Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Fairytale Life of Julia Lemigova

Julia Lemigova is in the news again, with the sensationalist headline in the Daily Mail of Saturday 20th November: ‘Tennis legend Martina, VIP orgies and the mystery of her model lover’s “murdered” baby.’

I first met Julia in 1991 when I was chief executive of the Asprey Group and the market for luxury goods was in its hey-day. That November, in association with the World Gold Council, we were planning a ‘Celebration of Gold’ exhibition at Mappin & Webb in Regent Street, to include such items as a seven-kilo nugget of gold found in Brazil, a Japanese dress of 24-carat gold, and many fabulous pieces of jewellery.

Some of these I was asked to design in company with seven other designers. I did mine in collaboration with John Nix, a superb craftsman who managed the Asprey workshop. For my theme I chose a simplicity of line and a subtle eroticism. Among the items was a gold wishbone choker with matching bracelet, rings and earrings. It sold on the opening night for £10,860. ‘Beginner’s luck,’ I was teased.

The press were there in force and were dazzled by the sheer impact of all that gold. The living centrepiece among all those riches, however, was Julia Lemigova. I first met her about three weeks before the exhibition when she turned up at one my parties on the arm of the actor and writer Jeremy Lloyd, who had been Joanna Lumley’s first husband.

Julia, the daughter of a high-ranking Soviet KGB general, had been declared the last ‘Miss Soviet Union’ before the collapse of the Soviet regime, and she was still only nineteen. With her dark hair and brown eyes, she was a beguiling Caucasian beauty, and her ambitions to build a career as a professional model looked likely to carry her far.

I gladly incorporated her into the Celebration of Gold exhibition, for which she wore the 24-carat gold wedding dress, by the Japanese designer Yumi Katsura. It consisted of twenty-five metres of pure gold  brocade, with tiara, veil and long train, and was valued at £180,000.

Moving among the guests in this startling garment, she looked as if she had manifested herself from the world of tsarist fable, like a princess arriving for a coronation. Her beautifully formed features were in harmony with the whole effect; a theatrical moment of extravaganza created with pure gold!

The exhibition was a roaring success and attracted a great deal of publicity. After being shown in London, it went on to Edinburgh, where Julia set off another sparkle in the grey city as her gold dress caused a sensation and sent the photographers into a frenzy.

She then modelled a kaleidoscopic range of silk scarves for Mappin & Webb and John Swannell photographed her to promote a range of ‘friendship’ rings I had designed.

When, in the mid 1990s, she left London for Paris, the expectation was that an international career was about to blossom, and indeed this was the case. She expanded from modelling into founding her own beauty company, called White Russian, and established a luxury spa in the rue de la Renaissance.

But among the many happy gifts destiny bestowed in her cradle, it seems there was one from a malign fairy. It became manifest after 1997, the year in which she formed a relationship with Edouard Stern, a prominent member of an eminent Jewish banking family.

In 1999 she bore Stern’s love-child, Maximilien, though he was reluctant to acknowledge any role in the boy’s paternity. Five and a half months later, the baby boy died in hospital, having been in the care of a Bulgarian nanny hired by Stern. The nanny later disappeared, and the police found signs of the baby having been shaken, but it was concluded there was not enough evidence for any prosecution and Maximilien had died from natural causes.

In time Julia’s suspicion nevertheless strengthened that her child had been murdered.

The next twist in the story came in 2005 when Stern, tied to a chair and wearing a latex body stocking, was shot by his mistress, Cecile Brossard, a former prostitute, during a sado-masochistic bondage session at his Geneva home. Brossard confessed to the killing and was sentenced by a Swiss court to over eight years in prison, from which she recently emerged after serving five.

Meanwhile, last year, Martina Navratilova announced her new relationship with Julia, who had evidently undergone a realignment of her sexual orientation. She was ‘drop-dead gorgeous’, Navratilova declared on a television show, and the couple were photographed wearing wedding rings. Navratilova having beaten the threat of cancer, there has been talk of the tennis champion adopting children.

But all this positive news comes about just as the shadows of the past reassert themselves and the French police announce they have new evidence to justify reopening the case of little Maximilien’s death. It seems there was a previously suppressed autopsy report that showed his bloodstream had traces of diazepam, an antidepressant in common use that can be fatal to a small child.

