This morning I saw a pair of magpies perched on the lamp-post outside my home. They looked directly into my eyes, a sign of respect, I’m told, and got me thinking about a bird that rather likes to steal anything that glistens.
In Scotland a magpie near the window supposedly foretells death and I very much hope the appearance of this pair foretells the death of the nonsense spouting from a certain former ambassador’s wife, herself of Russian origin, who has been carping on about receiving death threats, her entitlement to take an excessive salary from a children’s charity and that she’s done nothing at all wrong.
Last Thursday I received an email from an individual who called himself Dr Sasha Bagration. This individual purported to be the head of Special Projects at a Russian bank named Alpha-Bank. On checking, it seemed his address and landline were genuine but his email address was email@example.com rather than one of the banks own.
Dr Bagration claimed to represent a group of Russian, Danish and Kazakh investors and that they were seeking help opening a high-end restaurant in London before the end of the year. He stated he been given my details by someone at a magazine I’d never heard of named Snob and proposed meeting the following day in the foyer of The Savoy at 7pm for drinks in The American Bar and then dinner. He stated that he would have to leave for the airport at 9.30pm and requested my CV.
Though something didn’t quite stack up with regard to his email address and thoughts of poison umbrellas on Waterloo Bridge came to mind, on checking the bank did indeed exist and the address he gave in Kazakhstan was genuine. The Snob magazine was also genuine and actually belongs to the second wealthiest man in Russia, Mikhail Prokhorov.
Bagration’s name did not appear on Google however, which I thought a little curious, but subsequently he emailed and informed me he’d be accompanied by one Oleg Sidorov, who describes himself on LinkedIn.com as being “Head of Retail Systems Support Department at Alfa-Bank.”
With some reservations I therefore left a cocktail party early on Friday evening at The Westbury Hotel and traipsed in the pouring rain, naturally there were no taxis, across London to The Savoy on the basis of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I did not, though, expect anything great to become of this meeting.
On arrival, somewhat drenched, I looked around the lobby. There was no sign of the two men there. Nor were they to be found in The American Bar. I asked the stewards if they were in the bar. They said “Please look around.” When I explained that I didn’t know what the good doctor looked like, they rightly looked most bemused. On checking if said individuals were staying at the hotel, the answer was a most definite no.
During the hour I waited I had a most pleasant time reading a newspaper and was able to observe how a once great institution, in its Emperor’s new clothes, has now become, rather like the “Chanel-clad” one, gaudy and Dubai-like. I spotted Stephen Fry in a rather bizarre purple suit and heard Americans complaining about there being “too much rain.” The Savoy may be still be well known and they may have spent tens of millions on renovations but frankly it’s definitely got an aura of something clapped out.
Eventually I gave up waiting and sent Dr Bagration an email stating that I’d tried calling his mobile (+7 727 292 00 21) but only got a message saying “this number is restricted” and had therefore left. I continued my evening elsewhere and had a thoroughly pleasant time.
In the middle of the night a badly written response came through saying “Very big apologies. Somebody was told to contact you. I am still keen for us to meet and I will again email. I will be back in London next week. By the way, as you will learn, I never stay in London hotels.”
What Bagration meant by this last remark, I do not know but frankly it sounded like something akin to the saga of Alexander Litvinenko. Who the “somebody” who was meant to contact me was not identified either… How very mysterious.
Out of politeness I replied and said I would still be willing to meet but wanted more information so that I could “fully understand the concept of the restaurant you are looking to open so that I can establish how I can help more clearly.” This plainly wasn’t the answer Dr Bagration was after as this morning I received a missive stating: “Our organization has been making enquiries into potential employees, including yourself and other two candidates for London restaurant consultancy. This is a normal security requirement. However I regret to say that reliable information has come to us about disagreeable public behavior [sic] involving yourself. Since we can only employ people of the best background, we will not be proceeding with your application.”
