PROFILE

HIS IMMIGRANT IS NO SAINT

NOAH RICHLER May 29 2006
PROFILE

HIS IMMIGRANT IS NO SAINT

NOAH RICHLER May 29 2006

NEWSMAKERS

‘IF THEY CAN PROVE I HAVE AN ACCOUNT ABF MY POST’-CUBAN DICTATOR FIDEL CASTRO, AF1 OAD CONTAINING EVEN ONE DOLLAR, I WILL RESIGN ER FORBES CLAIMED HE’S WORTH NEARLY $1 BILLION

COLIN THATCHER

BOARD BENDS—AND HE CATCHES A BREAK

The National Parole Board had never been very friendly to Colin Thatcher, the former rancher and Saskatchewan cabinet minister convicted in the beating and stabbing death of his exwife JoAnn Wilson in 1983. In 2004, he was denied early parole, after serving about 20 years of a life sentence.

Last year, his request for a three-day unescorted pass to visit his three children during Christmas was rejected. Even his own parole officer recommended Thatcher be denied. But lately, Thatcher has been given some leeway— since March he has been granted a number of passes to visit his sons in Winnipeg and Moose Jaw, Sask., unescorted, although the parole board has not confirmed if any visits ever took place. And last week, the 67-year-old, who still maintains his innocence, caught his biggest break yet, when he was granted day parole.

ROBERT PETIT

‘THIS WILL BE A LAST RECKONING'

Former leaders of Cambodia’s infamous Khmer Rouge will face a seasoned Canadian prosecutor when their long-awaited trials begin in the coming months. Robert Petit, a lawyer injustice Canada’s war crimes section, has been appointed co-prosecutor at the UN-approved tribunal investigating the slaughter of some 1.7 million Cambodians in the mid-1970s. “The acts commited in Cambodia during the period in question are well \ documented,” says Petit. “This will be a last reckoning for the alleged perpetrators.” The 45-year-old father of two has dedicated much of his career to bringing practitioners of genocide to justice, serving on the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda and the United Nations mission in Kosovo. He was also a prosecutor with the serious crimes unit in East Timor, and trial attorney for the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

BOB MARTIN

NEVER SICK OF LIFE IN THE CHAIR

Don McKellar never imagined that The Drowsy Chaperone, the silly musical he created in embryonic form several years ago for the stag of fellow Toronto thespian Bob Martin, would end up on Broadway—never mind earn 13 Tony Award nominations. But he never doubted how perfectly Martin would fit the role of the Man in the Chair—for which he earned a Best Actor nomination last week. “Bob was always working on what I called accountant-type characters— a loserish guy who is also witty and engaging,” says McKellar. “So this role wasn’t a stretch for him.” After the pre-wedding bash perfor mance, McKellar and Martin wrote a fuller version of the play on which this musical is based—that book earned the duo a Tony nod. And since playing the lead at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999. Martin has never relinquished the role—in Toronto, L.A. and now New York. “He’s always had understudies,” says McKellar. “But he’s never been sick. He has a good constitution.”

KATHERINE JENKINS

WHO SAYS OPERA ISN’T SEXY?

Katherine Jenkins is the reigning queen of pop-opera—the curious musical crossover genre that has given us the well-coiffed boys of II Divo. Jenkins, 25, has a multimillion-dollar recording contract, has performed at Live8, challenged the biggest pop acts in the world on the British charts and is Britain’s fastest-selling classical musician of all time. In creating her debut album, Première, she had a little help from a friend, Juliette Pochin (inset), who wrote, arranged and produced some of the music. But after watching Jenkins break records and earn international fame—Jenkins was even named the official mascot for the Wales rugby team— Pochin, 32, decided she wanted a piece of the action. Heralded by some critics as the next big thing, Pochin landed herself a five-album, big-money deal with Sony BMG and last week released Venezia, her debut. The battle for pop-opera supremacy has officially begun.

FIDEL CASTRO

HOPE HE HAS A GOOD MONEY MANAGER

“Why should I defend myself against this rubbish?” thundered Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He was talking about Forbes’ annual list of wealthy rulers, which pegged the dictator’s assets at $997.2 million, well behind top-ranked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ($23.3 billion) but ahead of Queen Elizabeth II ($554 million). The business magazine calculated that Castro, 80 in August, has economic power over “a web of state-controlled companies,” and there are rumours of “large stashes in Swiss bank accounts.” The Communist leader strongly disagreed, insisting his net worth is zero, and challenged his critics: “If they can prove I have an account abroad containing even one dollar, I will resign my post.” Perhaps George W. Bush, the 10th U.S. president to face Castro, will take up the challenge.

JANAN HARB

THAT’S SOME PRETTY EXPENSIVE SUPPORT

Janan Harb is betting that the European Court of Human Rights and the miracle of compound interest will give her what the Saudi royal family doesn’t want her to have—around $800 million worth of matrimonial support befitting a widow of the late King Fahd. Harb, a Palestinian Christian, says she married the billionaire prince in 1968, becoming one of his wives. The relationship, however, grew strained after Fahd became king in 1982 and thus custodian of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. In 2004, with Fahd disabled by a series of strokes, Harb launched a legal maintenance claim, asking for what $12 million in 1968 would be worth now. The 59-year-old’s legal fight in Britain was ended by an appeals court following Fahd’s death last year at 82. So Harb’s lawyers are filing suit in the European court. To help her case, she has started re-

GAY TALESE A LIFE THAT’S FAR FROM ORDINARY

From his brilliant Frank Sinatra profile in the April 1966 issue of Esquire (a 15,000-word piece written without having interviewed 01’ Blue Eyes) to his most recent book, A Writer’s Life, in which he turns the spotlight on himself, Gay Tálese says it all boils down to good storytelling. “I write about people with a story that would not be told if I didn’t tell it,” says the always impeccably dressed 74-year-old (the only thing Tálese buys off the rack are knee-high socks). “These people have stories that say something about the time and place in which they exist. You can’t Google most of the people I write about.” It’s the New Yorker’s intense curiosity and eye for the finest of detail that sets him apart.

“You don’t have to lie if you do enough work,” says Tálese, in reference to the James Frey scandal. Talese’s wife, Nan (below right), was the unsuspecting publisher of Frey’s liar’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces. “What is ordinary is extraordinary. But you have to put

ADRIAN VERES NO PAPIER MÂCHÉ VOLCANO FOR THIS GUY

Adrian Veres never wasted his time with traditional science fair projects. A few years ago, when he was in Grade 8, Veres focused on nanotechnology (about the time his classmates were learning that water and vinegar don’t mix). Now in Grade 11, the Montreal native has developed a biosensor capable of detecting infectious pathogens more quickly than current methods. “It generally takes about three days to identify the cause of a bacterial infection,” says Veres, 16. “What I’m working on can do the analysis in a couple hours at the same cost.” Veres’s efforts paid off earlier this month when he won US$10,000 at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Indianapolis (an event that attracted about 1,500 high-schoolers from 47 nations). “Some teens have jobs—mine was going to the lab after school,” says Veres, who is planning for a career in medical research. “If I kept track of my hours, I’d have been paid way under the legal limit.”