Newsmakers: Nov. 3-10, 2011

The Nickelback blowback, Pippa backlash and the Madoff family’s sad aftermath


Jacek Turczyk/AFP/Getty Images

What friends are for

They remain a study in contrasts, but Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy—the oil and water of European politics—have become improbably chummy as they navigate the Greek debt crisis. Merkel gave the French president a teddy bear last week for his new baby, Giulia, and the two shared a mischievous grin after Sarkozy threw the German chancellor a question about the future of embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to whom the pair had earlier read the riot act. The relationship has, on occasion, frayed. But they’re united in frustration with Greek politicians, and in their shared antipathy for David Cameron, whom Sarkozy told off last week: “We are sick of you criticizing us and telling us what to do,” Sarkozy told the British prime minister. “You say you hate the euro and now you want to interfere in our meetings.” In foreign relations, at least, a little negative energy goes a long way.

Princess of faux pas

The knives are out across the pond for Kate’s little sister Pippa Middleton, the rumoured recipient of a $1.5-million deal for a party planning book. British papers skewered the royal in-law last week, parodying the proposed tome. “My royal in-laws love a fancy dress party with an original theme. For example, you could have a Nazi theme?” writes the Guardian, referencing Harry’s ill-advised Nazi arm band costume. The Daily Mail illustrated its spoof with embarrassing photos of Pippa at play: part of a human pyramid (“It’s crucial to be the girl on top—like me—because then everyone knows you’re the thinnest!”), and dressed only in toilet paper (“All the naughty boys pour wine on it to see if it goes soggy”). Seeing minor royals “cashing in on their regal connections irritates the Great British public at the best of times,” wrote the Daily Beast. Doubly so on the eve of a possible return to recession.

Suddenly, I’m not so thirsty

Sometimes Japan’s vaunted code of honour gets a little out of hand—just ask Yasuhiro Sonoda. The MP felt obliged, when challenged by journalists last week, to down a glass of “decontaminated” water drawn from radioactive pools surrounding the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant, having boasted about the cleanup job around the facility. Sweating, hands trembling, Sonoda swallowed the drink. “Oh, God,” said one nuclear expert.

End of a champion

Moments after a World Cup event in Italy this week, Hickstead, the legendary brown stallion ridden by Canada’s Eric Lamaze, collapsed, writhing in pain before a shocked audience, and died. Lamaze had ridden Hickstead, regarded as one of the greatest jumping horses of all time, for eight years, capturing gold and silver Olympic medals and netting $3 million in prize winnings. “It is the most tragic thing that has ever happened,” said Lamaze, clearly stunned. “He was the best horse in the world.”

Being Madoff

Robert DeNiro announced his role as Bernie Madoff in a biopic based on Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family this week. The book, written with wife Ruth and son Andrew’s co-operation, portrays the world’s most notorious Ponzi schemer as a neat freak and serial cheater who sexually harassed his daughters-in-law. Ruth, apparently still working out her feelings for her ex-husband, told the New York Times this week that the morning after her husband’s failed suicide attempt, she thought: “It would have been easier” if he’d never woken up.

He’s looking better already

Shedding one’s past isn’t easy—especially when it’s stamped on your face. After marrying and having a child, Bryon Widner grew ashamed of his neo-Nazi past, but couldn’t afford operations to rid himself of the swastikas and hateful words tattooed across his face and body (at one point, he considered dousing his face in acid). Enter the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an Alabama-based civil rights organization, which offered to find a benefactor if the Michigan man would cough up information detailing the inner workings of several skinhead groups. After an extensive interview, and 25 bouts of surgery, he’s clean in both body and spirit.

Was Céline Dion already booked?

