This week: Newsmakers

Danny Williams’s big snit, the Barefoot Contessa gets raked over the coals, and can one million Leafs owners be wrong?
Nancy Macdonald and Maclean's staff

The heartless contessa?
Celebrity chef Ina Garten, of Barefoot Contessa fame, was shamed into fulfilling a six-year-old cancer patient’s dying wish of cooking a meal with her. “Last year, Ina gave a ‘soft no,’ supposedly because she had a 10-month book tour,” Enzo Pereda‘s mother explained in a blog post. Her son, who was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, loves watching Garten while resting in bed; he told Garten’s people he would wait. Even after being turned down a second time, last week, she wrote, “he STILL loves the Contessa.” Garten, who was criticized by bloggers and news sites, said she “became aware of Enzo’s story this weekend,” and will be calling him immediately to invite him to the set.

It’s my party, I’ll cry if I want to
Danny Williams‘s big snit continues. After abruptly cancelling a tribute in his honour—an event organized by his own brother, lawyer and veteran Tory fundraiser Tommy Williams—the ex-premier accused his replacement Kathy Dunderdale and her ministers of distancing themselves from him. “They don’t even want me to have the cell numbers of cabinet ministers—I mean, I can’t explain that,” Williams told the CBC. Newfoundlanders who want to relive the memory of his happier days can pick up a copy of Danny Williams: A Profile, a newly released collection of photos from his time in office.

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

A different kind of lone gunman
A five-foot-seven-inch Gurkha soldier from the British county of Kent who single-handedly repelled a Taliban attack has been awarded Britain’s Conspicuous Gallantry Cross—its second-highest honour—for outstanding bravery. Acting Sgt. Dipprasad Pun, 31, spent more than 400 rounds of ammo and 19 grenades in his lone-wolf battle against 30 Taliban fighters at a remote checkpoint in Helmand province. At one point, when his gun would no longer fire, he wielded it like a bat and knocked a Taliban fighter off the rooftop, shouting “Marchu talai“—”I will kill you,” in Nepali.

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/GETTY IMAGES

Bachmann in overdrive
With Sarah Palin’s star apparently on the wane, get set to hear a lot more about Michelle Bachmann. The Tea Partier from Minnesota told ABC News she’s “in for 2012″—not an official declaration, but enough to whip the chattering classes into a tizzy. The darling of the far right garners a lot of attention, not all good: she’s famous for delivering a state of the union rebuttal while staring goofily into the wrong camera, declaring “not all cultures are equal,” and calling for her colleagues to be investigated to see if they are “pro-America” enough. Expect more hyperbole in months ahead as she zeroes in on Barack Obama, whom she calls the “worst president ever.”

Unlucky star
Madonna’s plan­ned $15-million Raising Malawi Academy for Girls has been scrapped amid charges of eye-popping embezzlement by its now-ousted board of directors. A damning audit showed lavish spending on offices, cars and golf memberships, but not the school, funded by Madonna and fellow Kabbalians like Gwyneth Paltrow—there isn’t even a valid land title. For Madonna the fiasco goes on: staffers are suing the pop star for wrongful dismissal and lost wages.

Where is Iman?
As though Iman al-Obeidi‘s account of a gang rape by 15 of Moammar Gadhafi‘s men after her arrest at a Tripoli checkpoint wasn’t chilling enough, she now faces criminal charges for speaking out. “The boys accused of doing this are furious,” said Libyan spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, in a nightmarish twist to the story. “They have filed a case to defend their family name.” Obeidi has been missing since being dragged off by security forces after trying to tell foreign reporters of her two-day ordeal. So far, Libya has levelled a litany of excuses, variously claiming she was drunk, “mentally ill” and a prostitute; according to her family, she’s a lawyer. They told al-Jazeera they were offered money and a house in return for her recanting her story.

So when your team lets you down, it’s really YOUR team
You, too, could own the Leafs—if you buy into the ownership bid launched by Albertan Darren Thompson. The Leduc businessman hopes to get a $1,000 investment from over one million Canadians—enough to make up the $1.3-billion the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is asking for its share of the Toronto franchise. He’s created the website Own The Leafs and a Facebook page and has lawyers figuring out how to create a company modelled after the Green Bay Packers, the only community-owned franchise in North American pro sports, he told the Leduc Representative. “When I talk to sports fans, it’s always one of the dreams that comes up. Haven’t you always wanted to say you own part of an NHL team?”


