At his peak in the 1990s, Conrad Black had it all. The billionaire media mogul owned Britain’s influential Daily Telegraph; he was married to beautiful celebrity columnist Barbara Amiel; politicians courted his patronage and everyone wanted to know him.
Now he’s broke, facing multi-million dollar fraud charges and facing a biographer, Tom Bower, who a couple of weeks ago published this in The Sunday Times:
The facade lasted for a decade. In 2001, about to be ennobled, Black showed a real billionaire, the Canadian gold magnate Peter Munk, his beautifully refurbished Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. It had purple leather “like the Queen’s”.
“How can you afford it?” asked Munk. Black smiled.
In reality, the wheels were coming off for the new Lord and Lady Black; and friends were deserting them. Last year, accused of defrauding his companies of hundreds of millions of dollars to support his extravagant lifestyle, and facing a fight to stay out of jail, Black needed money. He called several friends in New York.
“Do you think you can get a group of people together if the need arises,” he asked one billionaire, “and get me some funds secured against my property?” “How much do you want from everyone, Conrad?” asked the businessman.
“About $1m each,” said Black.
There was a pause. “You’re my best friend,” continued Black. “Surely you can lend me $1m?”
“Well, Conrad,” said the man, “what’s my private telephone number?”
“I don’t know,” replied Black. “Why?”
“Well, if I were your best friend, you’d have it.”
Bowers yesterday followed up with a devastating piece developing on his theme of Black’s wife as a gold-digger who “employed 17 butlers and installed a $250,000 lavatory in their private jet” but “neglected to check if her new husband Conrad Black actually had all the money she was spending”.
The attack has clearly upset Black who was given a page in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph to hit back at the first instalment. He writes:
His key-hole, smut-mongering side-piece portrayal of my wife as a man-eating s-x maniac prior to her marriage to me, is disgusting. Before the beginning of the 15 years of completely happy, serene, marital fidelity we have enjoyed, I knew her socially for 15 years as a glamorous, but never unseemly woman..
The Mail reports that I have been “disgraced” in London, a frequent throw-away line in the press there, and Bower writes of a “familiar tale of a tycoon’s rise and fall”. I don’t think so. I have not been disgraced; I have been violently assaulted and profoundly defamed. When this tempest fell upon me three years ago, I realised that much of the life I had worked 35 years to build was temporarily over, and that I was thrown into a new life, maintaining my liberty, and some of what I had earned over the years, and fighting to retrieve my reputation.
Curiously, I have adjusted quite well to it. It is a stimulating challenge and I’m confident of the outcome. Barbara and I have successfully resisted the fiendish efforts to strangle us financially, and to intimidate and demoralise and ostracise us. The prosecutors will soon, finally, have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of completely innocent people. They will fail.
He concludes with this interesting swipe at an old foe.
How did The Sunday Times, and its book-publishing affiliate, HarperCollins, Bower’s publisher, and even the Daily Mail, sink to such depths? What depraved them to the point of publishing such sewage? To pose the question is to answer it; everyone with any interest in the British media knows who is responsible for the collapsed standards of these entities. They must answer for it eventually.