The first Bahrain Book Fair took place in 1984.
A generous subsidy from the then Board of Trade, so long as we flew British Airways and stayed in British-owned hotels, allowed Quartet to exhibit – though I flew out later under my own steam.
A few weeks after our return from Bahrain there was a major break in one weekend at my offices at Namara House.
The items stolen included Kaiser, a magnificent tiger skin I had become closely identified with as my mascot.
The police arrived in force on Monday morning and could not have been more sympathetic and helpful. The only loss from my office that I cared about was Kaiser and the press quickly rallied to mount a hue and cry.
The Standard featured a large picture of me and Kaiser with a report headed ‘No Smile on Tiger’s Face’. The caption read: ‘Naim and friend. Kaiser in on the right.’ The piece was concise:
Kaiser is a tiger with a price on his head. His head and skin were habitually stretched across an armchair in Naim Attallah’s Soho office until weekend burglars ransacked the place, stealing thousands of pounds’ worth of electronic goods – and Kaiser. The Palestinian-born publishing tycoon was too distraught to speak of the loss this morning, but an aide offered a £1,000 reward for the beast’s return.
Nigel Dempster took the same line in the Daily Mail next day, mentioning the reward and displaying the same picture of myself and Kaiser with the heading ‘Naim Loses His Head – and Skin’. The piece that followed was similar to the one in the Standard the evening before, with the addition of a statement from a Quartet source that ‘Kaiser is of great sentimental value and was acquired from West Germany after considerable legal wrangles. The tiger had escaped from a German zoo and afterwards had to be shot’.
Nigel then embellished his story with his own satiric comments: ‘It is no secret at Quartet that pretty Sloane Rangers, such as Lady Liza Campbell, Virginia Bonham-Carter, Nigella Lawson, Bridget Heathcoat-Amory and Rebecca Fraser, are drawn to Naim’s employ by the glamorous creature – even if Naim is under the impression that it is his own charisma!’
The publicity did the trick. An anonymous voice on the phone claimed the reward for Kaiser, saying he had bought the beast in good faith without realizing it was hot property. I asked the caller to ring me again the next day to arrange the exact location for the exchange of the reward and the tiger skin. To this the caller agreed, but stressed that any police involvement would result in Kaiser’s destruction – and promptly hung up.
I then reported the conversation to Asprey’s security chief, who was coordinating the operation with the police. They asked me to draw the reward money and entrust it to one of my aides, preferably a girl, to keep the appointment with the robbers. It was vital that she follow their instructions to the letter and be wired up so her whereabouts could be determined at all times. My assistant Anna Groundwater volunteered for the mission, who I thought would be the one best suited to this sort of adventure.
When the caller rang next day to give me his instructions in detail, he made it clear he knew of my connections to Asprey from the press reports and asked who would be bringing the money. He seemed to become more relaxed when he was told it would be one of the girls who worked for me. She was, he said, to carry an Asprey umbrella and walk casually down Bond Street towards Piccadilly. Repeating his dire warnings of the consequences for Kaiser of any police involvement, he said she would be picked up and driven off in a fast-moving car to an unspecified destination where the exchange would take place.
Anna then stuffed the money down her tights and set off along Bond Street as instructed, the police having been informed of the plan. Nothing could go wrong, they assured us. They would be out in force in Bond Street undercover.
The scheme ran like clockwork as Anna was picked up and rushed as a passenger to King’s Cross station, where it turned out Kaiser had been kept in a left-luggage locker in a black bag. Anna exchanged the money for the bag and, with the mission accomplished, was told to make herself scarce. As if from nowhere, the police then pounced and collared all three of the robbers in one scoop, together with the ransom money that Anna had handed over.
With Kaiser back in Namara House and restored to his former lordly dominance of the scene, Anna was proclaimed a heroine.
But the most bizarre aspect of the story was still to unfold when Anna and I were called as witnesses for the prosecution at the trial of the three thieves concerned.
As we gave our evidence, the leader of the gang, a big beefy bruiser of a fellow, showed no signs of hostility towards us whatever. On the contrary, he kept smiling at us, and on one occasion even winked, as if to say, ‘No hard feelings.’
His two partners in crime seemed equally friendly. Strangely enough, both Anna and I ended up feeling sorry for them.