The Right Honourable
The Lady Black of Crossharbour
|Born||December 4, 1940
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
|Spouse(s)||Gary Smith (1964–1964)
George Jonas (1974–1979)
David Graham (1984–1988)
Conrad Black (1992–present)
|Residence||Toronto, Canada and Palm Beach, Florida|
|Occupation||Writer, columnist, Socialite|
Barbara Joan Estelle Amiel, Lady Black of Crossharbour (born December 4, 1940) is a British-Canadian journalist, writer, and socialite. She is also the wife of former media baron Conrad Black, who is currently imprisoned for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.
Amiel was born into a Jewish family in Watford, Hertfordshire, England. Her parents divorced when she was eight, after her father, Harold, left her mother for another woman. Her mother subsequently remarried and in November, 1952 the couple emigrated with Barbara, her sister and half-brother, to Hamilton, Ontario. Her father committed suicide in 1956.
While in England, Amiel attended North London Collegiate School in Canons Park, Edgware, Greater London, an independent girls' school founded by Frances Mary Buss in 1850. Family difficulties--including some financial hardship---during the early years in Canada, precipitated her living independently for periods of time during her adolescence during which she held a variety of jobs to support herself. In 1959 she entered the University of Toronto, where she attended University College and took an honours degree in Philosophy & English. Amiel was an active communist, and was a delegate in 1962 to the Soviet-organised World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki, Finland.
Amiel entered a brief marriage to Gary Smith in 1964 when she was 23 years old. She was married a second time to poet, broadcaster and author George Jonas from 1974 to 1979. A third marriage was to cable businessman David Graham in 1984, but they were divorced by 1988.
In July 1992, she married Conrad Black (who was granted, in 2001, a life peerage as Lord Black of Crossharbour), a Canadian-born British author and media baron (Black surrendered his Canadian citizenship to accept the peerage) who was convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007. Amiel stood by her husband throughout the lengthy trial, and published some of her observations in her regular column for Maclean's Magazine.
Amiel has been a longtime columnist for Maclean's magazine (1977-present) noted for her right wing political views. In the late 1960s Amiel was a story editor and on-camera presence for CBC TV Public Affairs. In the 1970s she was intermittently on contract with both CTV and TV Ontario. By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter (1978), which she co-authored with her second husband, won The Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Fact Crime book. She was a columnist for the Toronto Sun in the 1980s and 1990s, also serving as the daily's editor from 1983 until 1985 (making her the first female to edit a daily metropolitan newspaper in Canada) before returning to Britain.
From 1986 to 1994, Amiel was a columnist for The Times and The Sunday Times. In 1994, she moved to the Daily Telegraph, owned by her fourth husband. She has served as vice-president, editorial of Hollinger, the holding company Conrad Black controlled.
Amiel is known for having strong opinions about what she sees as the acceptance of antisemitism in some circles, and for her steadfast support of Israel. She has also been criticized for writing articles that portray Arabs in an allegedly unflattering fashion. In December 2001, she caused a sensation by reporting, in The Spectator, remarks by the then-French ambassador to the UK, Daniel Bernard. He was shown to have described Israel as "that shitty little country."
In 2003, she attacked BBC current affairs coverage, claiming that it has been seen as a "bad joke" for decades. Amiel lost her position as a columnist on the Daily Telegraph in mid-2004 after civil suits were exchanged between her husband and The Telegraph's parent company in the wake of a corporate battle which led to criminal charges being laid against Black in late 2005 and a trial in Chicago in 2007. In 2005, she rejoined Maclean's as a columnist under its new editor, Kenneth Whyte.
A biography of the couple by Tom Bower, Conrad and Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge, featuring an unflattering portrayal of Amiel, was published in November 2006. The book has been denounced by Black in The Daily Telegraph and Black filed a suit in Canada against its author.
At the origin of Black's troubles with his shareholders and justice, is a 2002 interview his wife granted to Vogue magazine in her London mansion, where she said that her "extravagance knows no bounds." Amiel displayed "a fur closet, a sweater closet, a closet for shirts and T-shirts and a closet so crammed with evening gowns that the overflow has to be kept in yet more closets downstairs." There were also a dozen Hermes Birkin bags, thirty to forty handbags made by Renaud Pellegrino and more than 100 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes. Amiel's 'extravagance' was not only confined to clothes; she also had a large collection of jewellery, mostly diamonds and pearls. After this interview, Hollinger International began legal action in Illinois against the couple and other executives, seeking $1.25 billion in damages.
Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in a Chicago courtroom on July 13, 2007. Amiel was with him every day of the trial since its beginning in March 2007. Lord Black was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison in December 2007. He reported to Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida on March 3, 2008. Black's appeal against his convictions was turned down by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on 24 June 2008. On May 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear an appeal of his conviction.
In August 2008, Amiel published a five-page defense of her husband in Maclean's magazine in which she portrayed herself as the victim of a gross injustice. "My life was wiped out in Chicago — at least all that mattered in it," she wrote. "What does it matter if one well-off elderly white woman with too many pairs of expensive shoes now finds her social life largely limited to visiting her dearly missed husband in a U.S. federal correctional institution." Amiel went on to argue that gross defects in the American judicial system matter to everyone. "If ostensibly privileged defendants like us can be baselessly smeared, wrongfully deprived, falsely accused, shamelessly persecuted, innocently convicted and grotesquely punished, it doesn't take much to figure out what happens to the vulnerable, the powerless, the working-class people whose savings have been eaten up trying to defend themselves."