Things have never been grimmer. Wall Street wolves have become billionaires while rigging the system, rats like William Kristol are showboating on television and spreading lies about The Donald, and the most dishonest couple since Bonnie and Clyde are getting themselves ready to reinhabit the White House.
In times like these, there is only one thing to do: Lighten up, and then some.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was the late 90’s, my friend John O’Sullivan was visiting me from New York, and we were sitting on my Swiss lawn, admiring the Alps while sipping some good white wine. Osama bin Laden was already the world’s most hunted man. So John and I concocted a scenario for my next Spectator column, one that was going to have some pretty strange consequences for yours truly for some years to come.
As I wrote that evening after three bottles of white, Osama had gone to Switzerland’s famed Rosey School—the school of kings, as it was then known, because lots of royals from Europe had attended. His schoolmates had called him Harry Laden, and he had been quite popular because of his predilection for buying drinks for everyone at the very expensive Palace Hotel in Gstaad, where the school has its winter campus. Harry kept a large suite at the palace, known as the Kandahar Suite, and entertained lavishly every weekend. He was also on the Rosey ski team, one that included Gianni Agnelli, John Taki Theodoracopulos (my son), Jean Claude Killy, and Edsel Ford. The team was undefeated for three straight years.
After graduation Harry Laden disappeared for a while, then surfaced in London at White’s, a prominent St. James’s gentleman’s club, where he quickly became one of the most popular members because of his generous habit of buying everyone drinks at the bar and even lunch and dinner at the premises. Harry dressed at Anderson & Sheppard, London’s best tailor, and had his burnous shirts made at the same premises. He wore his native dress at White’s and also during racing at Ascot. The Queen herself had invited him to her box.
This, then, is what I wrote in my Spectator column, adding that the Duke of Beaufort (a very old friend) had proposed Harry as a member of White’s. Once the Spectator was out, I waited for some reaction, but nothing happened. Then the you-know-what hit the fan. A Daily Mail gossip columnist rang up White’s and asked for Harry Laden. The hall porter, no fool, answered that Mr. Laden had not been around recently, a standard answer given to all journalists inquiring about real or imagined club members. Vanity Fair assigned their top two journalists to fly over to London and interview me about Harry’s whereabouts. The editor, Graydon Carter, is a friend, but I kept shtum. Mind you, I was getting nervous, especially when a Palm Beach hostess cut me at a dinner, announcing that she would not speak to people who were friends with enemies of the republic.
It got worse after a later telling, in which I said that David Metcalfe, an old friend and son of Edward VIII’s private secretary, had sold Bin Laden a sizable insurance policy. Metcalfe, no longer with us, was married to an American lady who convinced him that his insurance business would be devastated if and when that information got out. Metcalfe rang me up, demanded a retraction, and then initiated a lawsuit.
My editor at the Spectator just kept laughing it all off, telling all and sundry that “I cannot interfere with the choice of Taki’s friends”—or words to that effect. The hacks Vanity Fair had sent over were after me, demanding an explanation, one I refused to give. “My friends are my friends,” I said to them. The Duke of Beaufort, in on the joke, stood by me. “He’s a hell of a fellow,” is how he described Harry, “and quite generous.”
My story’s veracity was challenged by one Alexander Cockburn, member of a distinguished British family of journalists, and writing out of northwestern America on a blog. Cockburn, no fool, fell for the story, but he caught me out on the Rosey ski team. The ages of the skiers didn’t make sense. Agnelli was in his late 70’s, Killy and Edsel Ford were in their late 50’s, John Taki was 16, and Harry’s age was unknown. (Needless to say, none of the above, except for my son, had gone to the Rosey.) Something fishy here, wrote Cockburn.
It all became unfishy after September 11. I immediately spilled the beans, but some people remained quite angry. This surprised me.
The best way to treat evil is to make fun of it. As the great Ogden Nash said, “The world would not be in such a snarl, had Marx been Groucho instead of Karl.” Making fun of those bearded animals who slaughter innocents in the name of Allah would make more of a dent in their horror religion than the p.c. manner we use. In the meantime, when the Navy Seals finally got to Osama, the man who pulled the trigger addressed him as Harry. You can take my word for it.