Monthly Archives: November 2019

TAMARA VON SCHENK

Sheer impulsiveness accounted for my meeting with Tamara von Schenk at a cocktail party. I must have sensed I would be on the same wavelength as Tamara, a striking blonde of German stock, for I homed in to speak to her without waiting for an introduction. Why overlook such an opportunity, I reasoned, when I was fortunate enough to be caught in her magnetic field? I found myself talking to an elfin-like creature who was elegant without being sensational, sultry without being threatening, and who possessed an aristocratic look that was apparent even if you knew nothing of her background. Tamara was every inch an aristocrat, with the sort of complexion and comportment men dream about. She cast a light, unobtrusive shadow for one with such a rich, distinctive aura. I felt comfortable in her presence. It was nothing like a first-time encounter but felt as if our paths had crossed many times before. Each responded to the other with the sort of ease that usually develops after many years of acquaintance. I firmly believe in the concept of our destiny preordaining every step we take and that it is pointless to fight it, but I am equally convinced that we can help it along in our chosen direction. This may sound like a paradox, but the undeniable truth of it emerges as the years pass. Tamara’s life took on a new dimension after our first meeting. I offered her a job at Quartet. She was not trained for it, but proved equal to the challenge. She accompanied me to Cologne for a chocolate fair to act as my translator, and later performed a similar role at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In the piece that follows, Tamara gives her recollections of her time with Quartet and the friendship that developed between us.

Dealing with Variety

Tamara von Schenk

It wasn’t too difficult to establish who the infamous Naim was the evening I met him in 1993. One man alone managed to dominate a large group of charmed women. His body language, enthusiastic and energetic, coupled with colour flashes from his vibrant suit lining, matching tie and large ring adorning his left hand, singled him out as some exotic species among the rest of the grey and drab business-suited men. I decided to take a closer look and forty minutes later walked away, slightly stunned, as I had just been hired, having had no experience, as publicity manager for Quartet. I tried to dismiss his reputation as a serial womanizer and the fact that I was a slightly overweight blonde in heels and put the whole thing down to utter madness. It was only later that I understood that this was part of an extremely generous, if somewhat obsessive, and spontaneous nature which made up the complex persona of Naim Attallah.

The glamorous reputation of the Attallah posse of well-bred, rich, partying girls had worn off by the time I joined Quartet in May 1994. From day one my friendships with Georgia de Chamberet, Pickles and especially Susie Craigie Halkett were sealed. I felt lucky to be working with three such strong individuals in one of the last remaining independent publishing houses that still adhered to the original ideas of publishing. The variety of material that came through our doors ranged from the avant-garde to more traditional material covering the latest in photography, gay literature and a mixture of undiscovered gems from Europe. Naim’s roots were important to him, and this was strongly reflected in the extensive Middle Eastern list, which was quite a novelty at the time.

A week-long trip to Cuba to compile an anthology of young Cuban writers was an unforgettable privilege. The days were spent collecting a wide breadth of material from a stream of struggling and often highly talented writers, desperate to smuggle out what they had written to bypass the harsh restrictions of the Castro regime. Those we met came from all walks of life and our journey was a tremendously humbling and thought-provoking experience and definitely a sharp contrast to the madness and predictability of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which came a few months later.

Of the many books that passed through my hands, the one I worked on in my last few months at Quartet was the most memorable. It involved a close association with the author herself, Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose work and private life fused together with her hugely successful book, Prozac Nation, which besides being my last was also my most challenging project. I went beyond the call of duty as publicity manager when I invited Elizabeth, depressed, paranoid, self-obsessed and highly complicated, into my home, where she stayed far longer than expected. I chaperoned her day and night during her publicity tour – an interesting experience to say the least. This title was the first personal account of a life of depression eased by the wonder drug Prozac, and as such both marked a turning-point in Quartet’s history and an end to my time there.

To this day I have the valued friendship of Naim, a fiercely loyal man who in return expects no less from those close to him. Being the colourful character he is, he has so often been misunderstood and surrounded by rumours. Those who know him well are aware of his extreme vulnerability. In difficult times, he has maintained his dignity and the high standards he sets for himself. I can truly say that I am happy to have met such a man.