Ever since Chad Kroeger warbled the lyrics to How You Remind Me, Nickelback has managed to achieve massive commercial success in the face of a widely held opinion: they suck. Detroit Lions fans are so mad the Canadian band will play the halftime show at the much-anticipated Thanksgiving game, they’re petitioning to stop the show. So far, more than 6,500 people have signed. Earlier this fall, two Winnipeg Free Press music critics sent a pre-emptive plea to Gary Bettman begging the NHL commissioner to exclude the rockers from celebrations marking the return of the Jets. Allowing Nickelback to play, they wrote, “would be tantamount to spitting on Bobby Hull’s toupée.” The CFL, meanwhile, announced their Grey Cup halftime act this week—yes, you guessed it, Nickelback. Minutes after the announcement, a petition to bar them from Vancouver went live.


Who says identity politics are on the wane? John Crosbie, Newfoundland and Labrador’s lieutenant-governor, took a well-deserved drubbing last week for a joke he told making Pakistanis out to be terrorists. More puzzling was a human rights complaint filed over Toronto politician Rocco Rossi’s Mafia-themed mayoral posters. “Goodfella,” they read—an homage to the Martin Scorsese film of the same name. But if a man cracks wise about his own ethnic heritage, who exactly is he offending?

Try the irrigation defence

Bernard Keane, the mayor of March, England, may be rethinking his recent vote to close seven public toilets in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire after the octogenarian politician was rapped for urinating in public. Keane and two other senior councillors were spotted relieving themselves into a hedge during a fact-finding bus tour. Council now promises that future outings will include pit stops—provided the driver can find a bathroom.

Poland’s Sully

Tadeusz Wrona is refusing the hero label after his landing gear failed to open and the Polish pilot was forced to land a Boeing 747 on its belly, skidding the wide-body airliner to a stop at Warsaw’s main airport without it tearing apart—a rare, heroic accomplishment. Just returns

Georges Jorisch earned his living selling Kodaks and Nikons—the 83-year-old Montrealer owned a camera store for many years—but his fortune was earned by more sensational means. Jorisch is the grandson of Amalie Redlich, an Austrian who was deported to Poland by the Nazis in 1941. Redlich died during the war. Her art collection, which included several significant pieces, was looted and sold off. Recently, however, one gem of the collection was returned to Jorisch. Last week that piece, Gustav Klimt’s Litzlberg on the Attersee, sold at auction in New York for US$40 million.

Who’s your daddy?

Just as he released a Christmas duet with Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber ran into trouble with a different Mariah—a 20-year-old Californian who claims in a paternity suit that the teen heartthrob got her pregnant. Bieber’s flacks flatly deny Mariah Yeater’s story of a hasty, backstage assignation with the 17-year-old singer a year ago. If true, the account casts an interesting light on the Christian teen’s stated opposition to casual sex and abortion. “I think you should just wait for the person you’re in love with,” he told Rolling Stone in February.

Grapes dekes a fight?

It’s not like Don Cherry to back down from controversy. This is, after all, the man who delighted in telling big city “pinkos” and “left-wing kooks” to “put that in your pipe” after hanging the chain of office around Rob Ford, at the Toronto mayor’s investiture. Alas, the unthinkable has occurred: Grapes is refusing an honorary degree from Kingston’s Royal Military College. It came after an RMC professor denounced the school’s decision to confer the honour on the outspoken hockey pundit, despite his alleged contempt for French speakers, immigrants and the gay, lesbian and transgender community. Cherry said he didn’t want his presence to distract from the accomplishments of other recipients: “It would be a circus down there.”

He scores!

Barry Deley was surprised to learn he’d won the $2-million B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation Dream Lottery, but not as much as the people who gave him the good news. The winning ticket was drawn live last week on Global BC—where Deley works as a sportscaster. “You know people are going to think this is kind of fishy, don’t you?” Deley said on learning that, for this year at least, he’ll be in the same tax bracket as the hockey players he covers.

Mr. Popular

Brad Wall cruised to another majority last week. The Saskatchewan premier captured 64 per cent of the popular vote, pushing the NDP out of many long-held ridings. “After years of lagging behind the rest of the provinces, we are leading in so very many respects,” said Wall, “and we are not going back.”

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