Joy Lo Dico
London Evening Standard
June 6, 2013
As the last few diners pay the bill in a sleepy Carluccio’s in Watford, the waiter serving me an espresso also serves the hottest piece of town gossip for centuries. “I’ve heard President Obama is coming too,” he says. “How do you know?” I ask. He winds me back, through what the wife of the friend of the brother of someone told him, to the source — a member of staff at The Grove.
Hold on? Obama at The Grove, the luxury hotel that usually hosts the England football team before games at Wembley? In Watford?
Tomorrow, the country house style retreat and spa that soothes the brows of Hugh Grant and the Beckhams will host this year’s Bilderberg Group conference, in which the world’s power brokers meet under Chatham House rules to kick around the talking points of the day. According to the Bilderberg website, it is “an annual conference designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America”, with “off-the-record discussions about mega-trends” and the major issues facing the world. If you choose to believe the conspiracy theorists, Bilderberg is running a shadow world government away from the eyes of the media.
This year’s official participant list, released by Bilderberg in a new spirit of openness, must have been put together by a Machiavellian genius to confound the agitators. They will have expected Chancellor George Osborne, puppeteer of the British economy, but what has his Labour counterpart Ed Balls done accepting the invitation? Prince of Darkness Peter Mandelson is a shoo-in but cuddly liberal Shirley Williams too? Eric Schmidt, CEO of the all-seeing Google, clinking glasses on the terrace with internet freedom fighter Lawrence Lessig? And why Watford?
The secrecy of Bilderberg is also the fascination. Founded in 1954, it takes its name from its first venue, the Hotel de Bilderberg in Oosterbeek in the Netherlands. No minutes are taken nor press conferences held but world leaders from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton to Angela Merkel have all rubbed shoulders with business leaders and academics in this private sphere.