Julia naturally wishes as ardently as ever to know the truth about her child’s fate, but Cecile Brossard, who may well know something and is back in Paris, is keeping mum, despite appeals made to her by Julia. At the time of Stern’s murder, according to Swiss investigators, French government agents apparently removed ‘highly significant’ material from Brossard’s apartment before the police could get there to search it.

Suspicions are therefore being strengthened that a massive cover-up to protect certain powerful individuals is somewhere at the back of these events. A feature of Stern’s life to emerge has been many alleged liaisons at sex parties and sado-masochistic orgies that were carried out under tight security ensured by armed secret agents.

Julia insists she had no clue to this sinister side of his life, but believes somebody wanted her baby dead, and wishes to know why. Stern had been one of the world’s wealthiest men, with the rich and powerful among his close friends, including Nicolas Sarkozy.

The ruling French political élite is now, says the Daily Mail, fearful that, if the lid comes off the whole story, the fall-out could be the ‘biggest scandal of Sarkozy’s term of office’.

Julia’s greatest asset was the use of her body language to endear herself to her coterie of friends. Proud of her slender figure, she lost no time in exhibiting it to best advantage. She was always delightful company, with a happy smile that was as captivating as it was reassuring. During her stay in London she frequently visited my office, finding refuge in its friendly ambiance and informality.

I only hope her relationship with Navratilova proves strong enough to give her the support she needs in such a time of turmoil. Looking back to the period at the start of the 1990s when she was literally the ‘golden girl’ of our exhibition, I grieve for all the suffering that has come to overshadow her life.

WikiLeaks

The latest revelation in the intelligence leak about Prince Andrew will lead you to believe that he and his ex-wife are well-suited.

Both work the system to their advantage and both lack the finesse that their position requires.

Yet, in one way or another, they somehow get away with it.

Indies and the Costa Prize

‘Indies dominate Costa lists,’ said the heartening headline in last week’s Bookseller, reporting on the shortlists for the various categories of this prestigious literary prize.

Even more heartening to record, Quartet Books will be represented in the First Novel Award category with our just published Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla.

My views on the role of independent publishers in the vitality of publishing and bookselling may be thought old-fashioned, for I see publishing as an art rather than a science. It consists of instinct combined with the ability and courage to take risks, and requires a certain faith, an approach that certainly seems to be vindicated by the Costa selection.

The large conglomerates are hindered in their vision, under pressure from accountants and publicists mesmerised by the cult of celebrity and always looking for ‘market trends’ or the newest version of the previous airport blockbuster.

The independent sector is able to think outside the tramlines and back new writing talent that might otherwise be stifled.

The way the book trade now operates often seems to be doing its best to shut the independents out and limit our markets, but in the end we are not to be ignored. We perform an essential part in nurturing the future for good writing of all kinds and preserving a platform for literature, sadly today a neglected term.

From the time of its foundation in 1972, Quartet’s policy was to aim for idealism and innovation, while speaking up for minorities and the underdog. Ground-breaking books that alarmed other publishing houses were always welcome at 27 Goodge Street. An early case in point was Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex, published after the originators got cold feet.

By the time I took over in 1976, the company had an established reputation in the fields of politics, sociology and biography. We built on this by developing a highly successful jazz list, including books on Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis. We then became leaders in the area of illustrative photographic books, adding Helmut Newton, Angus McBean, Norman Parkinson and John Swannell to our catalogue. In due course Nicholas Coleridge’s Tunnel Vision chronicled, in an innovative style of journalism, his years of snooping and eavesdropping wherever the great and beautiful hung out around the world.

Alongside these developments, Quartet published an impressive array of writers early in their careers, including Maeve Binchy, Lynn Barber, Christopher Hitchens, Antony Lambton and Hanan al-Shayk, who is today one of the best-known Arab writers of fiction in the English-speaking world. Our sister imprint, The Women’s Press, had a spectacular success with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and achieved notable sales with other black female authors at a time when the conventional wisdom of British publishing held that such writing could not possibly sell.