Homer Simpson’s bad week—doh!
Cracked cooling towers, three-eyed fish and fluorescent nuclear rats are a Simpsons mainstay—but, for the foreseeable future, European fans won’t be catching Homer’s bumbling approach to job-site safety at the local reactor. German, Austrian and Swiss broadcasters are reviewing episodes, and weeding out gags about nuclear disasters in light of Japan’s ongoing crisis.

Bullish for Bashar
In other tyrant news, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—reportedly heading up a campaign of violent repression of his own—received a warm phone call from an old pal: Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz; the 87-year-old reportedly called to extend his backing “in the face of conspiracy.” Autocrats from around the region have been calling in their support, including King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain and the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar.

World’s tiniest graffiti artists
In a case of nanny-state madness, Australian authorities have labelled pre-schoolers’ sidewalk drawings “graffiti,” and ordered a family-friendly café in suburban Melbourne to stop letting kids draw with chalk on a stoop out front. Sally White, who owns the café, says she is happy to wash away the doodles every afternoon. But city council is standing firm: the chalk-wielding toddlers, who usually drew fish, rainbows and pirates, must be stopped. The café has launched a petition supported by Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. He told an audience in Australia, where he is on tour, he’d like to teach the kids to write two words: “Authority,” preceded by an easier one, starting with the letter F.

Greg Locke/Reuters

I know that this hurts you more than it hurts me
Canadian author Nino Ricci made a splash last week with an open letter to Globe and Mail editor John Stackhouse and publisher Phillip Crawley expressing heartfelt concern for the paper’s financial straits—which he asumed must be dire, since in the five months since he wrote a travel article for them, he had not been paid, despite numerous pleas. But writers are used to living hand-to-mouth, Ricci noted in his biting, Swiftian missive. “My concern here is… for your venerable newspaper, and, more particularly, for your own situations, given that people on fixed incomes like yourselves often have much less leeway in organizing their finances than those of us who are self-employed.” Writers from Katherine Govier to Paul Vermeersch waded in. Magically, the paper found the cash to settle up by week’s end.

Maybe they’ll give him amad handicap
Prince Harry, fresh from his brother William‘s top-secret stag, flew to Norway Tuesday for five days of trekking, part of a Walking With The Wounded charity trip to the North Pole. The 26-year-old said he was up for the task—though perhaps not as much as his teammates, who include two amputees wounded on duty. “Today, to their huge amusement, they’re going to see me on a pair of, whatever they’re called, skis,” he told reporters in Longyearbyen. The charity, of which he’s a patron, hopes to raise $3.2 million to help injured military personnel from the trek.


Bad move, Einsteins
With its coded text messages, secret symbols and Siberian setting, the scandal rocking the chess world reads like a spy thriller. But the evidence that unravelled the cheating scheme—and netted five-year suspensions for 20-year-old French grandmaster Sebastien Feller and teammate Cyril Marzolo, and a lifetime ban for Arnaud Hauchard, 39, the captain—was a simple text. “Hurry up and send me some moves,” it read. Marzolo, it seems, was following the match from home via the Net, using software to select the best move and sending instructions using an elaborate code of fake phone numbers that were relayed by the captain. The trio deny all claims and will appeal.

The baby from the well
Last week, “Baby Jessica,” the 18-month-old Texan whose 2½-day ordeal trapped in a well in 1987 transfixed America—and launched CNN—turned 25. The milestone allows her to access an $800,000 trust fund—money donated by strangers who’d been glued to coverage of her rescue. Jessica McClue Morales, now a doting stay-at-home mom of two, has no memory of those 53 hours, though she takes pride in a scar running from her hairline to her nose, a visible symbol, she says, of what she survived.

Wrong kind of extracurricular
School secretary by day, porn star by night: sounds like the makings of many a young man’s fantasy. But a Quebec City-area teen turned against the clerical worker in his high school after she declined to give him an autograph and asked him to keep quiet about her moonlight job. He created a Facebook page outing Samantha Ardente, as she’s known in such films as Serial Abusers 2. The woman has been suspended; her bosses said her X-rated after-work activities did not align with their values.