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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Diary of a Tsar-in-Waiting
By Michael Romanov

The audience at last night’s private concert by ABBA, the Swedish fogey-pop band, was small. In fact, including myself and my wife, Bettina, there were just six of us. The guest of honor was a spring-heeled but unsmiling blonde with laser eyes who, if I caught him right, said his name was Waldemort Pluto. Apparently, he owns the large white office block down by the Moscow River, opposite the Ukraine Hotel, and is looking for tenants.

‘I’m your man,’ I said. ‘I need more office space as I am running for Tsar.’

He had the decency to look surprised. While the ABBAs sang their 1974 Eurovision-winning song, ‘Borodinoo’, I gave him my card and explained that I was leader of the Horizontal Party. Our policy is to reverse the policies of the Vertical Party. In particular, we intend to stop the erection of so many highrise buildings in Moscow. When my great-uncle Nicky was in charge, a century ago, the city had a low-rise look, and the inhabitants were late-risers. I think both trends are desirable. The longer we all stay horizontal, the better.

Gospodin Pluto looked unimpressed. He said his building was tall, and also that he likes to wake early and do an hour’s off-shirtny power-chesting in the upright position every morning. Without another word, he wandered off to mingle with my wife. I got the impression he did not consider me an ideal tenant. Perhaps it was because Bettina is taller than him.


Busy all morning getting the office ready for Barack O’Bama’s visit on the 6th. We’ve been hanging Irish flags all over the place, and ordering up kegs of Guinness. I am not sure what the protocol is, but it seems that he intends paying a quick call on President Medvedev before he checks in.

Barack and I are old mates from our Kenya days. My Uncle Vsevolod had a coffee estate in the Nguni highlands and I was often sent out from prep school during the winter holidays to stay with him. Young Barack and I used to run around barefoot together, chasing old pram wheels and stealing fruit from the avocado plantations.

Though we’ve both gone straight since then, we have kept in touch. So when he texted me recently to say he was hitting Moscow for a couple of days in July, and could he crash at my place because the embassy’s such a drag, I said, ‘Only a pleasure, Barack old boy!’


The news that 69-year-old Phil Spector has been sent to prison for the murder of Lena Clarkson hits Rublyovka like a bombshell.

I first met the legendary Wall of Sound producer when I was dating Ronnie Bennett who, despite her name, physique and muscular voice was actually female. As a teenager, my father used to send me to New York for the Christmas holidays, I think in the hope that I would learn the “facts of life” there without causing him the embarrassment of having to explain them to me.

Be that as it may, Bennett and her band, The Ronettes, were playing at the Peppermint Lounge on West 45th Street, where Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and even Greta Garbo were occasionally to be seen tapping a discrete toe. They were all too old for me, so I sent a bottle of champagne round to Ronnie’s dressing room. The result was that it was actually me who, because I was still under age, provided the inspiration for The Ronettes’ first hit: Be My Baby.

But back to Spector, who still had his own hair. He had a mad quality which was both attractive and frightening. Tinged with the hyper-active radicalism that has animated many of the world’s most creative people – Leon Trotsky, the Ukrainian military artist, is a local example – Spector approached life with gun in hand, so to speak. Trotsky did the same, though he used his weapon more often than the mad music producer ever did. Despite this, Spector will be 88 when first eligible for parole.

I doubt he will make it that far. You only have to look at the huge, absurd and very amusing wigs he wore in court to appreciate just what a culture-shock the California prison system will be to this sensitive man. The Marsha Hunt-style, Afro one he sported during the chauffeur’s testimony must have been almost two feet tall, as high as the bee-hive Ronnie was wearing when I first met her.

Fittingly, Trotsky suffered a more grisly fate than Spector, being killed when an agent of Stalin’s plunged an ice axe into the back of his head while he was at his desk in Mexico, writing. If only the founder of the Red Army had worn Afro wigs as huge, thick and impenetrable as Spector’s, the axe would have got lost in the tangle. I have always said that the problem with military artists is that they lack a sense of humor.


Likewise Moscow property owners. In Mistah Pluto’s case Bettina discovered on washing day that his laser-like stare had burnt tiny, pin-point holes in my dress shirt at nipple height. If I ever have to visit him in an official capacity, I think I’ll present him with a two foot-high Afro wig. That’d wipe the frown off his face. He’d look taller, too.

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