I sat down to write this column in the Big Bagel, as I call New York City, and it was to be about the latest hagiography of Winston Churchill, a man I not only dislike but consider to be a war criminal par excellence. Then I heard the sirens outside my house and was deafened by the helicopters hovering up above. It was terrorist time, except that all the cops were out in force protecting the bad guys and escorting them to various grand hotels and diplomatic missions scattered around this great city.
Yes, you guessed it, dear readers, it was the opening session of Crooks & Murderers, Inc., a.k.a. the United Nations. Never have so many tin-pot dictators, major chiselers, lunch-bucket pilferers, and out-and-out killers arrived en masse as they did this year, and it was my bad luck to find myself in close proximity to the rabble. Central Park was closed to joggers as the French head hobbit, one Sarkozy, decided to take some exercise. Ditto for certain parts of Park Avenue, as African child molesters needed to go shopping to spend some of their blood money. Every single cop was out in force trying to make life miserable for us taxpayers and comfortable for the onanists from the Dark Continent. That’s when I lost all desire to abuse the Churchill man and decided to tell you about the world’s most wanted man—the only one, in fact, who’s missing from the vermin who have overrun the place. None other than Osama bin Laden himself.
It was around 1998, and as usual I was stuck for a column. I was in Gstaad, sitting in my garden and looking out at the magnificent mountains, when it came to me. Why not make a bit of trouble for the draft dodger at the White House, just as he was being deposed about Monica Lewinsky? So I sat down and wrote about Osama bin Laden—Harry, as we friends of his called him—a man who had gone to the Rosey school with my son and who now lived quietly at the Palace Hotel in Gstaad, in the Kandahar suite, just down the road from my humble chalet. Harry was very rich, but, unlike most of his kind, he was extremely generous. At the famous White’s club in London, he was known for his generosity and for always picking up the tab at the bar for the rest of the swells. The English upper classes are notorious for being slow on the trigger when it comes to coughing up, so Harry was by far the most popular of members. He dressed at Anderson & Sheppard, the bespoke tailors who cut his burnoose in the finest silks. His sandals were made to measure by Lobb, and his beard trimmed weekly by Trumper’s. He had been proposed as member by the duke of Beaufort and seconded by Lord Charles Churchill, great-nephew of Sir Winston.
But there was more. Harry Laden had gone to Rosey and had been a member of the best ski team ever, which included J.T. Theodoracopulos, Jean-Claude Killy, Gianni Agnelli, Sir Arnold Lunn, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Harry was a quiet sort of person, disappearing at times for long periods, but always resurfacing around Ramadan and other religious holidays, except for Yom Kippur. When I finished the column I e-mailed it to The Spectator and waited for the call. Which came almost immediately. “I hope you’re joking,” said my dear and long-suffering editor Liz Anderson. Once I reassured her that I was, she breathed a sigh of relief, and the piece ran as I had written it. Then the trouble started.
For the next couple of weeks a lot of Brit journalists got hold of my number and pestered me for more information. One of them, Peter McKay, an ingenious Scot writing for the Daily Mail, rang up White’s. “We haven’t seen him lately,” was the hall porter’s even more ingenious reply. The hacks became convinced they were on to a great scoop. But I wasn’t talking. Then it became more serious. Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair and a good friend of long standing, called me and insisted I spill the beans. “This will make you almost as famous as he is,” was the way Graydon put it. But I stood firm. Vanity Fair then readied two of their greatest bloodhounds to trace Harry in Gstaad, which made me very nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I came clean. Carter is still laughing about it.
But there were consequences. At a grand dinner party in Palm Beach, after September 11, a local grande dame cut me and in a loud voice accused me of being friendly with people who had the blood of 3,000 Americans on their hands. I stammered something about a joke, but no one was listening. A member of White’s demanded an apology and an admission of having lied, as he had lost clients after revealing he was a member of the club. A nice young man by the name of Johnson, known for his documentaries, approached me and asked to do a film on “The Man Who Parties With Osama.” When I told him it was all a spoof he was crestfallen. “I’ve spent a fortune in preparing it!” he cried.
So, moral of the story: Terrorists are no joke. Mind you, after six months, and once again stuck for a story, I did a sequel, but it didn’t come off. The only journalist to get it the first time was Alexander Cockburn. The ski team, said Cockburn, didn’t make sense. Buckley and Taki’s son could not have been in school together, unless the former was retarded, which he was not. Good for you, Sherlock.