Newsmakers: June 30 – July 7, 2011

Prince Harry has a new gal, Thailand elects a woman, and at least one Canadian mayor will march at Pride

Newsmaker

Stephen Colbert (Cliff Owen/AP)

They love you, you big hairy ape

A French couple has spent the last 13 years raising a 120-kg gorilla in their home. Zookeepers Pierre and Elianne Thivillon adopted Digit after her mother refused to breastfeed her. Digit spends her days with other animals at the Saint Martin la Plaine Zoo near Lyon, but returns to her adoptive home at night where she sleeps in the Thivillon bed, according to a new BBC documentary. Digit’s brother Ginko used to live there too, but had to return to the zoo after becoming too aggressive. Life with Digit, however, is much more pleasant: she is reportedly gentle with the couple, and has been photographed hugging and kissing them. “We have a very strong bond,” Pierre told Sky News.

Royal gaffe

Meaghan Blanchard blew every rule of etiquette at once when she seemed to combine “duke” and “duchess” and accidentally called Prince William a “douche,” moments before performing for William and his new wife Kate in Charlottetown. “I can’t believe that just happened,” the red-faced, 22-year-old singer exclaimed. But the royal couple saw the funny side of the gaffe, sharing a hearty laugh, and Blanchard recovered quickly, delivering a flawless performance of the self-penned Waltzing With You. “I felt awful,” Blanchard later said, “but sometimes that’s just life, you gotta roll with the punches.”

Joke’s on them

Stephen Colbert is casting his sardonic eye on U.S. electoral campaign finance rules. Last week, the mock conservative pundit received permission from the Federal Election Committee to start the “Colbert Super PAC.” His political action committee, which promises “a better tomorrow, tomorrow,” is now accepting donations. The comedian is poking fun at campaign finance laws, which have been steadily eroded by Republican FEC commissioners and the courts; last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited amounts on elections. “I don’t accept the status quo,” the comedian quipped. “I do accept Visa, MasterCard or American Express.”

Not her brother’s keeper

The youngest sister of Thailand’s fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is now the country’s first female prime minister. Yingluck Shinawatra, a 44-year-old businesswoman and political newbie, has vowed to raise living standards for poor Thais, and not seek revenge for the military’s overthrow of her billionaire brother, allegedly for corruption. Some see the results as a step forward for Thai women; others, however, accuse her of operating in the shadow of Thaksin, who lives in exile in Dubai, and once famously referred to her as his “clone.”

Bad Indy

Harrison Ford administered a tongue-lashing to his Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull co-star Shia LaBeouf after the young actor publicly panned the film. In 2008, LaBeouf said Ford and director Steven Spielberg “dropped the ball” on the fourth instalment of the popular franchise. In an interview with Details this month, Ford said he told LaBeouf “he was a f–king idiot,” and that “as an actor, I think it’s my obligation to support the film without making a complete ass of myself.” LaBeouf’s account of the conversation goes a little differently. He says his 68-year-old co-star actually praised him for speaking his mind. No word yet on the long-rumoured Indiana Jones 5, or whether La­Beouf will return.

Move over, Bill Gates

Forget tech barons and cellphone magnates: Australian mining tycoon Gina Rinehart may soon be the richest person in the world. Her wealth could in fact climb to $100 billion, eclipsing billionaires like Mexican telephone magnate Carlos Slim, currently the world’s richest man, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, according to Forbes. The owner of Hancock Prospecting became Australia’s richest person, worth a total US$9 billion last year, after her fortune quadrupled on the backs of rising exports to China and the high price of iron ore. But if Rinehart was a company valued at the same 11-times price-to-earnings ratio as her partner Rio Tinto, Forbes reports, she’d be worth $30 billion, putting her among the world’s 10 richest people, headed by Slim at $74 billion and Gates at $56 billion. With three more projects under way, she’s easily on track to surpass Wal-Mart’s Christy Walton as the world’s richest woman; but Rinehart, unlike Walton, is self-made. She inherited a company in dire straits 20 years ago.

A point of pride

The grand marshal of this summer’s Calgary Pride Parade is none other than Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “I marched in it last year because I really believe as mayor you’re mayor of all Calgarians,” he said. The announcement came—coincidentally, apparently—one day after the massive Toronto Pride Parade, and the controversial absence of Rob Ford. The Toronto mayor drew heat from the gay community and fellow councillors for missing the parade and Pride events, but said he had an annual get-together to attend. Calgary’s new mayor made a point of defending him: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this job, it’s that you have to fight for your family time. Otherwise it goes away.”

What about Pippa?

The royal family’s most eligible bachelor is now dating a lingerie model, according to British tabloids. Prince Harry reportedly began dating Florence Brudenell-Bruce after his seven-year on-off relationship with safari heiress Chelsy Davy—his date to his brother William’s wedding two months ago—finally ended. The beautiful 25-year-old, nicknamed Flee, “is a lot of fun, blond and very good-looking,” a source told the Sun. Asked about her relationship with her Harry, Florence, a descendent of a British earl, replied simply, “there’s not much to say.”

Babe (lands) in arms

When two-year-old Zhang Fangyu fell from her family’s 10-storey apartment window, Wu Juping managed to catch her just in time. Wu, 33, says the act of heroism was purely instinctive. She told China’s CCTV she thought of her own child when she saw the toddler falling. “I thought to myself, ‘I should stretch my arms to her. Because I am right here, I must get her.’ ” Zhang’s grandmother had ducked out to run an errand, leaving the toddler alone in her Beijing apartment. Doctors say she will be fine, though abdominal swelling may indicate an organ injury. Wu, who was left with a broken arm, was treated free of charge, a reward for her bravery.

Fit the crime?

A 23-year-old Vancouver Island man with the mental capacity of a six-year-old was sent to prison because the B.C. government has no other place to house him, the Vancouver Sun reported last week. The young man, who has several mental disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome and an IQ of 67, pleaded guilty to multiple theft and break-in charges. “I have no difficulty in concluding that to send a six-year-old to jail for a year or more would fall within the term of cruel and unusual punishment,” Judge Tony Dohm admitted. But since there was no place in the community the young man could live and receive the 24-hour supervision he needed, he was forced to jail him. “This is a case,” he concluded, “where the provisions made by society are inadequate.”

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

It was a weekend of surprises at Wimbledon. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal, the world leader, for the Wimbledon men’s title—his first. After clinching the win in the fourth set, Djokovic bent down, pulled a tuft of grass from the court and put it in his mouth, before closing his eyes and drinking in the moment. His win followed an earlier upset on the women’s side, which saw the eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova secure her first title against former champion Maria Sharapova—a straight-sets win.

Meet and retreat

Dmitry Medvedev, it seems, has taken his “Forward, Russia!” motto a bit too far. The Russian president was so keen to meet his adoring public in the Russian city of Kazan that he hopped out of the driver’s seat of his Mercedes SUV without first putting it in park. The vehicle rolled onwards toward the crowd while the president tried frantically to hold it back. A bodyguard, finally, got it stopped. “Instead of guns, his guards should be given bricks to throw under the wheels,” chided one of the 80,000 who viewed the video on YouTube, before it was summarily yanked.

Runaway bride?

It was the year’s other fairy-tale royal wedding. But 10 days before Monaco’s royal couple said ‘I do’ last week, bride Charlene Wittstock was reportedly intercepted at Nice airport trying to flee home to South Africa. Officials confirmed Prince Albert is due for DNA testing over claims he fathered a third illegitimate child.

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