Social issues have stayed to the fore with Quartet, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s autobiographical Prozac Nation being a prime example in 1996 , followed up by her subsequent titles, Bitch and Bitch Rules. Angela Carter and Jennifer Dawson brought important collections of short stories to Quartet (Fireworks and Hospital Wedding), and writers of the stature of B. S. Johnson and Dennis Potter were also published.

At the time when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the great Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was represented on the Quartet backlist with a novel at which Penguin had previously turned up their noses – and suddenly there was a demand for copies.

We were never afraid to court controversy, and with The Palestinians gave a platform for the honesty of Jonathan Dimbleby’s deeply felt text and Don McCullin’s expressive photographs. It created quite a ripple, as did Tony Clifton’s God Cried, about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

The incursion of Israeli forces into Gaza in 2008-9 has come under incisive moral scrutiny in our recently published Eyes in Gaza by Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, two Norwegian doctors who under bombardment continued with their humanitarian mission in the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Ripples of a different kind were set going when we published The Sieve of Time, the memoirs of Leni Riefenstahl, the great cinematographer who filmed the 1934 Nuremberg Rally and the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, feeling that at the age of ninety she had the right to have her stature as an artist considered, despite the shadows of the Nazi past.

Another book no other publisher dared to touch, which came from the Quartet stable early in 2010, was Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth. It had the temerity to question the basis for the whole scientific orthodoxy on the causes of climate change, and the verbal violence of the attacks from the other side in the argument boosted its sales through several reprints.

Quartet has continued by a process of evolution to move on from the house established by its founders, but without overlooking its past values. The music list has moved into the fields of pop, rock and rap, with titles such as Ben Watson’s Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play.

Quartet has never lost sight of the need to help with launching young fiction authors in the twenty-first century. As Good as It Gets and The Vending Machine by Simon Nolan are cases in point, together with Gary Indiana’s Resentment, described by reviewers as ‘a work of genius’ and ‘one of the decade’s great novels’.

Now we have Coconut Unlimited by Nikesh Shukla in the limelight of the Costa selections. ‘A laugh-out-loud, toe-curlingly funny, coming-of-age book from a brilliant young British talent,’ say the Costa judges in their initial summation.

The Costa Book Awards (previously the Whitbread Literary Awards) set out to recognise some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland. Nikesh Shukla is a London-based author, filmmaker and poet who has had his work represented on radio and is presently developing a sitcom for Channel 4.

Coconut Unlimited, Nikesh’s first novel, follows the adventures of three hip-hop obsessed Asian boys, Amit, Anand and Nishant, at an all-white private school in the 1990s. Their peers see them as try-hard ‘darkies’ while their own community thinks they’re ‘toffs’, a long way from the ‘real’ Asians of Southall. Feeling stuck, they form a band, ‘Coconut Unlimited’, an adventure that leads to them having to dodge disapproving parents and real-life drug dealers, while trying, unsuccessfully, to rap.

Warm, nuanced and above all hilarious, Coconut Unlimited is another first novel for the present age of which Quartet can be immensely proud.

Tessa Dahl

Is Tessa Dahl seriously considering becoming a nun?

She has had a troubled life, veering from one extreme to the other, but nobody thought she would embrace Catholicism and take up holy orders.

I knew Tessa briefly and always believed her to be a tortured soul looking for a tranquil existence, which has so far eluded her.

I hope this time she can find the salvation she seeks.

Jonathan Aitken

Jonathan Aitken was once my travelling companion when we both worked for Slater Walker in an advisory capacity.

Since then he has had a turbulent life, from being a junior Cabinet Minister in a Tory government to doing a stretch in Pentonville prison, and emerging from his ordeal as a born again Christian.

His family seems lately rather odd, if not dysfunctional.

His daughter Victoria says that her mother Lolicia, a chain-smoker when I first knew her, meditates in a box – while her sister is now a Sikh Mystic.

If all of this is true members of the Beaverbrook dynasty must have undergone a most unconventional change in their comportment and lifestyle to make the late media mogul, a member of Churchill’s War Cabinet, turn in his grave.

Bush and Blair

In yesterday’s Evening Standard, Sarah Sands raises her voice in support of Bush and Blair.

