This week: Newsmakers

The ‘world’s fattest contortionist’; farewell, Fidel; and a few kind words for Bernie Madoff, from Bernie Madoff

by Nicholas Köhler, Julia Belluz and Nancy Macdonald

And other acts of God

When a 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked New Zealand last week, killing dozens and toppling the steeple of Christchurch Cathedral, it took a Canadian, Christchurch Bishop Victoria Matthews, to give nature its due. “People shouldn’t think they’re in control of Mother Nature,” she said. The long-time Anglican bishop of Edmonton arrived in her antipodean idyll three years ago. Her words echo poet Alden Nowlan, who described Canada as “a country where a man can die simply from being caught outside.” Matthews, who is working to get churches open and parishioners dug out, acknowledged her ignorance of some of nature’s talents. “I knew about snowstorms, I knew about hurricanes,” she said. “My Canadian education was woefully lacking about earthquakes.”

Kimberly French/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

She learned from the best

Michèle Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, is the latest casualty of Tunisia’s fallen regime. Her reaction to the protests that led to the Jasmine revolution surprised many—she offered French savoir faire to stamp out dissenters. Later, it was revealed she was on holiday in Tunisia as the revolt heated up, and her family has close connections with ousted Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. She resigned over the issue, and President Nicolas Sarkozy swiftly replaced her with Alain Juppé, his trusted defence minister. Like the Arab autocrats, Alliot-Marie did not go quietly. In her resignation letter, she insisted she’d done nothing wrong, adding: “I have been the victim of political, then media, attacks.”

Michel Euler/AP

Hard out there to be a thief

Taking time from his 150-year jail term for defrauding investors of tens of billions of dollars, Bernie Madoff gave another interview this month, this time to New York magazine. He talked of his silent suffering in carrying his secret for years. He mused, as he did to the New York Times, that banks and investors who were getting rich surely knew something fishy was going on—or should have. “Am I a sociopath?” he asked his therapist, in one vulnerable moment. (She said no—he feels remorse.) For some that may be offset by his petulance that all the good he did is forgotten and he’s judged too harshly by public and media. “I am a good person,” he insists.

No fairy-tale ending here

Both buzz and fury are brewing on the eve of the release of the new film by Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. Hardwicke’s new project is in territory not far from her last. Her Red Riding Hood is a supernatural tale that plays up the latent sexuality of the Brothers Grimm original (a wolf, dressed in ladies’ clothing, luring a girl into bed?). The buzz is understandable: it stars the luminous Amanda Seyfried. The fury is over the tie-in book, by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright. You can buy it now—but fans discovered when they got to the last page it won’t reveal the ending. Instead there’s a link to a website that will go up once the film is out. The griping has already begun in the blogosphere. Suffice it to say this is one plot twist that won’t stay a surprise too long.

Look—a fluffy dog!
Want to get Queen Elizabeth II‘s mind off potash—a neat trick if you’re the premier of Saskatchewan and have just helped block an international deal to take over Saskatoon-based PotashCorp? Meeting the Queen during a visit to London designed to assuage ruffled feathers, Brad Wall, the premier in question and a former disc jockey from Swift Current, Sask., presented the Queen with children’s books written by Regina-born folksinger Connie Kaldor—books with titles like A Duck in New York City and A Poodle in Paris. The books are destined for Savannah Phillips, who became the Queen’s first great-grandchild when she was born last year.

FIONA HANSON/PA

Some fashion advice: zip it

Less than a week before John Galliano, head designer for Christian Dior, was to present his latest collection in Paris, he’s been axed by the fashion house. The firing was prompted by a video showing the fashion bad boy drunkenly taunting patrons in a Paris bar with anti-Semitic slurs such as “people like you would be dead,” and “your mothers, your forefathers gassed.” He added, “I love Hitler.” Dior’s head, Sidney Toledan, condemned the remarks, as did actress Natalie Portman, who has signed an endorsement deal with Dior. “As an individual who is proud to be Jewish,” she said, “I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

Call him a fan

American Filmmaker Michael Moore‘s romance with Canada has been long and multi-faceted: 10 years ago he loved those trusting unlocked doors he found in Toronto filming Bowling for Colombine; in Sicko, he heaped praise on our universal health care. Last week, he picked a new darling: the people of Thompson, Man., who he says are “fighting a front-line battle” in the “war of the world’s rich on the middle class.” In a blog post, he skewers Brazilian mining giant Vale, which plans to shutter operations in Thompson and put 500 people out of work, even though it recently got a $1-billion loan from the Canadian government. “Don’t be embarrassed if you need a map to find Thompson,” writes Moore, who complains U.S. media “only tell you about Canadians if they have some connection to Justin Bieber.” Yet many Canadians will be just as clueless about remote Thompson’s location, as jazzed about Bieber, and as indifferent to Thompson’s workers.

