-old "divorced and living in a seedy hotel room, 9ft by 9ft".


The so-called "NatWest Three", they sparked an outbreak of patriotic indignation after being extradited to the US, where they were wanted on fraud charges relating to the collapse of Enron. They are accused of defrauding their former employer, NatWest, of roughly £4m in dealings with the collapsed energy giant, and face 20 years in prison if convicted. At the heart of controversy was the fact that the 2003 treaty under which they were sent across the Atlantic has been enshrined in British law for several years, but is still to be ratified in the US. This anomaly was criticised by MPs, lawyers and civil- liberties groups. In July, shortly before their extradition, several hundred pinstriped City grandees marched on Downing Street in protest. Bermingham, Mulgrew and Darby are now on bail in the US. Their trial was scheduled for September, but reports suggest it may be brought forward to February.


In September, David Banda was a 13-month-old child living in an orphanage in Malawi. Then his world changed. He caught the eye of Madonna and her British husband Guy Ritchie, and was whisked off to London, where he will be brought up as their adopted son. The move met with considerable criticism, and Madonna was accused of using her celebrity status to gain special treatment from Malawian authorities. Meanwhile, Banda's father claimed not to have understood that he was giving his son up for permanent adoption. In a bid to set the record straight, Madonna gave an interview to the BBC's Newsnight programme, in which she said that she considered it her "responsibility" to look after David, and called for the adoption laws to be simplified. The infant is currently the subject of an "interim" custody order, and his adoption will not be ratified for another 18 months.


It's not just policemen who are looking younger these days, it's magistrates. In the case of Lucy Tate, that's because she really is. In September, the 19-year-old law student became Britain's youngest JP. Sitting on a panel of three at Pontefract,West Yorkshire, Tate was authorised to deal with offences ranging from criminal damage to minor assaults. This followed a government drive to attract young people to the Bench, but some felt it trivialised the office. On the Friends Reunited website, Tate had posted a picture of her "fave" shoes, and listed her interests as "shopping, watching TV, travelling".


He might have started, but it soon became clear that he was finished. This was the Mastermind semi-finalist who set a record by answering just one question correctly in his specialist-subject round. Simon Curtis, a 42-year-old probation officer, blamed it on nerves after freezing when confronted by questions on the films of Jim Carrey. A quiz-show veteran who won £250,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Curtis at least redeemed himself by scoring eight in the general-knowledge round.


One minute, Steve Wynn was showing friends Le rêve, a painting by Picasso he'd just agreed to sell; the next, the £74m deal was off, when he accidentally tore the canvas. The American casino mogul, who suffers from an eye condition affecting his peripheral vision, had been gesturing as he spoke about the work, and struck it with his right elbow. Believing that the incident was a "sign" that he should keep the work, Wynn has spent several million dollars having it restored.


The live BBC News 24 interview didn't get off to a good start. Asked about a complex court case between two computer firms, Guy Goma's jaw hit the floor. "I am very surprised to see ... This verdict come on me because I was not expecting that," he garbled. "When I came they told me something else and I am coming. So a big surprise anyway." Eh?

It transpired that Goma was not, in fact, the expert to whom the presenter thought she was speaking, but a jobless Congolese technician, mistakenly grabbed from reception (where he was awaiting a job interview) by a slapdash News 24 researcher. He didn't get the job, but Goma has since struck a six-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to turn his story into a film.