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Then in 1988, with his firm's net worth approaching 0 million, controlling assets of £1.2 billion, much of it in cash, he went on safari to Tanzania. You go 7,000 miles away and you see people herding cattle and looking for water to survive. I had been a slave to the world of finance for 40 years."Instead of ending the holiday lazily on the island of Lamu, he persuaded his Latvian-born wife, Valda, to travel 800 miles across the Serengeti in an old Jeep, ostensibly in search of a leopard. In business, you are either predator or prey."They did find a leopard, a sinuous female draped on a branch over a dry riverbed. We are absolutely devoted to each other but I don't think she trusts me.
Ondaatje had been fixated by leopards since he saw one as a boy with his father. "This fantastically beautiful thing…" he rhapsodises. "I was standing there with a Canon 300mm lens, only about 12ft away from her. You have this kind of bond." But she was really only a metaphor for something else he was looking for. She should not have to share my madness, sleeping in some filthy dirty tent in the Semliki forest on the Zairean border with insects crawling over you."The limit to loyalty, they both realised, was in December 1996 when they camped in the Semliki the night Laurent Kabila overthrew Mobutu.
"The Government says it will back Northern Rock," he says scornfully. They are desperate to get someone to buy it and get it off their back."His gold cufflinks crash repeatedly across the polished surface of his vast dining table as he pushes sheets of notes towards me, one by one. You won't be too badly hit if you own your own house and you are not in debt."He has three houses – in London, Devon and Nova Scotia – all beautifully appointed, with fine pictures and objets d'art.
The first sheet, written on his embossed, personalised taupe notepaper, says: "1. And, make no mistake about it, Northern Rock is only the tip of the iceberg. His own money, what's left after the million donations, is in Canadian and sterling Treasury Bills.
It’s a long street by Glasgow standards and was renowned for its department stores, hotels, cinemas, restaurants and tearooms as well as art galleries and a range of smaller businesses.
Much of the street is situated on a hillside that was probably once moorland, parts of which may have been wooded and others later cultivated.
While The Power of Paper was at the printers, it did.
Then, another warning tremor: people started queueing to get their money out of Northern Rock branches across Britain.
"I didn't want 'financier' emblazoned on my gravestone."It took him a year to sell the business but two years to get over his addiction to money-making. On his return, he wrote a cheque for £2.5 million to the National Portrait Gallery, the beginning of a strategic philanthropy that was to benefit the Royal Geographical Society, Somerset County Cricket Club, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Chester Playhouse, Lakefield College School, Pearson College, Dalhousie University and more. We are not different, we are exactly the same, it's just that I had to go into finance to try to put the family back on the map.So he wrote faster and faster in his hectic longhand, predicting that the present abuse of money in the financial world could cause the world economy to collapse, creating chaos and confusion across the globe, from America to China.He foretold that the American housing bubble, based on reckless mortgage lending, would burst, with repercussions for us all.It is sometimes said that Ondaatje turned from business to literature because he was envious of his brother, Michael, who lives in Toronto. Sauchiehall Street is a name unique to Glasgow and yet known well beyond the city limits.
Real power, he deduced, was to be able to issue your own pieces of paper. I still crave it."Journey to the Source of the Nile sold more than 70,000 copies.