As steadfast allies of Black through his many travails, Team Crossharbour makes a rare club with newfound bragging rights
When it was announced by the White House that Conrad Black would be pardoned by U.S. President Donald Trump, who once welcomed the former press baron as a guest at his wedding to Melania, it was the other bold-faced names on the press release that most stood out. Of course, name dropping goes with the territory for Palm Beach regulars like Trump and (for a time) Lord Black. But these “high-profile individuals” who, the president said, “vigorously vouched for his exceptional character,” included a former secretary of state, an icon of thoughtful American conservatism, and arguably the greatest living pop star. As steadfast allies of Black through his many travails, they make a rare club with newfound bragging rights. The National Post’s Joseph Brean runs through the roster of Team Crossharbour, including some of its lesser Canadian members.
Sir Elton John
Long before Black and Elton John were together in Westminster Abbey for the 1997 funeral of Princess Diana, in whose honour John famously repurposed his song Candle In the Wind, they shared a connection in Toronto. Black once owned a large stake in Standard Broadcasting, which owned Eastern Sound, a famous studio in Yorkville where in 1976 John recorded Blue Moves, not his greatest album, but memorable for the hit Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. Over the following years, they became close, in large part because both were flamboyant fixtures on the upper class party scene in London, where John was a musical superstar and Black owned the biggest newspaper.
As Black’s Hollinger empire collapsed in scandal, it emerged that in 2001 his wife, the journalist Barbara Amiel, was stopped from donating $7,200 to the Elton John AIDS Foundation for a White Tie & Tiara Ball because the company’s charitable budget was already spent. That meant the donation would have to come from Black’s private account. But Amiel wrote to Black’s assistant: “I showed this message to Lord B and he said ‘Hruumph. Tell Rosemary (the assistant) I’m arbitrarily upping my private charity fund.’” The donation eventually came from the Daily Telegraph Charitable Fund.
That generosity did not go unrewarded. At Black’s 2007 trial in Chicago, which Amiel briefly left to attend the Los Angeles birthday party of John’s partner David Furnish, John and Furnish sent a letter to the judge, referring to Black’s charity, and calling him “deeply loyal” and “the sort of person who sticks with you through thick and thin.”
More recently, John has been a guest at Black’s Bridle Path mansion in Toronto, and Black has been to dinner at John and Furnish’s home in Windsor, outside London, along with the Brexit booster Nigel Farage.
William F. Buckley (deceased)
It really is saying something when Black says someone else has “one of the largest vocabularies of any English speaking person in public life.” But that was Bill Buckley, the patrician Yankee confidant of Republican presidents, editor of National Review, and a man who died a week before Black went to prison in 2008. Why he would be cited as vouching for Black’s character more than a decade later is anyone’s guess. Soon before he died, Buckley wrote an article in National Review about Black’s lawyer’s request for a letter of support. “It seemed to this friend, as to quite a few others, that he probably was guilty on at least some of the charges,” Buckley wrote. But fraud and obstructing justice was not quite the same as shooting John F. Kennedy, he noted, and besides, all their mutual friends agreed that Black “has nobly enhanced the human cause.”
The former secretary of state under Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, who is variously lauded as a Nobel Peace laureate and scorned as a war criminal, has a felicity with playing both sides. Black said so himself, after Kissinger testified as a member of the Hollinger board who had approved improper payments to Black. In a 2007 column, Black said he had expected his friend to “privately declare solidarity with both sides and separate himself, so that neither side would confuse him with the other side, until it became clear which side had won.”
The right-wing radio host is not often spoken of in the same breath as the Canadian Nobel Prize winning scientist John Polanyi, but both were among the high profile names who wrote letters in support of Black during his trial. Black sometimes praised Limbaugh in his writing, once referring to his “splendid rhetorical prodigality.” Another ally during the trial was the writer Mark Steyn, who guest hosts Limbaugh’s radio show.
Chosen by Black as the first editor of the National Post, Kenneth Whyte later edited Maclean’s magazine, and has lately moved into book publishing with Sutherland Books. One of its first big titles is Black’s latest offering, The Canadian Manifesto: How One Frozen Country Can Save The World.
The journalist and former editor of Saturday Night magazine, and now executive chair of the National NewsMedia Council, was a high school contemporary of Black. He was also a driving force in the Toronto society circles that retained an admiration for Black as a newspaperman, historian, and literary wit, even as he added criminal to that list. As Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, Fraser hosted a dinner in honour of Black’s release from prison, attended by big names like Margaret Atwood, former Ontario Lieutenant Governor Hal Jackman, former Prime Minister John Turner, Indigo founder Heather Reisman and her financier husband Gerry Schwartz. One of the parlour games was to present Black with news events, both real and imagined, that supposedly happened while he was away, so that he could guess which were real. He got them all right.