Surprise, surprise… This whole charade, it now transpires stems from none other, as I had already suspected, than those associated with a certain charitable former ambassador’s wife, a woman caught like a magpie for having paid herself and her assistant some 50% of the income of a children’s charity and considerably more in expenses. Plainly this woman, in her attempts to undo the damage exposed about her by the Daily Telegraph and Independent on Sunday, sees the easiest solution is to accuse others of "disagreeable public behaviour." How lame.
It’s also rather strange that all this crowd could invent was a meeting about a business involving a restaurant. Several years ago I had meetings with some rather prominent and respectable Indians about helping them open a restaurant in Central London. The former ambassador’s wife, when I mentioned this claimed to have influence at a well-known local corner shop where they were keen to install their brand, so I introduced her to them. Her influence, I later learnt, was simply that she “mystery shops” there - what a position for a woman who claims to keep the company of Cherie Blair, Laura Bush, The Duchess of York and Hilary Clinton. Strangely, as soon as she got involved the whole thing came to nothing. Funny how people run a mile when the Ralph Lauren loving one sticks her oar in.
When people are in holes, most stop digging. The beer swigging former ambassador and his “Chanel-clad” wife don’t follow such a rule. They don’t think rules are for them and they threaten people who question their activites with comments like “If you value your reputation, [you’ll apologise to us.]” I am not scared of such people, titled or not. I am not the one who has been caught in the pay of a charity that we all thought was run to find missing children instead of paying the salary of an already wealthy woman.
If these people wanted to cause me great inconvenience could they not have been creative enough to have sent me off on a wilder goose chase? They could have sent me to Peckham or Southall, for example, and they could have come up with a better scam. Then again, they’re plainly as bright as they are charitable.
Here’s one version of The Magpie rhyme for those who don’t know it:
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told,
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird that you won't want to miss,
Eleven for health,
Twelve for wealth,
Thirteen beware it's the devil himself.
A certain woman, also known for allowing the former leader of the Conservatives to sip champagne from her Chanel shoe, better repeat this mantra carefully seven times: “Mr Magpie, I defy thee.”
Like most scandals, these magpies aren’t flying anywhere quite yet.
For more information see:
1. Daily Telegraph, Mandrake, 11th May – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8505534/Ambassadors-wife-faces-questions-over-Bush-and-Blairs-charity.html
2. Daily Telegraph, Mandrake, 12th May - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/8507740/Cilla-Black-is-carrying-Paul-OGradys-baby.html
3. Daily Telegraph, 13th May (Letter from trustees of PACT) - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/8510271/If-we-must-have-a-referendum-on-Scottish-independence-lets-do-it-now.html
4. Independent on Sunday, IoS Diary, 15th May - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/matthew-bell-the-iiosi-diary-150511-2284205.html
5. Daily Telegraph letters (Letters from Jack Stonehouse, Matthew Steeples and James Squire), 16th May - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/8515040/Business-leaders-believe-high-speed-rail-will-help-northern-cities-to-grow.html
6. Daily Telegraph letters, 19th May 2011 (Letter from Linda Hughes) – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/8521827/Britain-gained-more-than-its-moneys-worth-from-the-Royal-Yacht-Britannia.html
7. Independent on Sunday letters, 22nd May 2011 (Letter from Michael Ezra) – http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/iiosi-letters-emails-amp-online-postings-22-may-2011-2287416.html
8. Daily Telegraph letters, 28th May 2011 (Letter from Michael Ezra) - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/8542580/Surgeons-want-a-fair-hearing-for-proposed-NHS-reforms-involving-GPs.html
9. Independent on Sunday, The IoS Diary, 29th May - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/matthew-bell-the-ios-diary-290511-2290330.html
10. Independent on Sunday, 29th May (“The giving sector is a mess – and that’s being charitable”) - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/columnists/janet-street-porter/editoratlarge-the-giving-sector-is-a-mess-ndash-and-thats-being-charitable-2290324.html
11. Hurry Up Harry blog, May 2011 - http://hurryupharry.org/2011/05/31/a-charity-a-lady-a-scandal/
12. Discussion page of Wikipedia entry for Catherine Meyer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Catherine_Meyer