AN EXCLUSIVE BUNCH

November 1981 had seen the publication of By Invitation Only, a softcover book in which Richard Young’s lens and Christopher Wilson’s pen recorded the famous, the glamorous, the ambitious, the tasteless and the shallow as they socially revered, engineered and mountaineered their way amid the party set of the day. In its pages could be found the chic and cheerful of café society hard at their occupation. The tools of their trade were a champagne glass and a black bow tie; their place of work could be anywhere within the gilded environs of Mayfair. Their only task was to have fun; their only ambition was to come by as many different pasteboard passports to pleasure as possible – each one engraved ‘By invitation only’. Peter Langan, the infamous owner of Langan’s Restaurant in Stratton Street, wrote in his foreword to the book, which he had scribbled on the back of David Hockney’s menu:

God alone knows why I should introduce you to this book. The people in it veer between the awesome and the awful. Wilson and Young who wrote it and took the pictures are the only two people who can grease their way through a door without opening it. Café society will suffer as a result of its publication. They’ll all buy it, and they’ll all condemn it. They’ll also want to take a quick peek at the index to see whether they’re in it. I don’t want discarded copies cluttering up my restaurant after they’ve finished reading it for the 297th time, so I beg you to take it home with you, put it out on your coffee table, and remind yourselves not to be so silly as to want to take part in the high life. They’re a lovely lot but sometimes they give you the skids, you know.

The cover of the book featured a dazed looking Lord Montagu clutching a glass with both hands and a cigar between his fingers. The inside cover flap stated that such is the paradox of café society that many of its components who appear in these pages would, on the whole, prefer to be absent. Many others who have been excluded would prefer to be included in. It must be made clear that some of the more arcane practices described herein apply to the latter grouping and not the former.

The illustration on the back cover showed Peter Langan in a total state of inebriation face down on the floor of his own restaurant. Appropriately enough it was at the restaurant that the book launch was held. On the night, a party for two hundred and fifty people turned into a bash for five hundred of London’s most diligent freeloaders, or so reported the Daily Mail, which then went on to say:

Naim Attallah’s penchant for bacchanalia was put sorely to the test. He played host to the cream of Nescafé society which featured in the tome. But the cast was studded with faces who did not possess the necessary encrusted invitation card. At one point the crush was so great the PR man Peter Stiles felt it necessary to elbow his way out of a corner where he was trapped by columnist John Rendall and his PR wife Liz Brewer. Alex Macmillan the publishing mogul and grandson of Harold Macmillan and Prince Charles’s personal valet Stephen Barry made sure they were adjacent to the food, whereas Gary Glitter and Bryan Ferry stuck to the wine on offer.

The book sold extremely well. It was predictably considered scandalous by some, entertainingly outrageous by others, and people outside café society did not give a jot about it either way. I came in for some personal admonishment from certain close friends who thought I should have imposed a more selective policy on who actually got into the book; there were faces whose presence in its pages could cause great embarrassment and even grief to others. They failed to understand how for me, as a publisher, any form of censorship would have gone against the grain.

WARMING THE COCKLES

In January 1984, David Elliott had flown to Montreal from London to host a sales conference for our North American reps. It was the first time he had undertaken such a trip, brought about by Quartet’s expansion in the region. David was there to brief the sales force on those forthcoming publications that were likely to be of interest in their territory. Marilyn Warnick and I flew up from New York to join him – her involvement was vitally important since the whole American operation came under her jurisdiction. My purpose in being there was to become more familiar with what was going on and then to wrap up the conference with a short address to give the occasion an air of gravitas.

Beyond its successful outcome, nothing unusual happened except for the weather. It was bitterly cold, with temperatures the lowest I had ever encountered. I had a single worse experience a decade or so later when I visited China in mid-February and hired a car to drive me out from Beijing to see the Great Wall of China. I took the precaution of putting on many layers of warm clothing complemented by a fur coat and hat, and a pair of thick gloves, but my ears and eyes were difficult to shield from the cuttingly icy wind that swept in from Mongolia and seemed to penetrate into every fibre of my body. The resulting pain was excruciating as my face was pelted with particles of ice which stung any bit of flesh they managed to land on. I never felt so helpless and desperate as I did when negotiating the Great Wall, hardly daring to open my eyes for fear of some crippling injury to my eyesight.

