Too self-important for their own good.jpg

Too self-important for their own good

by Mike Johnson [email protected]

Mike Johnson is a freelance journalist who worked in the Algarve for more than 20 years. He now lives in Plymouth in the UK and comments on world topics which fascinate him.

It hasn’t always been like this. We’ve had celebrities in all fields over the years and they’ve mostly been modest about their achievements.

There has, however, been a recent change to a situation where these so-called celebrities regard themselves as ‘different’ from the rest of us.

As top golfer Tiger Woods famously put it after confessing to being involved in extra-marital affairs, “I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply.”

Some even believe they are above the law.

Super-model Naomi Campbell had to be subpoenaed before she would agree to appear as a witness in the current war-crimes trial in The Hague of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor.

He is accused of conspiring to smuggle diamonds out of Sierra Leone to fund the deadly trade in weapons for the bloody civil war there. It was alleged that Ms Campbell had received a number of ‘blood diamonds’, as they became known, after attending a dinner in South Africa in 1997.

Both she and Taylor were there as guests of a Nelson Mandela children’s charity.

At first, Ms Campbell refused to attend the trial because she said she was too busy and also didn’t want to get involved. When forced to appear, she admitted being given the diamonds, and guessed that they may have been from Charles Taylor.

She said she immediately handed them over to an official of the charity. The truth of her testimony was later challenged in evidence from her former aide, Carole White, and Hollywood actress Mia Farrow.

Both said she boasted to them the following day that she knew Mr Taylor had given her the diamonds as a gift. As a result of their statements, South African police say Ms Campbell could now face charges for being in possession of uncut “blood diamonds”. This charge could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.   

The court proceedings were televised in full on UK television and it made riveting viewing. Because of her ‘status’, she was able to obtain a court ruling forbidding the taking of photographs outside the courtroom.

It’s hard to believe that a non-celebrity would have received such a courtesy.

Another player in this courtroom drama was Mr Taylor’s defence lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths. Displaying a mixture of charm and aggression, he took my mind back to another high-profile criminal trial 15 years earlier.

Johnny Cochran was the leading defence lawyer for O J Simpson, the former US football star who was accused of the double murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The trial, in 1995, attracted world-wide attention and was televised for its entire duration – 133 days. I was working with Albufeira-based Solar Radio at the time and we carried daily reports of the trial on our English-language news.

Despite the strength of the prosecution case – I believe poorly presented by its attorney, Marcia Clark – and public opinion, which was mainly anti-Simpson, it was the superb courtroom skills of Johnny Cochran which won the day for Simpson.

Throughout the trial, Simpson had appeared confident, even arrogant. Almost as if he believed his celebrity status would put the jury on his side.

No doubt it is his own supreme self-confidence which convinces the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, he will never have to appear in the dock at The Hague, accused of conducting an illegal war against Iraq.

It is such a scenario which was envisaged in the 2007 TV film, The Trial of Tony Blair. A large section of public opinion supports such action and, as the film was set in 2010, there is, perhaps, still time for fiction to turn into reality.

Since Blair resigned as Prime Minister in 2007, he is believed to have amassed a fortune of more than 20 million Pounds Sterling from his various business activities.

He is an adviser to two major financial institutions – JP Morgan and the Swiss insurance giant Zurich Financial Services, and Tony Blair Associates advises business interests in the Middle East.

His memoirs, entitled A Journey, are to be published later in 2010 and he has already received an advance on royalties from the publisher of an estimated 4.5 million Pounds.

To the surprise of many, but not of the cynics among us, he has announced that he is donating all proceeds from the sale of the book to the Royal British Legion.

This is a UK charity providing help and welfare to present and past service personnel and their families. Blair’s donation will specifically go towards the creation of a centre which will provide state-of-the-art rehabilitation services for seriously injured service personnel.

As it was his decision, as Prime Minister, to wage the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place, there will be many who will regard it as ‘blood money’.

A spokesman for the British Legion said he appreciated that fact, but “we could not look a gift horse in the mouth” and there were no strings attached to the gift, such as naming a building at the centre after the former Prime Minister, nor will he be asked to officially open it.

Meanwhile, his successor, Gordon Brown – a more modest man – has quietly retired to his Scottish Highlands home to continue his parliamentary duties – out of the limelight.