The Princess and the President, Cohen’s collapse, and Senator McMahon?

Newsmakers of the week

Bill Vander ZalmThe Zalm returns
Neither age nor scandal has slowed the ebullient former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm. The Zalm, looking a decade younger than his 75 years, has emerged from obscurity as a potent political force in the fight against B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell’s decision to implement a harmonized sales tax, or HST. Combining provincial and federal sales taxes is good for business, but it adds to the cost of everything from restaurant meals to new homes, which were exempt from provincial tax. Vander Zalm, who resigned in 1991 after mixing public and private business in the sale of his Fantasy Gardens theme park, pounced on the HST issue well before NDP Opposition Leader Carole James. He upstaged her again last Saturday as they both spoke at an anti-HST rally in Vancouver. He called it a “cruel tax” that piles extra costs on consumers, “particularly those who are packing the lunch bucket.” With his typical “Faaantasstic” grasp of facts, he estimated the crowd at 4,000 to 5,000 people. More dispassionate estimates put the number at 1,000 to 2,000, still enough to worry Campbell’s Liberals.

Bush league
It was tails and tales aplenty last week for new Dallas resident and former president George W. Bush. On Sunday, accompanied by his wife, Laura, Bush gave the coin toss (tails) for the Dallas Cowboys at the home opener in the team’s new $1.2-billion stadium. Its problematic giant video scoreboard, barely 27 m above the playing surface, has already inspired a new NFL rule: a replay of the down if punted balls hit the board. If presidents had do-overs, would Bush still have hired Matt Latimer as a speech writer? Latimer’s new book, Speech-Less: Tales of a White House Survivor, dishes on Bush’s catty assessment of Washington power players. Of Joe Biden, now vice-president: “If bulls–t was currency, Joe Biden would be a billionaire.” On then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s run for the vice-presidency: “This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for.” Of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama: “This is a dangerous world, that cat isn’t remotely qualified to handle it.” Of his own abilities, lest there be any doubt: “I was qualified.”

Valéry Giscard d’EstaingFrench kiss (and tell)
The French have long had a don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude toward the bedroom antics of their ruling political class, a position abetted by the country’s strict privacy laws. So imagine the stir now that former pres­ident Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has written a novel of a French pres­ident’s affair with a character based on a thinly disguised Princess Diana. The Princess and the President, to be published in French on Oct. 1, tells the “fictional” tale of a president and “Princess Patricia of Cardiff,” thrown together at a G7 economic summit—not a known aphrodisiac. She is devastated by her husband’s adultery with a woman suspiciously like Prince Charles’s squeeze, Camilla Parker Bowles. Giscard’s presidency ended in 1981, the year of her marriage to Charles, but the two met many times both before and after her divorce. “I kissed her hand and she gave me a questioning look, her slate-grey eyes widening as she tilted her head gently forward,” he writes. Whether this is fact, or an 83-year-old’s Viagra-fuelled fantasy, is unclear. A gentleman never tells, but this one certainly hints.

Peggielene BartelsQueen of the typing pool, king of Otuam
There’s a movie in this: Peggielene Bartels, 55, a secretary at the Ghanaian embassy in Washington, is awakened by an overseas phone call. She is informed of the death of her uncle, the 90-year-old king of Otuam, a Ghanaian town of 7,000. Far more shocking, she is told she is the new king. “Oh, please, don’t play games with me,” she replied. But it was no joke, though the selection process is more creative than that of a typical monarchy. It involved the elders praying, and pouring schnapps on the ground while awaiting a telltale puff of steam as the names of 25 potential leaders were recited. Bartels went from driving a 1992 Honda to arriving at her coronation to find a driver, a chef and an eight-bedroom palace, the Washington Post reports. For now, she’s a part-time king, prudently keeping her D.C. secretarial job until retirement. She’s served notice to the all-male elders, though, that this king is not for crossing. “If you step on my toes,” she warned, “I will hit you where it hurts.”