The Montreal winter, bad as it was, was not in the same league as its Chinese counterpart, though it was still my first taste of extreme weather conditions. Marilyn, David and I wore heavy overcoats as we set out on our last day to brave the elements by taking a walk in the city centre, looking for places of interest, especially the leading bookshops. Our ears and hands were already painfully numb when we chanced on a cinema showing 3D projections for adults only. Marilyn held back, perhaps embarrassed at first, but then decided anything would be better than freezing to death! We bought three tickets at the box office and were given special coloured glasses for viewing the film. It had to be admitted that the spectacle was technically sensational, though the content was nothing more than a pornographic display of sexual acrobatics. The images hit you from every side until you felt you were yourself a participant in the ongoing orgy. For the first ten minutes the senses were stunned, but the novelty began to wear thin when the action became so confused it was impossible to distinguish who was copulating with whom. When we left the cinema the crisp cold outside air had become less of a problem. The hour spent watching people engaging in libidinous activities had given our blood circulations a boost to fend off the cold. We spent the evening quietly before flying back to New York the next day.

WHAT’S THE PARTY FOR?

In 1983, I threw a party at the Arts Club in Dover Street to launch a Quartet book on the Bee Gees, the vocal trio of the three Gibb brothers who were around in the early days of pop and became one of the world’s most successful music groups. It was written and created by David English and produced in gorgeous colour with illustrations and lettering by Alex Brychta. The theme was how funny it is, the way people often resemble animals. ‘Think of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb . . . Barry as a Lion, Robin the Red Setter and Maurice as an Eager Beaver. Now come with me, says the author, and experience the legend of the Bee Gees.’ It was basically a children’s book, dedicated to children everywhere and to the fourth Gibb brother. Its style of telling was unique and reflected all the hopes, frustrations – even heartache – as well as the joy and happiness life has in store for us.

Certainly the launch party was a joyous event. The three brothers were there, wrote David Thomas in the Standard, ‘standing in one corner of the room pretending it was still 1978. Meanwhile the London lit. crit. set, never known for passionate disco fever, milled around asking one another whether they knew what a Bee Gee looked like, pointing at strangers and enquiring, “Do you think that’s Barry?”’ Then, Thomas went on to say, ‘as if to underline the changes that have come over the pop scene since the days that the Bee Gees ruled the airwaves, there were some newer stars in attendance. Like Marilyn (né Peter Robinson), a good friend of Boy George’s who used to model frocks for Vivienne Westwood and who is now, in the best music-biz style, about to sign a six-figure deal with a major company.’ Finally Thomas went on to query the purpose of throwing a party when the guests had little to contribute to the selling of books. When he put the question to Juliette Foy, Quartet’s press officer, she replied that, ‘Primarily we are promoting our publishing house as much as the book.’ I thought that was a good response since we could never justify the cost of a party if we were to equate it with the number of books we sell as a result.

My own thoughts are that parties are also useful for meeting people who might have a book in them, and that if, as a publisher, you do not circulate widely, then opportunities will pass you by. The Bee Gee soirée in particular was heavily attended by show-business personalities, including the likes of Billy Connolly, Christopher Reeve, Sting, Bob Geldof and Jeremy Irons. The presence of celebrities will invariably ensure a good deal of press coverage, which in today’s world gives a vital boost to any business.

QUENTIN CREWE

In September 1991 I attended a party at the Queen Anne Orangery in Kensington Gardens to celebrate the publication of the memoirs of a very dear friend, Quentin Crewe. The title he gave them was Well, I Forget the Rest. This remarkable sixty-four-year-old writer had been for more than half his life confined to a wheelchair, from which he greeted the friends and former wives who turned up to salute him. The Evening Standard covered the event as follows:

Naim Attallah, something of an authority on these matters, confessed his unbridled admiration for Crewe’s romantic endeavours. ‘He is the greatest seducer,’ he said. ‘I don’t know how he does it. There’s no way I could have achieved any of the things he has if I had those disabilities.’

Lord Snowdon, who invented Crewe’s first electric wheelchair, disclaimed any part in such goings on. ‘I don’t think it has anything to do with my chair,’ he told me. ‘And if it has, it’s a peripheral thing. It’s his sheer strength and will of personality.

