Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel, Baron and Baroness Black of Crossharbour, are among the most gloriously, cartoonishly villainous couples Canada has ever produced. This past week, he was stripped of his status as Officer of the Order of Canada—but of course, he hasn’t actually been a Canadian citizen since 2001, when he renounced his country of birth in favour of a life peerage in the House of Lords. He’s a newspaper tycoon (actually, tradition as well as a mild pun seem to dictate that I term him a “media baron”) who was convicted of white-collar crimes and served time in a Florida prison. As for Barbara Amiel, she’s a conservative, contrarian columnist who was probably the basis for Zenia in The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. (Zenia, if you haven’t read it, is preternaturally charming, seduces the husband or boyfriend of each of the other three main characters, and fakes her own death at least once.)
As a pair, they were named to Tatler’s list of couples you’d most want at a party. At one event, they dressed up as Cardinal Richelieu and Marie Antoinette for a costume party. They maintained two apartments in New York, in addition to houses in Toronto, Palm Beach, and London.
Each of them has publicly, prolifically discussed their luxurious lives and legal tribulations. Defensiveness, snobbishness, and obliviousness are hallmarks of their commentary. Can you tell the source of each of the following quotations: Conrad Black, Barbara Amiel, or a Disney villain?
- “Yes, I have had my share of complaints but on the whole I’ve been a saint!”
- “When everyone is finished dancing on my grave, they may be disconcerted to find I am not in it.”
- “I have an extravagance that knows no bounds.”
- “Jewellery is a defining attribute, rather like your intelligence or the number of residences you have.”
- “I live for furs. I worship furs! After all, is there a woman in all this wretched world who doesn’t?”
- “Hang the papers! It’ll be forgotten tomorrow!”
- “I’ve made some terrible mistakes, but not ethical mistakes—not ethical mistakes.”
- “And now, look at me – wasted away to practically nothing – banished, and exiled, and practically starving…”
- “It’s not my fault if in God’s plan he made the Devil so much stronger than a man.”
- “I’ve been persecuted half to death! I don’t have any shame, I am proud of what happened.”
- “Greed has been severely underestimated and denigrated – unfairly so, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with avarice as a motive, as long as it doesn’t lead to dishonest or anti-social conduct.”
- “You’ve heard of the golden rule, haven’t you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”
- “I’ve never been a popular man. And don’t think I don’t know what those back stabbers at court say about me.”
- “It is always best to have two planes, because however well one plans ahead, one always finds one is on the wrong continent.”
- “If you want to get on, you must learn to frighten men.”
- “Conventional wisdom holds that this beautiful moment can’t be preserved forever. But fortunately in this case, the conventional wisdom is mistaken.”
Disney villains: 1 (Ursula), 5 (Cruella de Vil), 6 (Cruella de Vil), 8 (Ursula), 9 (Frollo), 12 (Jafar), 13 (Governor Ratcliffe)
Barbara Amiel: 3, 4, 14, 15
Conrad Black: 2, 7, 10, 11, 16
(Sources for Black and Amiel quotations supplied upon request to the curious and horrified.)
Kirsten is a student in Montreal from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.