x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A late London oligarch to lament - and on a knife-edge in Dubai

Frank Kane relives his meetings with the late Boris Berezovsky in London and being pulled out of the crowd at a public performance.

A I had the experience of meeting the late Boris Berezovsky several times in London in the early 2000s, soon after he fled Vladimir Putin's Russia for asylum in the United Kingdom.

We shared the same "staff canteen" - the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gavroche in Mayfair - and I was introduced to him by Lord Bell, the PR supremo who became a close friend of the Russian exile.

Le Gavroche was a favourite among the wealthy Russian crowd, whether those who had been driven out of Russia, those who had been sent after them by the Kremlin, or those who were simply having a holiday in the UK.

I was there one day with a lunch companion who had to leave early, and Lord Bell called me over to join Berezovsky's table. This was in the early days of his exile, when he still had plenty of money and knew how to enjoy it, and we shared a bottle of something incredibly expensive.

He spent most of the time telling me about his case, and pointing out to me the other Russians in the restaurant and which side of the Kremlin - in or out - they inhabited.

One of them, it turned out, was later involved in a high-profile murder case in London. I thought then that Berezovsky had a haunted look about him, somebody who was marked by destiny to suffer some horrible fate.

We met several times after in the same place, but he always had that extraordinarily saturnine spirit.

Nonetheless, there was something deeply tragic in the manner of his passing a couple of weeks ago: bankrupt, depressed and suicidal at the age of 67. Lord Bell said some nice things about him on his death, and I, from a rather more limited acquaintance with him, would concur.

 

 

I always feel sorry for those poor mugs who get pulled out of the crowd at a public performance to "assist" the juggler, trick-cyclist, death-defying fire-eater or whatever else they have at these events.

You're on a hiding to nothing. Either you perform the (fairly) simple tasks the artist requests, in which case you walk off to an indifferent smattering of applause; or you mess up badly, in which case you get howls of derision and ridicule from a crowd of seven-year-old sadists.

But just a few days ago, that poor mug was me. Yes, on the terrace at Marina Mall, Dubai, just as I was digesting my Yo Shushi with my four-year-old Amira and wondering what further delights the contortionist Alakazam could offer, I found myself asking "who, me?" as he pointed me out in the crowd.

We'd already seen him squeeze his whole body through a squash racket, and twist himself into shapes you would not believe the human form could accomplish.

Now he was going to balance on top of a slender pole while juggling with balls, knives and other instruments of death handed to him by … me.

Alakazam - an Aussie, despite the name - obviously realised I was not quite tall enough to easily hand him the implements, and invited me to stand on a suitcase.

This just made the set-up all the more precarious. The knives looked very sharp indeed when stretching on tip-toe on the edge of a suitcase with the blade pointed eyewards.

Anyway, I got through it without serious injury, to be greeted by embarrassingly rapturous applause from my girl as I walked back to the crowd. I must admit I blushed.

 

fkane@thenational.ae