Quentin was a truly extraordinary man. As well as being a successful journalist and writer he was also a determined adventurer who had defied his disabilities by travelling through some of the most difficult terrain on earth. His exploits were legendary, but his powers of conquest where women were concerned remained the aspect of him I most admired. I saw it happen at first hand when his daughter Candida brought him to have lunch at Namara House. While waiting for me to come down from my office on the fourth floor he went to kill a few minutes browsing in the bookshop on the ground floor. It so happened, at the time, that a twenty-six-year-old model with stunning looks was working in the shop between modelling assignments. Before I could get down to greet him, Quentin had engaged her in conversation. Two months later she was his lover, accompanying him on a long journey through India. When I saw them together on their return, the girl was so besotted that she could not keep her hands off him. She hugged and caressed Quentin with a tenderness that belied the difference in their ages or any impuissance arising from his handicap.

Despite his disability, Quentin had three wives, five children and lovers aplenty, but his was no straightforward tale of triumph over adversity. When he was a boy his mother’s nightly admonition was, ‘Keep your hands above the sheets!’ It was advice he never heeded. He continued to delve beneath the covers even after a Swiss governess had shown him a cautionary Victorian illustration of the madness and degeneration that lay in store for those who failed to take note. Using all the authority of her position, she pointed to the perpetrator of such shameful acts, explaining that the consequences of his wickedness had come about because il joue toujours avec sa quéquette, comme toi. Later, in view of what happened to Quentin, it was as if the governess had been a genuine Cassandra figure, a real prophet of doom, for he was struck down at an early age by muscular dystrophy, a cruel disease that had him confined to his wheelchair for the rest of his life.

When I interviewed him for Singular Encounters, I mentioned to him how his reputation for attracting beautiful young women was fabled. Did the secret lie in his combining being such a great raconteur with an irresistible charm, or was there some inherent sexual chemistry that attracted feminine beauty and youth? His response was typically diffident:

It gets less easy, but I think they’re intrigued by something different – that is to say, somebody in a wheelchair. The only explanation I can think of is that those who seduced me wanted to discover what it was like to go to bed with somebody disabled. Or there is always the other possibility, that one is less frightening to them, that one isn’t a great beast who’s going to leap on top of them and beat them. Whatever it is, I’ve been very lucky.

His explanation seems quite plausible, especially in the light of a more recent instance where the publisher of the Spectator reportedly said she had slept with former home secretary David Blunkett to find out what it was like to sleep with a blind man.

Quentin was one of my heroes, and his death, like that of Auberon Waugh, has left a gap in our society that can never be filled. One hopes that these two men, who loved women with a true passion, are receiving their rewards in heaven from celestial creatures even more beautiful than those who dazzled and beguiled them in their terrestrial lives.

WHAT TANIA THOUGHT…

Tania Foster-Brown was a highly gifted young lady whose sheer impudence made her the life and soul of the party. She was eager to learn, unafraid to take risks, supremely self-confident and a born leader. Recognizing her multitude of capabilities from the outset, I immediately took her under my wing in a PR role. She became one of the favourites and played a crucial part in glamorizing the image of Mappin & Webb. One of the things that marked Tania out from the pack was the way she combined femininity with a tomboyish disposition and a general strength of character. As a brown-eyed brunette with a gamine appearance, she was direct and disarming in the way she dealt with others and was always ready to startle with an improvised piece of mischief. It was presumably her way of neutralizing the dazzling effect she created, especially on discerning men.

Tania would accompany me on a mission or to a particular function where I would be delivering a lecture and then return to the girls-only office at 106 Regent Street (it was guarded by a buzzer to restrict casual access) to report the proceedings verbatim. Taking centre stage, she would mimic me down to the last nuance. (Patrick Ryecart as a professional actor could also do a ‘Naim’, but his was not as good as hers.) She could retain most of the phrases from my speech and deliver them in an authentic manner, gesticulating to emphasize a point and taking a bow at the end to the tumultuous acclaim and merriment of her colleagues. It was as if the world was her stage and she could conjure drama out of sheer mundane reality.

