Conrad Black struggled desperately to impress his wife, an outdated and unfunny coquette. If they appear among the power brokers and circles of debutantes today, it is as living dinosaurs.
Is there anything worse than someone in a position of extreme power who wallows in self-pity? Or thinks that everyone from the entire justice system to the corporate world that he rolled with is leagued into a conspiracy against him? Don’t pity Black, he’s incredibly guilty and can’t admit it.
Black, a former CEO of Hollinger International, a mining conglomerate turned publishing monopoly, was convicted in 2007 of three fraud charges and obstruction of justice while beating out 9 other possible convictions. The case was launched by Hollinger shareholders, who accused Black of stealing $85 million from the newspaper publisher, he was convicted of stealing only $3.5 million. Black’s convictions were part of a larger corporate-fraud crackdown in the US. Black was 62 at the time.
The only person who railroaded Black was his irrelevant and now impoverished second wife, Barbara Amiel, a columnist for Maclean’s, who only wanted the finest in life and would love only those who could give it. Black, an intelligent man on the whole, was forced to ransack the Hollinger shareholders, not once or twice, but on a permanent basis, so that Babs could live the life she thinks she’s entitled to. Whether it was her $212 a plate dinner at La Grenouille in New York City for her 60th birthday—complete with Beluga cavier, lobster ceviche, and 69 bottles of wine—that was put on the company tab or her cell-phone bills, perfume collection, shopping trips or wardrobe closets that are rivaled in size only by her husband’s mammoth 15,000 book library. Conrad Black bought love with stolen money. His shareholders footed the bill when the $500,000 company jet was rendered into a soaring privatized palace to take his empress to Bora Bora.
Almost matching her number of shoes is her divorces, and as James Robinson of The Observer explained, her fifth marriage to Black was the fulfillment of her girlhood dream. For Black, Amiel was his decline and fall. How is it that every business he touched (decimated is more like it) was thrown into financial crisis or sued him? From Hollinger to the Daily Telegraph to the National Post, to two of their four homes in New York, Miami, Kensington, and elsewhere in Florida, these assets were all looted in the same predictable manner or sold to pay off one of Babs’s credit cards. And yet, defenders of Black praise him for his business acumen. Those who don’t see it, well, don’t see it.
But the relationship wasn’t just that of sugar daddy to socialite, Amiel was instrumental for Black too, whose youthful sexiness and intellect (the Black are fools but not dimwits) helped his cause among the right-wing establishment and the guardians of the Anglo-American special relationship (Richard Perle, Lord Carrington, and Henry Kissinger were on the Hollinger board of directors). Lady Black being from Hertfordshire, and friendly with hotly desired models like Elle MacPherson bolstered Black’s appeal when considered for a life peerage in the House of Lords.
Her namesake ‘Babs’ makes it seem as if she was destined for glamourdom from the moment she was spewed into this world. Conrad Black, an admittedly cool name, was made laughably absurd when accepted a set in the House of Lords, making him Baron Black of Crossharbour. To achieve this horrible moniker, Black had to renounce his Canadian citizen, which was a condition of a rather boring stipulation from a forgotten moment in Canadian political history. No wonder Babs said she wouldn’t live here for a second.
But Black’s fate is instructive on how unprincipled these sorts of Establishment titles and circles really are. Convicted felons are not supposed to retain lordships, or the Order of Canada, or a place in the Queen’s Privy Council, which Black still holds. As for the order of the Vatican, who won’t they retain and hide and make excuses for? And yet, and yet…from his Rosedale residence he reminiscences over the good old days before he was reduced to a husk of exhausted irrelevancy.
Black owned some 60% newspapers in Canada, and Amiel was syndicated in dozens of other papers. But Black still thought Canada wasn’t conservative enough. He launched the National Post in 1998, a paper to which I held a subscription for 2 years. Its writers have a refined pessimism of humanity and preach an irrelevant form of Catholicism. The paper claims for itself a high moral force but was never the establishment newspaper that Black intended for it. It slunk through a decade and a half with negative profits; Barbara Kay and Lorne Gunter, for example, are smog heads who intone in their columns that their targets are irrelevant (why write about them then?) or raving Bolsheviks. I read their pages and sit back with a glib smile knowing that their opinions are like vestigial body parts: no pertinence to the future, but past reminders of our lowly origins.
If I am to be accused of class envy or raving Bolshevism against the Blacks (which is the sole predictable counter-argument made by his fans) I can counter with two points: I have had correspondence with Black, when he was in jail, telling him his column ‘Much Ado About China’ (National Post, August 24, 2009) was exactly right, his writings on prison gladdened my heart, and his book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the best tome on its subject. As for Amiel, she is the awful sidekick in a joint tenure she brought to ruins. Class envy? I could careless about a closet packed with pumps.
Amiel made her name by writing columns celebrating the class system and her being the baroness of it. Her husband ripped off the pensions of A&P workers and used the legal system to assert his dominance. Sure, she stood by Black when he was in the dock, she got tons of face time for it. She’s old and poor, why not stick it through at this point, after all, she wrecked the fellow. The Blacks are pitiable, but sympathy ought to come there none.
*Its amazing the feudal adulation people have accorded Black, even referring to him as their ‘Lord’. How Servile! Can you believe they would even write their full names beneath such worship? The National Post is a reactionary rag of the vilest hue and dye.
**Inmate Black’s response in 2009 to me is reproduced below (I never received his free autographed book on Roosevelt I asked for; Joan Maida is the secretary that helped Black shred the evidence. An endeavour that was captured on camera and landed him in the soup)