Newsmakers: Dec. 29-Jan. 5, 2011

Sinead O’Connor’s heartbreak, Youssou N’dour’s new platform, and Prince Philip’s sartorial stir


Louise Gubb/Corbis

Call him a traditionalist

A debate rages in South Africa over marriage, pitting traditional polygamy against Western-style civil laws that find one spouse quite enough. At the centre of the dispute is Nelson Mandela’s chosen political heir, his grandson Mandla Mandela, a member of Parliament. He is facing a charge of bigamy brought by his first wife, Tando Mabunu-Mandela, after he defied a court order not to marry a third woman. That traditional ceremony to Mbalenhle Makhathini took place a week ago. A second marriage last year, to French teenager Anaïs Grimaud, was annulled by the court because Mandla was already legally married. “I can’t even remember the last time someone was convicted of bigamy,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga told the Sowetanlive website. “But it is a very serious offence and would need to be investigated properly before further legal action can be taken.”

And that better be a Windsor knot

Remember the scandal back in 2002 when BBC newsreader Peter Sissons announced the death of the Queen Mother while wearing a burgundy tie? No, the Queen Mother wasn’t wearing the tie, you silly git, Sissons was. Burgundy! On such a day. The gaffe shook the BBC to its foundations—shan’t happen again, and all that. So imagine the panic when the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, was helicoptered to hospital on Dec. 23 with chest pains. There was a mad scramble for sombre clothes and black ties, in case the unthinkable happened. “According to my spies,” Sissons told the Telegraph, “those who were working over this year’s holiday period lived in fear that the duke might pop off on their shift.” Didn’t happen. Doctors unblocked an artery with a stent. The duke returned home, having missed the holiday pheasant shoot.

Captive’s captivating concert

Mikhail Lennikov, 52, put in 1,000 rehearsal hours at the piano of Vancouver’s First Lutheran Church, the music of Mozart ringing from the rafters as he prepared for the Christmas concert. He has time to spare. Lennikov, once a Japanese translator for the Soviet Union’s KGB, his wife, Irina, and 20-year-old son Dmitri, have lived in the church basement for 2½ years after seeking sanctuary to avoid deportation. Lennikov came to Vancouver on a student visa in 1997 to attend university. He was subsequently ruled inadmissible because of his work for the spy agency. This year’s concert moved the audience to tears, Pastor Richard Hergesheimer told the Province. “All of a sudden a man who is in sanctuary is playing something that transcends everything. For 30 minutes, he’s a free man.”

Drive-thru romance

Sinead O’Connor has the voice of an Irish angel, and a devil of a time staying in a relationship. The 45-year-old announced the end of her fourth marriage, just 16 days after marrying Barry Herridge, a 38-year-old therapist, at a Las Vegas “drive-thru” wedding chapel. They married too soon, she said. “I feel sad for my husband, and sad to be the cause of sorrow to yet another poor man.” More elaborate were the 2010 Hindu nuptials of Brit comedian Russell Brand and singer Katy Perry in Rajasthan, India. Alas, even the supporting cast of 21 camels, elephants and horses couldn’t carry the marriage beyond 14 months. News of their pending divorce angered Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism: “They should have taken marriage more seriously as it is a sacred rite in Hinduism.”

On a happier note

Ottawa-born Kathleen Edwards has shed a husband, acclaimed guitarist Colin Cripps, and collaborated with new boyfriend-producer Justin Vernon, front man of the indie band Bon Iver, to strike out in new musical directions. Her fourth studio album, Voyageur, is due for release Jan. 17. “Maybe I had my mid-life crisis this year, I don’t know,” the 33-year-old told Salon. The one-time alt-country darlin’ said she was tired of being “categorized as some kind of twangy songwriter.” Salon says her new sound “falls somewhere between twinkling indie pop, roughshod rock and refined twang.” She credits the Wisconsin-based Vernon with helping her “take a massive leap forward in the right direction.”