She often travelled with me on buying trips, to Geneva, Florence, Milan, Paris; and throughout the UK when we were promoting products or holding exhibitions. Her companionship was always pleasurable and our journeys were full of funny incidents and mad escapades. We simply found a common ground where the gulf between employer and employee did not exist, without ever jeopardizing our work or undermining respect for authority when it once more became appropriate. Ours was a most unusual and warm relationship, rich in its rewards. She was able to exert a positive influence through her unrestricted access to me, often interceding on behalf of others, but never allowing this special intimacy to go to her head. There were a few occasions, however, when I would instruct my secretary, ‘Foster-Brown – barred!’ Such extreme measures were prompted by a rare misdemeanour or a trifle too far. But neither of us could resist a quick resolution to such an unhappy state of affairs and the making up more than compensated for the original falling out.

I was always certain Tania would go places. Since those days she has, with dedication and hard work, scaled the ladder of success on her own account. As her early mentor I can feel both a comforting pride and a sense of gratification.

Creativity from Within

Tania Foster-Brown

How am I going to write something new about Naim, who’s had so much written about him already? We all know that he’s a larger-than-life character who inspires affection and love in those who come into close contact with him.

For those of us who worked with him closely, his combination of benevolent dictator and concerned father figure was quite unique. He recognized talent, even in the young and unworldly-wise, and gave it air to breathe. He loved having fun and the office buzzed with ideas and possibilities.

At times he could be impossible, with obsessive passions on particular projects – but his enthusiasm was so contagious you found yourself agreeing to his suggestions and sharing his totally genuine delight when things you planned worked out well. He never took personal credit for anything – but shared it round ‘his girls’. He did not believe in consultants or external agencies. ‘Creativity comes from within,’ he would exclaim to senior advertising executives trying to work on our business!

Naim has a wicked sense of humour and conventional formalities were often pushed to one side. He had an urge to shock out of a sense of devilment, and I would occasionally sit aghast as he repeated some mischievous anecdote to a journalist lunch guest. On that note he was punctilious in his punctuality and it wasn’t unknown for a guest to miss the first course if they arrived late. I have never arrived before him at any rendezvous since I have known him!

This heightened sense of needing to be on time could become stressful, especially when sitting next to Naim on an aeroplane that was delayed for take-off!
He was hard and uncompromising when he needed to be, but also sentimental. He was horrified that I cycled to work throughout my first pregnancy, and when during my second pregnancy I had a slight accident on the bike it was too much for him to bear. His chauffeur appeared outside my house the next day and drove me to and from work from then onwards. No matter how much I made protestations about this special treatment, he would have it no other way. There were many other similar instances that set him apart from other chief executives.

Above all, we had great fun, and he gave me the chance to learn to do a job that I had no formal qualifications for – by teaching and trusting and guiding. All the girls loved working with him – it often didn’t even feel like work – and we all knew that once we were part of his family, then his loyalty was there for ever for each of us. I certainly credit working with him as being the most important factor in making me who I am today – mostly in work ways but also in personal development.

MEMORIES OF LUCY

During the 1990s one of my secretary’s, Lucy Wastnage, came with me from Namara House as I moved into my new Asprey offices above Garrard in Regent Street. She was considered mysteriously attractive, with a sultry Mediterranean complexion inherited from her Italian father. In fact her father doted on her and rather spoiled her. She was the only one to be photographed with me, sitting on the floor in my new office above Garrard. I felt totally relaxed in her presence and we could not have had a better working relationship. I have to admit, however, that I did indulge her, especially when she and David Tang began courting long before their marriage some years later. The saga of Lucy’s romance began when she was introduced to David Tang by Tania Foster-Brown, whose ex-husband, Guy Salter, worked for Prince Charles when David happened to be a member of the Prince’s Trust. The relationship was a coup de foudre that sizzled with electricity. The two were phoning each other for most of the day, and then continued for the best part of the night. Calls from Hong Kong were therefore monopolizing Lucy’s office telephone line and messages on a variety of topics were clogging the fax machine. Some expressed the tenderness of two people in love, others took the form of quizzes to which each party had to respond. Occasionally Lucy’s sense of mischief led her to give the wrong answer deliberately – such as that Naim would make the ideal companion or was the most accomplished man she could hope to meet. It was part of her teasing technique, designed to raise David’s temperature with jealousy annd exasperation at her contrariness. As the relationship grew in its intensity, David kept her awake at night by telephoning her in a roller-coaster fashion, pitting his well-known limitless energies against hers but eventually reducing her to a walking shadow through lack of sleep.

