I sincerely hope that Conrad Black's application for a pardon goes to the top of the pile.
I'm delighted that Conrad Black, my former employer at The Daily Telegraph, and a man whose company I always enjoyed when he owned Britain's second largest media empire (and the third largest in the world at its peak), has written our Diary.
He is serving a 6½-year sentence in Florida for defrauding millions from his former media empire, and has now asked President Bush for a presidential pardon before he packs his bags and leaves the White House. I sincerely hope that Black's application goes to the top of the pile and that Bush does at least one decent thing before he leaves office and bails out his old friend.
My view is that Black was certainly guilty of some corporate extravagence and some highly dubious expense claiming – from jet trips to the famous $66,000 60th birthday party for his wife Barbara Amiel.
But such excesses are – frankly – par for the course for tycoons who have built up their own empires and I am not at all convinced that what Conrad did was any worse than the sort of expense abuse that is endemic in large corporations which are largely owned by colouful, larger-than-life individuals whose spending, entertaining and general largesse is all part of their success; and the comany's success.
Black used to invite me – in fact my whole family – to his enjoyable and crowded parties at his former house in Cottesmore Gardens in Kensington and I would be the first to invite him around for dinner the moment he gets out – which I hope he does soon.
I have been greatly impressed by the loyalty of his friends such as Andrew Roberts, the historian, who has been emailing Conrad on a regular basis and was one of the last to visit him at his home in Florida before being locked up. I have no idea if Andrew is acting as any sort of 'go between' in negotiations between Conrad and the White House in trying to get the pardon rubber stamped by Bush but it surely can't hurt that Roberts is practically the only historian that Bush enjoys reading.
Roberts recently had a private audience at the White House with George W after which he emerged wearing a very smart pair of special White House cufflinks that he was wearing around town on American election night as he hopped from the American embassy party to the CNN party to Annabel's. Were Conrad to be released, I am sure Roberts would waste no time before orchestrating a large 'welcome back' party for Conrad with thick, gilted stiffie invites that Roberts (and his charming new wife Susan) is famous for.
It was after I bumped into Roberts in Annabel's on election night that I first had the idea of approaching Conrad by email to see if he would write our Diary. Conrad filed on time from his cell (he says he has unlimited email access) and his copy was word perfect: not a word needed changing or polishing. If and when he gets out, I very much hope he will be continuing to comtribute to Spear's. I will certainly be offering him a column.