Beware the home front

Christopher Sullivan, a 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier returned home to San Bernardino, Calif., to what should have been a hero’s welcome and a chance to convalesce from injuries suffered from a suicide bombing in Afghanistan. Instead, his homecoming party left him paralyzed and in critical condition after he intervened in an argument between his brother and a 19-year-old partygoer over football. The guest shot him twice, shattering his spine, police said. “My son didn’t deserve this,” his mother Suzanne Sullivan told the San Bernardino Sun.

Such an uppity lad

When Britain’s George Atkinson completed the ascents of the highest mountains in each of the seven continents, some suggested the 16-year-old peaked too soon. Seems it wasn’t soon enough. Last week, Jordan Romero, a 15-year-old from Big Bear Lake, Calif., became the youngest person to climb all seven mountains. “We’re at the roof of Antarctica,” Jordan’s father Paul said via podcast on Christmas Eve from the 4,892-m peak of Mount Vinson. “I’m the proudest dad in the world right now.”

A mayor’s sad plea

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has urged his 21-year-old foster son, Jinagh Navas-Rivas, to turn himself in to face gun and weapons charges stemming from an RCMP “dial-a-dope” investigation. Robertson’s family took in the young man in 2007 when he was a homeless high school student. He has lived on his own since June 2009, though he was on stage with the family to celebrate Robertson’s re-election in November. Robertson said he was disappointed to learn of the charges. “We have always believed that providing support to youth in need is of great importance,” he said. “It was in this spirit that we took in Jinagh to live with us.”

Ah, but she’s no Pippa

It’s been a fairy tale year for Kate, an English commoner turned princess. Well, technically, Kate Bevan isn’t a princess, she just looks that way. Customers at the Stafford pharmacy where 22-year-old Bevan used to work would comment on her uncanny resemblance to Kate Middleton. By the time Prince William popped the question to his Kate a year ago, Bevan was in increasing demand as a professional double. She’s had TV and modelling appearances around the globe. “The reaction in Hong Kong is incredible,” she told London’s Sun. “By the third day I have to have bodyguards and one woman shakes and cries when she stands next to me.” Bevan and her husband, Nathan, a food store manager, are expecting their first child early in 2012. She admits she’ll enjoy time out of the limelight, something the other Kate can’t escape. “There’s so much pressure on her,” said Bevan, “I’m glad I only step into her life sometimes.”

Brothers in arms, finally

Indian investors are putting much stock—literally—in a rapprochement between feuding billionaire brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani. The two brothers, worth a combined US$28.5 billion, danced and prayed together in their ancestral village of Chorwad as the clan inaugurated a memorial to their late father, Dhirajlat, founder of Reliant Industries. The brothers had divided the spoils in an uneasy relationship, with Mukesh operating India’s biggest natural gas field, while Anil operated its second-largest phone company. Shares in Anil’s Reliance Communications jumped after their mother, Kokilaben Ambani, announced, “We are all united,” India’s Economic Times reported.

Hold the anchovies

A Louisiana research team may have cracked the mystery behind a 1961 avian attack on homes in Monterey, Calif., that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s creepy film classic, The Birds. Sibel Bargu of Louisiana State University recalls being terrified by Hitchcock’s 1963 fictionalized thriller. Now, she and a research team have found that poisoned plankton may have caused disoriented seabirds to crash out of the sky into homes around Monterey Bay. “When I started work on harmful algae blooms and their toxins, and then learned of this super-exciting connection, I felt I had to work on this,” she said. The team found samples of toxic algae in the stomach contents of sea life gathered in 1961, she told USA Today. Most likely the birds ate anchovies and squid loaded with the toxin. The same poison contaminated mussels in Prince Edward Island in 1987, killing four people.

We’ll make beautiful music together

He’s been called Africa’s most famous living singer, but Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour would prefer to be called president. He’ll challenge 85-year-old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade in next month’s election. The 52-year-old has yet to release his policies. As for his review of Wade: he hears “only in mono.”

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