At this point my indulgence manifested itself in a number of ways. I became much more tolerant with her than usual and turned a blind eye to the flood of outside communications. I was reluctant to spoil a budding relationship that seemed more full of promise than usual; hence my decision to let her travel with David to New York, then on to Mexico, where they stayed on Jimmy Goldsmith’s legendary estate. With further trips on offer, Lucy found herself facing a difficult dilemma. She was reluctant to give up a job in which she was spending some of her happiest times, while the lure of David’s lifestyle and her love of his company were proving too much of a temptation to resist. She had to make a choice, for she could not pursue both paths simultaneously. Her loss was painful for us all. She had become an integral part of a team that had perfected the art of combining serious enterprise with unabashed fun. David Tang showed his appreciation to me by signing a declaration on one of his China Club brochures: ‘This is to confirm that Emperor Naim Attallah is to enjoy free lunches and dinners at the China Club for life.’ Lucy agreed to contribute this memoir to my final volume of autobiography Fulfilment & Betrayal 1975-1995:

Best Friends, Best Days

Lucy Wastnage (now Tang)

They say some of the best days of your life are your school days. I would agree, because I met friends at school who are still my good friends. I would add that some of my other best days were working for Naim as his secretary. Not only did I meet some of my favourite people, I also found in Naim a great man whom I would cherish as a lifelong friend. For this I have to thank Julia Ogilvy (Rawlinson): it was through her that I got the post after I left Harpers & Queen working for Louis Dominguez. Heaven only knows what Naim saw in me when he took me on. I could never claim to be a very conscientious employee; but maybe he saw the loyalty in me.

When I compared my situation with other friends, who all seemed to have such mundane and boring jobs, it made me think how lucky I was. To be working with Naim was always far from boring!

Most days his driver, John, would pick me up from my home before we went on to collect Naim from his in South Street. He’d go to the hairdressers while I waited in the car. Then, in the Namara House days, it would be on to the office in Poland Street, where the building housed a wonderfully eccentric team, including Pickles and a girl named Claudia Ward with whom I sadly lost contact after we moved to 106 Regent Street. With the move the road trips to radio stations to promote Naim’s books ceased, along with visits to The Women’s Press.

At the new offices the atmosphere was more corporate but still always fun. Hattie Beaumont, his cook, moved with us, and she and I regularly had a giggle over what we could divert from Naim’s cooked-lunch allowance for hosting important clients to scoff for ourselves in the kitchen, or even in Naim’s own office while he was in the boardroom. He was always entertaining amazing people like Auberon Waugh, Richard Ingrams or Lord Stockton; or actresses, writers or journalists.

After a year of being Naim’s secretary, I started my relationship with my now husband. We were introduced by Tania Foster-Brown, who also worked at Mappin & Webb (though she was someone I already knew when I started the job). Naim soon became exasperated by the fact that his personal fax number was being used by David to keep sending me faxes; or with me for blocking the telephone line. I’d be on the phone for hours, cigarette in hand, oblivious that none of Naim’s important business calls were getting through to him!

At this point Naim not only put in another fax line for me, he also hired me an assistant called Sarah Winstone. When I look back I was certainly overpaid and any normal boss would have sacked me. But no, for all the girls who passed through his doors Naim was a giver. The pinnacle of his benevolence was for me when he granted me three months’ paid absence to go to Hong Kong and sort out my relationship. If he had not done that, or been so generous in spirit, I might never have married the wonderful husband I’m with today.

Actually I probably came close to getting the sack from Naim a couple of times a day on average. I was always burning holes not only in my own desktop but also in his. There were also happenings like the time I stuck a reception sign on his (the chairman’s) door, then had to try to rip it off again when I heard he was about to take a rather serious meeting with John Asprey and had the whole door falling in! All these things, and more besides, set me thinking how wonderfully lucky I’ve been to have worked for such an amazing man.

Also, when you consider his background, his Middle Eastern origins mean he has always been a very tactile man, a bit like the Italians. To the English, who are so suspicious of people touching them or being openly friendly, I think it all comes across as rather seedy. What outsiders fail to understand is that he is only holding a hand, or giving a friendly hug, or making a slightly naughty insinuation. None of it infers anything more than a show of friendship or a joke. This, I have to say, is one of the reasons why I adore this man: because I know his loyalty has no boundaries as mine have none for him.