Jennifer LopezStill kicking
Beckham Inc., that profitable pairing of soccer star David and his fashionista wife, Victoria (the former Posh Spice), is having a particularly productive summer. Though many think David’s best playing days are behind him, he put the boots to Toronto FC in soccer action last Saturday, contributing both a goal and an assist in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 2-0 win. And Posh? The ex-Spice Girl has reinvented herself as a fashion designer. Last week in New York, she unveiled her third season to near universal approval from a press that has not always been kind to the Thin One. “So accomplished was the cut; so deftly chosen was the fabric and so masterful the execution that it was hard to believe this was the work of a novice,” went a typical gush from London’s Evening Standard. In fact, the curvaceous Jennifer Lopez poured herself into a Beckham last week for a meeting with the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The fashion press declared her “stunning.” As for the substance of the meeting, who knows?

She Wolfe
Some facts aren’t in dispute. Ashley Wolfe, 24, of Vancouver is five foot three and 123 lb. Last December, Ashley—now known as “Glambo” to the British press—wore a “striking” floor-length red satin gown while she and husband William—both self-defence instructors—attended a boisterous barracks party in London for sergeants and officers of Britain’s Coldstream Guards, who will soon deploy to Afghanistan. There was a fight and Ashley knocked down at least one soldier and knocked out Sgt. Michael Fallows with a single left hook. Beyond that there are conflicting accounts. A London court, which found her guilty in absentia of common assault, accepted the army’s version: the male soldiers were dancing together pretending to be gay and Wolfe took offence—and in the words of the Sun newspaper, “went on a rampage, knocking over burly soldiers from the elite regiment like skittles.” The Wolfes say the drunken soldiers tried to drag Ashley into the grinding male mass on the dance floor and she resisted, forcefully. William said he and his wife were in Hungary, and couldn’t defend themselves at trial because she had the flu and wasn’t allowed to fly. As for his wife’s punch, he says: “It was beautiful. Down he went, unconscious.”

Leonard CohenLadies’ man returns
Canadian poet, singer and septuagenarian heart-throb Leonard Cohen was midway through Bird on the Wire in Valencia, Spain, last Friday when he toppled over on stage “like a drunk in a midnight choir,” to quote his song’s lyrics. Fortunately, it was neither demon rum or a faulty ticker that cause his collapse. Food poisoning is blamed for his faint, and, just days later, the 75-year-old was set to resume his tour. Later this week he courts controversy with a concert in Tel Aviv, which is opposed by Palestinian rights groups.

Raynald BouthillierLife is a highway
Raynald Bouthillier’s transport truck is, quite literally, a moving tribute to his late son Jack, and to all fellow soldiers killed in the Afghan war. Trooper Jack Bouthillier of the Royal Canadian Dragoons spent just three weeks in the country on his first tour of duty before he was killed by a roadside bomb on March 20. The blast also killed Trooper Corey Hayes and injured three others. Raynald, a trucker from Hearst, Ont., has decorated his transport with photos celebrating the life of his fun-loving soldier son. He said he and his wife were initially opposed to Jack joining the army but supported him wholeheartedly when it was clear he would not change his mind. “By doing this we are honouring his memory, we are honouring the choice he made.” On the back of the truck’s cab he has listed the names of the Canadians who have died in the Afghan mission: 131 so far. He has left room for more. “Every one of them, until the war in Afghanistan is done,” he says.

Linda McMahonSenate smackdown
Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, is resigning to enter a forum where dirty tricks, false outrage and unseemly acts of revenge are a daily occurrence. She’s taking a run for the U.S. Senate. The 60-year-old Republican means to crush, stomp and otherwise defeat incumbent Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. McMahon declared that Washington is “out of control.” Critics suggest when it comes to mayhem she is indeed expert. First, she must overcome perceptions about her sport. For instance, a Los Angeles radio host has already suggested a campaign sticker: “If you’re dumb enough to watch wrestling, you might be dumb enough to vote tor me.”

Theo FleuryThee-o, Thee-o!
He’s too old, too short, and he’s got more history than the Roman Empire. Yet Theo Fleury is making life tough for the Calgary Flames coaching staff. Six years after retiring, he’s mounting an unlikely comeback attempt, after resolving his addiction issues and establishing a career in the Calgary development industry. The legs are slower but the mouth works fine, and he still has the hands of a goal scorer. Added to that, the hometown fans love him to bits. The odds of making it past the exhibition season and onto the roster are near insurmountable, but Fleury won’t be an easy cut. “You could be away 20 years and it still comes back to you,” he says. “Like riding a bike.”