She says, ‘They found solace in their Christian faith.’

What an insult to Christianity that these two warmongers, responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people, should be seen to take refuge in a faith that preaches love, tolerance and the sanctity of human life.

I cannot comprehend how a journalist of Sarah’s long-standing is hood-winked into believing what Bush and Blair did in Iraq and Afghanistan was motivated by a saintly guidance to save the world.

Hush Money for the Tortured

The British government has decided to pay hush money amounting to millions of pounds to former prisoners from Guantanamo Bay who were subjected, during their detention process and illegal transference between countries, to torture techniques, done with the complicity of our secret services, now referred to for convenience purposes as UK spies.

The former Blair regime has repeatedly denied the prisoners’ allegations, in line with its consistent policy of telling lies to the British public.

The moral standing of Britain in the world has suffered disastrously as a result.

The payout is completely incompatible with earlier assurances that Britain’s secret services played no role in or had any knowledge of the fates of the prisoners.

But perhaps the contradiction and the implied ruthlessness should come as no surprise.

Late last year Quartet published Unperson: A Life Destroyed by Denis Lehane. It is a personal account of how, after the author had turned down an approach from the CIA to recruit him as an agent when he was in America, the CIA and MI5 worked together over more than twenty years to discredit him as a journalist and ruin his career. He suffered physical attacks, was reduced to penury and, by order of a British court, detained in a psychiatric institution to be ‘cured’ of his delusions.

There are many pointers to the veracity of Lehane’s narrative, however, as the highly respected investigative journalist, Phillip Knightley, positively stated in his Foreword to the book. In Knightley’s view, Lehane’s tactical mistake was in threatening to tell the world about his attempted recruitment and sticking to it bravely. And, as an American television journalist who investigated the case concluded, ‘Lehane is a man who frightened two intelligence services to the point where they felt he had to be discredited and destroyed.’

Unperson makes a fascinating, enlightening read.

Clandestine collusion between the secret services of Britain and the United States is nothing new; neither is brutality when used as an erroneous solution to political dead ends.

From my time as a child in Palestine at the end of the Mandate, I well remember the treatment handed down to the Arab community by some of the British security forces. People were beaten up in the street and, as a family, we were herded out of our homes to stand for hours in the open under the burning sun.

Where the Bush-Blair global policies are concerned, we now have our right-wing historian, Andrew Roberts, giving his belief that history will vindicate them as having been the right ones. I do not accept it for a moment. Those two religious hypocrites have caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and have made the world a more dangerous place to live in for the rest of us.

Apologists for Bush and Blair, including Andrew Roberts, should feel ashamed of themselves for having, perhaps unwittingly, propagated the use of force and the violation of human rights as ultimate solutions to the world’s problems.

Obama vs. Bush

Why are President Barack Obama’s ratings in the polls sinking so fast, while the approval of George W. Bush is rising spectacularly?

The answer is very simple.

Obama did nothing but follow Bush’s legacy, shielded it from its crimes against humanity, and continue the unwinnable war in Afghanistan with disastrous results.

What a let down it must be for the suckers who voted for him.

The Media Bias

The book Eyes in Gaza is being totally ignored by the British press. Why?

It consists of an eyewitness account of the tragedy of Gaza during the Israeli assault between December 2008 and January 2009, as seen by two Norwegian doctors who were present on a humanitarian mission.

Surely on these grounds it merits attention, being a rare Western account of those terrible events from observers whose sole motive was to heal and save life.

The story of what happened during those weeks needs to be read – as well as seen from the illustrations – if its recurrence is to be prevented in the future. The ravages of war should no longer be acceptable to civilised society as a way of solving problems in the twenty-first century.

Did we learn so little in the previous hundred years, from wars that culminated in the Holocaust?

Have we become immune to the lessons of history?

It seems nothing changes. Iraq continues to be a cauldron of unrest and savagery, while in Afghanistan war rages with increasing fatalities each day, including innocent civilians.

The media is complicit in all this. As often as not it either toes the government line or shields those in power, including lobbies that support one side or another.

Why can’t we pursue the line of justice, irrespective of the pressures created by lobbying powers, whose interests are purely of a political nature and have nothing to do with the realities of a conflict?

