If he'd only listened, he'd be a fugitive with a title

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NORMAN Tebbit - sorry, Lord Tebbit - says that he cannot remember ever meeting Asil Nadir during his search for a title. (Sorry - Asil Nadir's search for a title, not Norman Tebbit's) This strikes me as slightly odd, because I can remember perfectly clearly the first - and only - time that I met Asil Nadir.

This was during the Eighties, when I was running a small agency to help people get a title. It worked in two ways. If I felt the applicant was not totally serious about wanting a title, or could be led to see that the search was useless and chimerical, I would put him or her in touch with our counselling service to get rid of their desire. It would cost them at least pounds 20,000, admittedly. Still, that was a lot cheaper than going for a knighthood.

I could see immediately that Asil Nadir did not fall into that bracket. He really did want a title, badly, and it would cost a lot more than pounds 20,000 to talk him out of it. Cheaper to go for the title itself.

'First off,' I said, 'I am going to suggest you change your name.'

'What is wrong with Asil Nadir?' he said. 'In my part of the world it is an honourable name.'

'In your part of the world people are too honourable to go chasing after titles,' I said. 'Different rules apply here. For a start, your name sounds like an anagram. From the letters in your name you could get . . . let me think . . . Sir Adrian]'

'Could you really?' he said.

I thought again rapidly.

'No,' I conceded. 'But you could get Sir Adlian. In China, they would never know the difference.'

He looked briefly tempted.

'There again,' I said hastily, 'I don't think the British would trust anyone who had got their knighthood through rearranging the letters of their name, Scrabble addicts though they are. No, what is also wrong with your name is that Nadir means rock-bottom, and Asil has overtones of running away.'

'How so?'

'Asylum,' I said. 'In French the word for asylum is pronounced Asil. Your name would be ideal if you were ever forced to run away and seek refuge in your native country.'

Prophetic words. But they were lost on him.

'You are not talking to a refugee,' he said angrily. 'You are talking to the millionaire proprietor of Polly Peck.'

'Polly Peck,' I said reflectively. 'A girl's name. I wonder . . ?'

'Wonder what?'

'If you could get a title that way. Change the name of the company to Dame Polly Peck . . .

He thought about it for a moment, then shook his head.

'No, I must have the title.'

'Right. Then have you considered simply changing your own name?'

'To what?'

'To Sir Asil Nadir. By deed poll.'

'Impossible,' he said, obviously hoping that I would contradict him. I did.

'Not at all. Admittedly, the first names Lord and Sir and Earl are comparatively rare, but they are not impossible.'

'You are pulling my leg,' said Mr Nadir testily. 'There are, of course, jazz musicians called Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Earl Hines, but they are all nicknames.'

I admired his research, faulty though it was.

'Two out of three, yes. But Earl Hines was christened Earl Hines.'

'But there is no such word as Sir, outside of titles,' he said.

'Not so. There is a Welsh word 'Sir'. It means 'county'.'

I had recently been on a trip to South Wales, to talk to several Welsh politicians who were on the title trail, and had been impressed by seeing signposts reading 'Sir Penfro'. This, it turned out, meant Pembrokeshire in Welsh. (I had also been impressed by a sign reading 'Doc Penfro', which struck me as the ideal name for a character in a Western novel. The fact that it turned out to mean 'Pembroke Dock' only added piquancy.)

'This is getting us nowhere,' said the tycoon. 'You obviously cannot help me. I shall pursue the normal course of giving so much money to the Tories that they must end up giving me a title. I have met Norman Tebbit. I have an introduction to Margaret Thatcher . . .'

'Have it your own way,' I said. 'But I wouldn't trust the Tories as far as I could throw them. Don't blame me if they end up keeping your money, and Tebbit and Thatcher end up with the titles.'

Prophetic words indeed. I never saw Asil Nadir again, but I often wonder if, now, he remembers our little conversation.