INSIDER: Dishing on last night’s Politics and the Pen dinner. Hint: Barbara Amiel rocked it
People & Places

INSIDER: Dishing on last night’s Politics and the Pen dinner. Hint: Barbara Amiel rocked it

Ottawa Magazine contributing editor Mark Bourrie (author of The Fog of War, hence the invite) dishes on his first visit to last night’s star-studded Politics & the Pen dinner.

I was not the star of the show. Short, fat, bald, middle-aged, unfamous married men rarely are.

Nor were the MCs: David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, and Gary Doer, Canada’s man in Washington.

Lots of TV recognizables — the lovely Amanda Lang, the owlish Craig Oliver, the stern Chantal Hébert. But they weren’t the stars.

Nor was Cohen Prize winner Richard Gwyn or the three other brilliant writers who competed for the prize and actually showed up.

No. It was Her.

“Did you see her?” cabinet ministers were asking book publishers, who asked famous Hill pundits the same question.

“She’s over there. Have you seen her?”

I saw her. You couldn’t miss her, even though she’s quite small and doesn’t quite look like herself anymore. Dressed in smashing clothes, she was ready for her close-up, even though Mr. Demille was nowhere in sight. She’d make do with the clutch of photographers sent by the local newspapers.

Because, at 71, she’s still got it, at least enough of it to be the pin-up girl on the wall of at least one Florida prison cell. Barbara Joan Estelle Amiel, Baroness Black of Crossharbour, was the show at last night’s Politics and the Pen gala.

And as the only known infamous baroness in the room, she played it to the hilt. She made a like a queen bee in the reception, shook off her workers and drones for a grand entrance, and ignored the people who, on the pretence of making bathroom breaks, slipped by her table to have a look.

The only other certified member of the nobility, Michael Ignatieff, was unable to pull it off. Nor were all those hundreds of very rich, very smart, and often quite pretty people who coughed up $195 for a ticket or who, like me, dined free in return for being part of the entertainment.

I didn’t want to go. I’m not much for the Ottawa glitter circuit, and I hate to go to anything stag. I rely on my wife to wow dinner companions while I carefully examine the food. But I ended up at a table with a very sociable computer genius, a diplomat negotiating the free trade deal between Canada and India, and a bright and kind business reporter from Reuters. Those were the people on my right. To my left were a beautiful young lawyer who does interesting work for the feds, a very funny flak for a cabinet minister, two more communication experts and the Minister of Heritage, James Moore.

It was that kind of crowd.

Politics and the Pen is now the best party in town, an event where it’s very easy to be involved in a conversation that you’ll remember forever.

I had to be pushed out of a car and needed to frog-march myself inside, reminding myself I’d made a commitment and thinking how lousy I’d feel if I bought a table at a “literary” event and the damned writer that I’d expected at my table hadn’t shown up.

I am sure the Baroness of Crossharbour needed no such soul-searching. Her man may be in jail, the title may be a bit of a punch-line, she’s not the sprig of a girl who drove men to cold showers at the CBC when she worked there back in the 1970s.

With all the spinners, authors, politicos and business folks filling the room with buzz, trying to get their various messages out, Barbara Amiel simply had to walk in the door to steal the show and to let the power brokers and influence-makers know what she has to say: She’s back, God damn it, and when Conrad gets out of the slam next month, so is he.