Magazine article The Spectator

Just the One Regret

Magazine article The Spectator

Just the One Regret

Article excerpt

FULFILMENT AND BETRAYAL ,1975-1995 by Naim Attallah Quartet, £25, pp. 796, ISBN 9780704371219 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Is he a monster, saint, genius or lunatic? In this massive book Naim Attallah attempts to lay to rest the gossip, slander and misconceptions that have dogged him for much of his life, while also coming clean about his own mistakes and failures.

I have to declare an interest. I was, in the 1980s, one of 'Naim's girls'; I am very fond of him indeed, and for several years my father, Auberon Waugh, edited the magazine he once owned, the Literary Review. 'Naim's girls' were a part of London's social scene and provided Private Eye with one of many reasons to mock 'Naim Attallah-Disgusting'. We were young, pretty, had 'names' and we loved parties. We were not paid very much but we certainly enjoyed ourselves. Other girls included Rebecca Fraser, Nigella Lawson, Virginia Bonham-Carter and Bella Pollen (whom Naim backed in a fashion business). He claims that he employed us to counteract Quartet's left-wing reputation, which may have been true, but it was no secret that he also wanted to surround himself with beauty. Not only was he a publisher, party-giver and financial director of Aspreys, he was also a film producer (the deeply romantic The Slipper and the Rose) and a theatrical angel (Clive James's shockingly bad Charles Charming's Challenges on the Way to the Throne).

The book opens with a dizzying list of people he knew. Princess Margaret, Kenneth More and President Bhutto appear within a few pages. Then he begins to address the serious side. We see the small boy who started out with a handstencilled broadsheet in Palestine and who grew up to be one of the most controversial publishers in London.

Quartet's titles varied from Chastity in Focus (a 'celebration of Janet Reger') to Jonathan Dimbleby's The Palestinians.

Naim later moved from soft focus to hardedged erotic photography with the publication of Jungle Fever, featuring Grace Jones caged, with teeth bared, ready to attack.

Along with the Arab list and of course The Joy of Sex, there was also a jazz list. While the sisterhood spat with rage over the photographic books, Attallah launched the Women's Press. Was it possible that this enemy of womanhood was also a champion of the feminist movement?

And what of this book's title? One of Attallah's great qualities is his capacity for enthusiasm, a word used repeatedly by himself and his 'contributors'. …

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