In the eye of the beholder.

Valium, a four-by-four-foot Damien Hirst print, had been hanging in Ken Follett’s converted barn for two decades, minding its own business, until a friend of the best-selling author noticed a crease in the paper. That’s when the trouble started. After Valium was sent for re-framing, Follett was alerted to a discrepancy between the number on the print (188, out of an edition of 500) and the number listed in the Sotheby’s catalogue (88). Typo? Or something far more nefarious?

Follett has now been advised that the print, which he bought in 2004 for about $4,800 but is said to be worth more than $27,000 today, is a fake, and he “has threatened legal action against the auction house,” according to The Times of London. “However, Sotheby’s has rebutted the claims and insisted … that its ‘due diligence’ had established that the print was a genuine work produced by Hirst.” But Hirst’s own company concluded that “the design has all of the incorrect spots typically seen in fake editions,” a finding that Sotheby’s has characterized as “quite unsettling.” To be continued.

Khaby Lame

A 22-year-old Senegalese-Italian called Khaby Lame, who lost his factory job outside Turin when the coronavirus hit, is, two years later, TikTok’s biggest star, with 146 million followers. “The fame has brought him fortune: he recently agreed [to] a sponsorship deal with the cryptocurrency firm Binance to hawk its services,” reported The Guardian. “He has previously helped Hugo Boss, standing alongside Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber in ads.” Lame’s comic videos are “silent, up-close reactions to absurd events,” said the newspaper. “He’s so popular because of his everyman attitude, and the shtick he’s managed to perfect as his and his alone.”

Bill Gates is involved in creating a new hotel so luxe it would attain “six-star” status, a category that doesn’t actually exist. While this might sound a bit Nigel Tufnel–ish (“The numbers all go to 11. Look, right across the board, 11, 11, 11.... It’s one louder.... It’s not 10”), the $100 million he reportedly plans to spend converting Palazzo Marini, an early-20th-century building that not long ago was home to an Ikea, should go a long way (and in any case is a potentially profit-yielding fraction of the many billions Gates’s foundation has spent fighting poverty and disease.) The palazzo, which will be run by the Four Seasons chain, is walking distance from the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

Seacox Heath, back in the day.

The provenance is certainly interesting: Seacox Heath, a French-château-style castle located between Kent and East Sussex, sits on an estate that had previously been used as the refuge of 18th-century smugglers known as the Hawkhurst Gang. The castle itself, built in 1871, belonged to the second Viscount of Goschen, who “gave it to the Soviet Union in 1947, allegedly as a gift after Russian sailors saved his son during the war,” according to The Times of London. “The ‘dacha’ used to be the Russian ambassador’s country residence in the 1990s but it is unclear what the house’s official function is today,” though it’s “rumoured to be used by Russian diplomats and FSB spies as a weekend and holiday retreat.”

And it’s among 18 properties, worth a total of $120 million, that might well be seized and given to Ukraine. While many are in Highgate, in North London—oligarch-owned and currently frozen—Seacox Heath is more bucolic, “boast[ing] mock-Gothic turrets, chiselled balconies and terraced lawns on its 30 acres of grounds,” plus tennis courts and a football pitch, said the newspaper. “During the cold war KGB officers were observed burning shredded secret files on a bonfire in the house’s garden.” In short, a versatile property.

The Colony Room, the notorious Dean Street drinking club, closed for good in 2008, though its first golden era—vividly revisited in AIR MAIL by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 2019—ended in 1979 with the death of its founder, Muriel Belcher. Did we say “closed for good”? Because the Dorchester hotel group has plans to reopen it. “Tales from the Colony Room at 45 Park Lane is envisioned as a temporary resurrection of the Colony Room,” according to The Times of London.

It will have a reputation to live up to. Belcher “paid [Francis Bacon] £10 [$12] a week and unlimited free drinks to bring his friends to her club,” noted the newspaper. “Bacon ran up bar bills for thousands of pounds but attracted a membership that included his fellow artist Lucian Freud, the actors Peter O’Toole and John Hurt, musicians from the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the poet Stephen Spender. Other patrons included Noël Coward, EM Forster and Ronnie and Reggie Kray.”

Consulting on the project is Darren Coffield, a painter who wrote a history of the Colony, and who admitted to The Times that re-creating the club’s atmosphere would be challenging: “He recalled that only two visitors ever asked for hot drinks. One was the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was refused a cup of tea. ‘The other one was David Bowie. They were told that they didn’t serve hot drinks and that people could be thrown out for not drinking alcohol.’” —George Kalogerakis

George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL