Article from March 2005

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Article from March 2005

Postby John R » Wed Nov 23, 2005 4:52 pm ... stid=82427

If you go to this link and type in Wilbur Smith in the search engine, it will bring up about 4 articles on him all with the same title but slightly different. not sure why! Here is one of them anyway:-

Wilbur the womanizer
(Filed: 30/03/2005)

After losing his wife to cancer, Wilbur Smith admits to David Thomas that he 'popped in and out of bed with ladies' and enjoyed a liaison with a blackmailing prostitute. Now 72 - and marriedto an Oriental woman half his age - has the best-selling novelist put his wild ways behind him?

Africa has its own rhythms, as eternal and immutable as time itself. The Nile rises and falls beside the pyramids. The wildebeest migrate across the vast savanna. And Wilbur Smith publishes another novel.

This week sees the arrival of his 30th blockbuster, Triumph of the Sun. Set during the siege of Khartoum in 1884, the story conforms to the patented Smith formula that has shifted more than 70 million books. Virile hunks swash, buckle and bonk. Delicate English roses are enslaved in Arab harems. And any mighty bull elephant that wanders onto the page is hunted and killed before the chapter is out.

It's wildly entertaining, compulsively readable and about as politically correct as the Black and White Minstrels. But then, Wilbur Smith, who is 72, doesn't do correctness. Blair, Brown, Bono and Geldof may mouth their fashionable pieties about forgiving African debt, but not Smith. He can be trusted with the millions he has earned from his writing.

Others, he suggests, are not quite so reliable. "I think you are putting temptation in people's way by just giving money to them," he says, bluntly, when we meet at his publisher's London office.

"What are they going to do? They'll rack up another set of debts. And then in 25 years' time we'll say, 'Have that, too.' They'll think, 'Oh boy, we're on a good wicket here! We'll never have to pay anything back. When is our next gift coming?' This isn't about black or white. It's human nature."

Smith was born in Zambia, or Northern Rhodesia as it was then. He grew up on a cattle farm, shot his first lion at the age of just 13 and wrote his first published novel while working as an accountant for the Rhodesian Inland Revenue (his father having banned him from his preferred career as a journalist).

He speaks with a Rhodesian accent, a lighter, less guttural version of the more familiar South African voice. And he believes he appreciates the realities of African life, unlike many of the continent's self-appointed saviours.

"I don't think they understand the African mind," Smith says. "It's different. I'm not saying it's worse, but it's totally different. The whole structure of African government, as far back as we know, was based on tyranny. One guy ran the show. Chiefs like Chaka and Mzilikazi committed terrible atrocities. That is the tradition from which modern African rulers spring. It won't change easily overnight.

"The idea of the creation of wealth comes hard to them. The dictators have kept the wealth and put it in Switzerland. They don't accept the idea of using it to generate the wealth of the country. They either spend it, or steal it." Smith pauses for a second, then laughs in mock horror:

"God, that's going to sound terrible!" Smith hopes that South Africa may be an exception to the rule, if only because its new rulers have a personal stake in its prosperity. "The mistake the apartheid government made was they gave the black people nothing, so they had nothing to lose. But now a lot of the former freedom-fighters are big-time capitalists. They've been given directorships in every major company. They're billionaires!" he exclaims, with a hoot of amusement.

"You'd be surprised how many BMWs and Mercedes you see driving round the suburbs. Of course, half of them have been hijacked, but that's by the bye ."

Smith gives another hearty chuckle. He knows his opinions are guaranteed to shock the ideologically sensitive. Yet many of the black characters in Smith's novels are crafted with far more subtlety, complexity and even sympathy than the whites against whom they struggle.

He certainly has none of the anger or fear that bubbles below the surface of a genuine bigot. On the contrary, the overriding impression one gets from Wilbur Smith is of a man who cannot believe his luck.

He has just flown in from his house in Switzerland (he has two more, in Cape Town and the Seychelles). I first interviewed Smith about 10 years ago. Back then, he was strictly a flannels-and-blazer man. Today his thinning grey hair has been cropped almost to the scalp. His glasses are rimless. His black jeans are Dolce & Gabbana .

"Testoni shoes, too!" Smith says, pointing to his Italian trainers. "It's having a young wife that does it to you."

Four years ago, having lost his third wife, Danielle, to cancer, Smith married Mokhiniso Rakhimova , a student almost 40 years his junior, from the Central Asian republic of Tajikistan . They met while both were browsing in the Sloane Square branch of W.H. Smith. Niso, as he calls her, is a Muslim. So Smith followed a civil wedding with a religious ceremony at Regent's Park Mosque .

"I didn't understand a word," he admits. "But I repeated what the mullah said and it was all good. Niso's family, particularly her mum, are glad to know that I'm not an infidel. Well, I still am an infidel, but not such a bad infidel as I was previously."

For a man as rich as Smith, a failed marriage can prove a very costly mistake. "I took a flyer," he agrees. "But I have not regretted it for a moment. My gamble has paid off handsomely."

So what made him take the plunge? "I just had a gut-feeling. We spent some time together and I just liked the way she ... " Smith sighs, knowing he's entering dangerous territory again. "Look, an Oriental woman has a different attitude to Occidentals. She's been taught from childhood that men come first. I still have to walk through doors ahead of Niso. She won't go ahead of me.

"The other day, some of the people from my publishing company came for lunch. They were all waiting for Niso. I said, 'Eat, guys. She's not coming. She's serving!' She just looks after me so well and has an innate respect for the relationship. She watches my health. She takes me to the gym. She makes sure I sleep well at night."

OK, we'd better add rampant sexism, as well as racism, to Smith's charge sheet. Yet here's another paradox. More women than men buy Wilbur Smith novels: his masterful heroes smouldering at feisty heroines make millions of female readers happy. Presumably, the new Mrs Smith shares that contentment. Not only is she now living in the lap of luxury, but I suspect that for all her surface servitude, little Niso has Wilbur just where she wants him, dressed to her specifications. So who's really the monkey and who's the organ-grinder?

"I think she certainly turns the handle," says Smith, contentedly. "She's a very strong girl and very switched-on. Danielle was not frugal. She had a forklift truck for taking the money out. But Niso is very careful with money. If I'm going to buy a new pair of shoes I have to run it past her first and she'll point out that I've got 50 pairs already, why do I need new ones?"

His new marriage came in the midst of a turbulent few years for Smith. For most of his career, he prefaced his books with loving dedications to Danielle. Their life was presented as an idyllic partnership, in which she helped him with his books before venturing out together on glorious adventures in the African bush. But in 1993, Danielle was diagnosed with a brain tumour the size of a goose egg.

Smith's mood becomes a lot more serious. "The first part of our marriage was great. The last part was hell. Suddenly I was living with a different person. They chopped out half Danielle's brain and her personality changed. She became very difficult. I found it very, very hard to spend a lot of time with her because her moods would flick back and forth. She'd say, 'Why am I dying and you are well? It's unfair.' I'd say, 'Look, life isn't fair.' But when she passed away, I was sitting next to her, holding her hand as she took her last breath."

Shortly after Danielle's death, stories appeared in tabloid newspapers claiming that Smith had been blackmailed by a £300-an-hour London call girl, who threatened to go public with tales of their encounters unless he paid her £10,400.

Rather nervously, I mention the story, but Smith is only too delighted to discuss the subject. "She tried to blackmail me, but in the process she said I was a helluva lover. She said I was a sex machine!" he replies, positively bursting with pride before adding a suitably modest, "Well, I wouldn't go quite so far myself ... "

I remark that I'd always wondered whether the sex scenes in his novels were the product of personal experience or simply wishful thinking.

"It's a combination of the two," says Smith, now back to full chuckle mode. "There's a little bit of experience. Well, perhaps more than a little bit! Danielle was sick for six years and we weren't living as husband and wife. I was more like a nursemaid. So I built up a head of steam! After she died, I went through a period where I was popping in and out of bed with ladies. The young lady that went to the press wasn't the only one. The others kept quiet, or only boasted to their friends! There's nothing so aphrodisiacal for a woman as money and success. It's the key to many a bedroom."

Smith's ebullience is suddenly in severe danger of tipping over into ill-advised cockiness. Perhaps he senses as much, because he hurriedly adds that, "After a while, I didn't enjoy it any more. It was like masturbating. I wanted something of more value. I enjoy the company of a woman I can discuss things with. Niso and I talk endlessly. It's companionship, rather than just biff-bang."

Niso has also done Smith one other great service. Shortly after his marriage to Danielle, he cut off all contact with his son, Shaun, and daughter, Christian, the children of his second wife, Anne. In their place, he lavished his attention on Danielle's son, Dieter.

Ten years ago he told me, with a bluntness I found quite shocking, "My children went off with their mother and drifted away. A mutual gap opened between us because they subscribed to their mother's philosophy of life and rejected mine." Now, though, it seems the story was not quite that simple.

"Danielle pushed them out to make way for her own child. The kids used to come on holiday with us. We'd take them off to game reserves and go fishing, all that sort of thing.

"I subsequently learned that when they wrote to me, Danielle intercepted the mail. She'd say, 'You think your kids love you? They haven't even thanked you for the last holiday.' I started playing the high-handed Victorian father, banging the table and saying, 'You do this, or else.' And of course my children took off in every direction, like sparrows."

This family intrigue sounds like something from one of Smith's own novels. As, indeed, does its eventual denouement, when Niso instigated a reconciliation with his son, Shaun.

"She got the telephone number and said to me, 'Ring your son.' I ducked the first call for a day or two. She followed me round with the telephone."

As Smith continues his anecdote, I realise how much his old training as an accountant is still with him. If he has a character flaw, it has nothing to do with his sexual or racial politics. It's that he so often sees things in financial terms. Hence his heartfelt reaction to his wife's suggestion: "It was incredible to me. If Niso was just in [our marriage] avariciously, for the goodies, why would she introduce people back into my life who would, in the normal course of events, get a share of my money in the long run?"

Finally, Smith called Shaun and arranged a meeting. As he describes what happens, the whole tone of his voice alters. His throat is tightening with emotion. His eyes appear to water.

"I hadn't set eyes on my son for 27 years. We just looked at each other, then I walked up to him, put my arms round him and hugged him. He said what he had to say about how hurt he'd been by my rejection. I tried to explain as best I could. We talked for a couple of hours and then he said, 'Can we just forget all that?' I said that was exactly what I wanted, too."

Smith had sent his son on his way, all those years ago, with the words, "You'll never amount to anything." To his delight, he could not have been more wrong.

"Shaun went off, joined the SAS, had a distinguished military career. Then he left and formed a company that was enormously successful. He's just sold it for millions, he doesn't tell me how many. So I've got egg all over my face, but I'm so proud of the guy because he did it on his own, without anything from me."

Smith has yet to attempt a similar reconciliation with Christian. "One bridge at a time," he says, and then adds, "It's enough for me that I've got Shaun."

I point out how much Smith's body language has changed as he describes his son. He nods, "Well, it's all - phew! - emotional times, I want to tell you."

No kidding. A multi-millionaire author and lion-hunter loses his wife to cancer, discovers she's deliberately alienated him from his own children, is blackmailed by a tart, marries a Muslim beauty and then rediscovers his son, who turns out to be a multi-millionaire ex-SAS hero.

I thought Wilbur Smith's new book was actionpacked. But compared with the drama of his own life, it's positively tedious.
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John R
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