Transparency is a term we use loosely for something desirable, yet never manage to practise. We manipulate language to make the unthinkable acceptable – as George Orwell foresaw we would – and to justify crimes such as torture, claiming these methods protect national security and the lives of our citizens.

Only this week George W. Bush has come out in his memoirs as defiant and unrepentant over these issues, and presumably Tony Blair would fall into line as well.

It is utter baloney, and the religious piety of those two former leaders looks more farcical than ever.

Before that pair of warmongers came on the scene, and following the success of peace talks in Ireland, we were living a relatively peaceful existence in our British cities. Our buses were safe and our trains and planes were not threatened by terrorists who, it seems, have grown up in our midst as a result of British government policies, egged on by our American political allies. With the whole dubious enterprise of the second Gulf war, the hectoring phrase, ‘If you are not with us, you are against us!’ took on fresh currency.

Where has free expression disappeared to in the world’s mother of democracies?

Books like Eyes in Gaza, which present uncomfortable truths, become victims of suppression as they are tacitly ignored.

The same has happened to an earlier Quartet title, Kill Khalid, by the Australian journalist Paul McGeough – even though, in this case, the American press gave it full attention.

Kill Khalid tells the extraordinary story of the attempted assassination of the Hamas leader, Khalid Mishal, and the boost it gave to Hamas as a rising political power that went on to gain the support of many beleaguered and frustrated Palestinians.

As I wrote before Hamas is, like it or not, a political reality not to be ignored in any progress towards a peace settlement. The lesson of the end of British colonialism was that you have to talk to those you previously considered as your enemies.

How is the tactic of pretending something does not exist supposed to help in our present circumstances? Should we not be trying to shock people out of their stupor into realising what a wicked world we live in?

Ever since I acquired Quartet Books in July 1976, I have continued the policy of its founders in supporting the underdog and ensuring that the voices of minorities are heard loud and clear. Certainly I have published a number of books supporting the Palestinian cause, but have always sought to redress the balance. While George Weidenfeld, who was in the first Israeli cabinet, did a great deal to espouse the policies of Israel and its politicians, I always made sure that, to maintain an equilibrium, Quartet published more Jewish authors than perhaps any other publisher in the UK.

My campaign to highlight the Palestinian cause was because I diligently strove to create an environment for peace, in which the two sides in the debate could work out their destinies in converging tangents. The killing of a Jew is as tragic as that of a Palestinian.

Life is precious and to avoid taking it at all costs should be beyond argument.

I continue to believe that one day goodwill shall prevail and peace in the Holy Land become a reality. I therefore appeal to all those on both sides who believe in peaceful co-existence to read Eyes in Gaza, and feel reinforced in using their influence to outlaw the thought of violent conflict ever being a means to attain an objective.

By December 2008, the Israeli authorities had done their utmost to shut out aid workers and the media from Gaza before beginning their military offensive. The Norwegian Aid Committee nevertheless managed to get these two doctors, Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, into the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

The book is their day-by-day account for sixteen days of being on the receiving end of the attack – and trying to cope with the human results.

The days … blurred into each other like a long patchwork of faces, looks, mutilated human bodies and surreal sensory impressions. In the background there was the constant, intense whirring of drones. They were like faceless and evil insects, or perhaps predators. The sounds of the bomb blasts and the shells exploding came closer and closer … When would this stop? Were they going to bomb al-Shifa? Were we going to be killed too?

Happily they survived to bear witness through their book, and throw some much-needed light on a deliberately obscured corner of the world. The Norwegian press has hailed the result while the British press takes refuge in indifference.

Please buy a copy of Eyes in Gaza if you are in support of peace, and distribute it among your friends.

This is the only way to lift the embargo.

Ramsay’s Nightmare

It’s always difficult to take sides in a family dispute. More so when it involves the employment of family relations.

As a principle I would avoid employing members of my enlarged family, lest it end up in a bitter fall out.

That is why I have some sympathy for Gordon Ramsay for being gullible in the first instance. He may be boorish and impossible to work with but, being the heart and soul of his own enterprise, he is entitled to run it the way he sees fit.

‘Take the dog where his master wants’ rings true on this occasion.