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23-24 July

Tomorrow’s world

One man’s will, carved into the desert

In 2017, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman launched a construction project “so ambitious that it verges on the fantastical”, says Vivian Nereim in Bloomberg. It involves turning an inhospitable patch of Saudi desert the size of Belgium “into a high-tech city-region called Neom”, with a starting budget of $500bn. Initial concept art included “elevators that somehow fly through the sky, an urban spaceport, and buildings shaped like a double helix”.

Long reads shortened

Shanghai after lockdown

Shanghai was finally set free last month after 12 weeks of “strictest lockdown”, says Mimi Jiang in the London Review of Books. It was “bleak” – on my first day out, I walked for nearly three hours before I found an open café. Restaurants are only supposed to be serving takeaways, but some secretly receive customers indoors, “covering the shop front with black plastic”. One chef told us that, if anyone asked, we had come to celebrate his mother’s birthday. Diners at another venue were asked to “dress up as waiters to fool the inspectors”. Restaurants used to beg customers to tag pictures of their food on social media; “now they beg you not to”.


quoted Kafka 23.7.22

“A lawyer is a person who writes a 10,000-word document and calls it a brief.”

Franz Kafka

Inside politics

Westminster’s human hand grenade

When I was working in No 10, I nicknamed Liz Truss the “human hand grenade”, says Dominic Cummings in his Substack newsletter. This week she claimed it was a “compliment” because it meant she got things done. “No. It was because she caused chaos INSTEAD OF getting things done.” Truss was the only minister I ever shouted at, because of her “compulsive and pathological leaking”. After any meeting, she’d be straight on the phone to The Sun’s Harry Cole telling him exactly what was said. I once confronted her: “What are you doing leaking everything, stop, focus on your real job.” She looked back at me, with her typical “thousand-yard stare”, and asked: “What do you mean the real job?”


The woman who helped Trump to the top

One fateful evening in the summer of 1976, a 30-year-old Donald Trump visited the Manhattan singles bar Maxwell’s Plum, says Gwenda Blair in Politico. There he met Ivana Zelnickova Winklmayr, a 27-year-old Czech model in town for a fur show. He “paid her tab and sent roses”, and they were married within a year, soon becoming the “pre-eminent power couple” of 1980s New York. Brash Donald couldn’t work his way to the centre of Manhattan’s “stodgy” real-estate circle alone, but with the help of Ivana – a “blonde bombshell” and relentless networker – he was unstoppable.


quoted Reagan 23.7.22

“There is no limit to what a man might accomplish if he doesn’t mind who takes the credit.”

Ronald Reagan


A comeback for Gaddafi’s playboy heir

Saif Gaddafi, second son and heir apparent of Muammar Gaddafi, was the “international, acceptable face” of his father’s Libyan dictatorship, say Paul Caruana Galizia and Juliette Garside in The Guardian. The World Economic Forum named him a “Young Global Leader”, and in his spare time he studied for a PhD in philosophy at the LSE. But a new cache of leaked emails sheds light on what he got up to off-duty. At a New Year’s Eve party in 2006 at a villa in Uruguay, complete with DJ and “naked models swimming in the pool”, a “whole roast lamb” was delivered every day for a week. When he booked a 61 ft yacht for the summer of 2009, one of his fixers contacted an escort agency, which sent explicit photos of the women on its books. “They are good as solo,” wrote the agency. “If we speak about pairs, I recommend Leonie with Szilvi or with Chanel, or Chanel with Marsha.”


A notebook recently put up for auction lists Ian Fleming’s 13 “rules for life”, says Simon Kelner in the I newspaper. Some of the James Bond author’s precepts are outdated: “Beware of motor cars with two women in the front seat.” Some are rather obscure: “Don’t waste your time on women that wear a bracelet on their left ankle.” But others are genuinely useful: “Never eat scrambled eggs unless you make them yourself”, “avoid all politicians”, and “talk secrets only in the open air”. I have a few similar rules of my own. Never sweat on a dance floor, don’t trust a man with highly polished shoes, and “always go to bed when someone starts singing American Pie”.

Inside politics

Vladimir Putin was raised in a run-down apartment complex in a rough St Petersburg neighbourhood, says William Taubman in Foreign Policy. He had to grow up fast: if anyone insulted him, a childhood friend recalls, Putin “would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump”. He became even more fearsome when he learned martial arts aged 11 or 12. Putin was once standing at a tram stop, another chum remembers, when “two huge drunken men got off and started trying to pick a fight with somebody”. The future president handed the friend his bag, then “sent one of the men flying into a snowbank, face-first”. The second thug soon followed. “He never let bastards and rascals who insult people and bug them get away with it.”

Love etc

Nearly two decades after their first attempt, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have finally tied the knot. Back in 2003, the couple called off a “400-guest extravaganza” just hours before the ceremony, despite having a “diamond ring the size of a small planet and three decoy brides”, says Jane Moore in The Sun. This time, the only guests were the five children they have from previous relationships, and the whole affair cost the princely sum of £77. They went to Las Vegas’s famous little White Chapel just after midnight; Jen wore an old movie dress she’s had for ages; Ben changed into his tuxedo in the loo. Probably a good thing too. According to a survey by the Marriage Foundation earlier this year, unions that kick off with a wedding costing more than £20,000 are twice as likely as average to end within three years.



This Grade II listed four-bedroom home in north London was designed by influential architect Michael Brawne, and is set on the gentle slope of one of Hampstead’s most sought-after streets. Sprawling across three light-filled storeys, the interior has an open-plan living area and an open-tread wooden staircase. A bridge leads directly from the house into a private garden. Hampstead Heath station is a three-minute walk away. £2.1m.

The country house

This Renaissance chateau is set within 17 acres in Nérac, southwest France. It has five bedrooms, a stone staircase, and towers with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and distant Pyrenees. The scattering of outbuildings include a two-storey gatehouse and an orangery; there’s also a large walnut orchard which could be replanted as a vineyard. Toulouse and Bordeaux airports are both an hour and a half away. £1.6m.