This week: Newsmakers

A.M.P.A.S./ABC/Getty Images

Another one for Gwyneth (yawn)
Poet/author/actor/soap star James Franco wasn’t the only overachiever in the room Oscar night. Halle Berry was readying for her Broadway debut, and there was GOOP publisher/style maven Gwyneth Paltrow in her third recent musical turn, belting out Coming Home. Actors. We know there’s nothing they can’t do, but must they actually go out and do it all?

Castro goes, long live Castro

Another global political heavyweight may be on the way out. Fidel Castro is expected to resign as Communist party leader in April. Cuba’s “El Jefe” will likely hand over the job to his brother Raul, who became president in 2008, due to Fidel’s declining health—which means that, for the first time, a non-Castro will take the party’s secondary slot.

Fat is not a contortionist issue

This week: Newsmakers

Brian J. Gavriloff/Edmonton Journal

His weight fluctuates between 400 and 450 lb., yet he can do the splits and touch the soles of his feet to his cherubic cheeks. Edmonton’s Matt Alaeddine, 30, bills himself as the “world’s fattest contortionist” and has travelled the globe with the freakish Jim Rose Circus, having got his start at the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. “Obesity! It’s working for me,” he recently told the Edmonton Journal, for a story that generated worldwide curiosity, likely due to an accompanying video of the performer staging impromptu feats of fleshy derring-do dressed in a gold nylon two-piece apparently bought at American Apparel. “I know you’re in shock; you can still clap!” he told a crowd of clearly uneasy Edmontonians at a local transit station.

A big bite out of Apple

Apple’s superstar designer, Jonathan Ive, may be leaving the company, which is suffering a period of uncertainty in the wake of Steve Jobs‘ medical leave. Ive, Apple’s highest-profile employee after Jobs, heads the design team responsible for its most famous products, including the iPad, iPhone and Macbook. The 41-year-old is “at loggerheads” with the California-based company over plans to return to his native Britain, where he hopes to educate his twin sons, according to Britain’s Sunday Times. His imprint and value to Apple—and its stock price—is immeasurable.

Special delivery

Call it documentary activism. Louie Psihoyos, the American director of the Oscar-winning movie The Cove—about the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan—was so keen the people of Taiji see his film he sent Japanese-language DVDs to every household in the fishing village. “To me the film is a love letter to the people of Taiji,” he said. “They’ll realize that it is just a handful of local environmental thugs giving a whole nation a black eye.” The love may not be returned. The town office said it had received copies of the film, but no one had watched it yet.

Good lad

Apparently Equatorial Guinea’s dictator, Brig. Gen. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, hasn’t learned from the uprisings roiling North Africa. Word has leaked that Teodorin Obiang, the son he is grooming for succession, has commissioned a super-yacht worth $380 million—three times what the oil-rich African country spends on health and education each year. Teodorin, who lives in a $35-million Malibu mansion, reportedly fills his days with naps and Rodeo Drive shopping sprees with his Playboy bunny girlfriend. The next Guinean leader is described in Foreign Policy as an “unstable, reckless idiot” by a former U.S. intelligence official who knows him well.

This week: Newsmakers

Samir Hussein/GETTY IMAGES

A little bit of country

Kate Middleton was keen on a village wedding. So while her nuptials will take place at Westminster Abbey, she and Prince William are bringing a bit of village to the city. A butcher, a pub landlord, a postman and convenience-store owners from Bucklebury, her hometown in Berkshire, were among the 2,000-odd guests to receive a gold-embossed invitation. Chan Shingadia and her husband, Hash, who run the store, will rub shoulders with the likes of David Beckham. Mrs. Shingadia said she’s accepted, and told the Telegraph Kate “is really caring, and she is always a good customer.” The pair pop by so regularly, she’s always stocked with the very common treats they favour: Haribo sweets and mint Vienetta ice cream.

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