Newsnight, Boulton & Co, Have I Got News For You; this week is shaping up to be quite the media carousel for convicted multi-million-pound fraudster Conrad Black. Or more namely, Baron Black of Crossharbour, PC, Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great. I’m unsure if Conrad uses his full Game of Thrones-style title when making restaurant bookings. Or if Conrad and his fragrant wife Barbara even reserve tables at all, so certain are they of their place at society’s high table. I imagine the pair simply pitching up at Dabbous on a Saturday night, eschewing the six-month wait, then glowering imperviously until they’re provided with beef tartare.
Love or loathe Black, his appearances this week show he’s a tricksy, Teflon-coated character. In a Wes Anderson film, he’d be played by Bill Murray and his square-ups with news-show hosts would give us great glee. “I’m here selling books not to answer your somewhat predictable questions,” he quacked at Adam Boulton yesterday. Well, Black knew it was Boulton by the end of the interview – he asked to be reminded of Boulton’s name mid chat. I defy anyone not to find that slightly delicious.
“Not a flicker of contrition from him!” I’ve heard people squeak. We’re so used these days to X Factor-esque redemptive snivelling on “journeys” and “lessons” that we’re flummoxed when wrongdoers won’t play ball. Look at him, not even a potato-sack tabard, nary an offer to build an orphanage! Black’s line on his conviction, in layman’s terms, is: “I didn’t bloody do it, end of, and you’re a numbskull and a savage for believing any judge, juror or expert who says I did.”
It’s a nifty trick if you can pull this off. But not offering up so much as a teeny-weeny lickle fingertip of remorse for his wrongdoings is exactly the sort of chutzpah that people of Black’s social standing respect. I’m certainly not of Black’s social standing, but even I prefer brazen badness to crocodile tears.
Black’s appearance on Friday’s Have I Got News For You is much anticipated as his great showdown. People forget Black’s just spent three years in a Miami jail locked up with child sex offenders. I imagine a light buffet supper then a game of fill in the heading blanks with Ian Hislop might not scare him. Especially as, remember, HE DIDN’T DO IT. My advice to Black – perhaps he’d bend an ear to me as I see he has a penchant for feisty female columnists who know their way round a Net-A-Porter “What’s New For Fall” page, plus I’ve appeared on the show twice and, ahem, won twice, not that I like to – HHHRRRNK – blow my own trumpet – is to spend from now to then “reading the newspapers”.
The show records for over two hours, a tiny bit of which is willy-waving and “banter” and the rest NEWS. If you can’t tell George Entwistle from George Osborne, it will be a slog. Second, get into make-up early because HIGNFY has the best make-up ladies in the business. By 9pm, you could look like Ryan Gosling. If you’re going to be a bastard, be a good-looking one, too. Everyday folks don’t understand your crime anyway. That’s how people like you get away with these things.
Black’s run-in with Paxman was probably his best TV appearance since the CCTV footage – shown at his trial – of him removing evidence from his office. “I am not trumpeting myself as a virtuous person,” said Black, before whitewashing all nefarious claims against himself, saying Paxman’s questions made him sick. Again, bedazzling to watch, but offering up some problems to his detractors. For example, Black’s intricately expressed views on the American justice system are wholly liberal and progressive. His views on Paxman, namely wanting to thump him, are hardly unique. “You’re just a priggish gullible British fool!” he shouted, before hinting that he’ll reclaim his place in the House of Lords. If he insists on the Darth Vader tune when he appears for voting I might watch more BBC Parliament.
Good for Gove – a right pain, just like I was
“We were a cocksure crew of precociously assertive boys who recognised you were only a few years older – a rookie in the classroom – and therefore ripe for ragging,” Michael Gove confesses to his old French teacher, Mr Montgomery, in a fulsome written apology this week.
Regardless of the realities of why Gove is suddenly buttering up teachers, I can’t help liking the message behind this gesture. We’re so quick to blame teaching ghosts of our past for never understanding us, thwarting our ambitions and other heinous slights, but we rarely ever say, “To be quite honest, the teachers were right. I was a massive, highly slappable, pain in the arse.” I’m as guilty as anyone of this.
Then a quick look at my school reports from aged 14 show that they bristle with the seething frustrations of teachers dealing with hormonal, crimp-haired Regal-King-Size-smoking me. Gove’s teacher’s reply was telling. “Even in those days, Michael stood out,” said Mr Montgomery. “I remember the words of one of my colleagues at the time: ‘That boy is a future leader of the Conservative Party.’” In report-card “coded speak”, that’s up with “very spirited”, or “a true livewire”.
£5k? I’d expect more satisfaction for that
Due to the petty matter of Mick Jagger and the gang’s earthly mortality, we must be nearing the end of the road live performance-wise for the Rolling Stones. So how odd to be remembered sourly for ludicrous ticket prices: £375 for a half-decent seat, all of which were snapped up in moments, some appearing on ebay later for £5k. I imagine people who’ve stuck with Mick and his chums will scrabble up the money, but it’s not quite the point. How much money do the Stones really need? For £5k, I want Jagger on the end of my bed singing “Fool To Cry” and giving me a foot rub. Although it’s these sort of scenarios – and the result nine months later – that have made Jagger’s personal outgoings so costly.