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Edith Sommer Exclusive Interview Christmas 1991
by Sinclair Newton





 
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"I remember saying to Clifford: "If you are crazy enough to do it then do it."

"What I should have said was: "I'll laugh with you, but I'm not getting involved."

"Cliff saw an article in a magazine which included a photograph of Howard Hughes' handwriting and his signature. It all started at that moment.

"He had just published a book called "Fake" about a friend of ours called Elmyr de Hory who had become the world's greatest art forger and it set him thinking.

"You cannot tell me it was for money. He had just got a contract worth $450,000 for three books with the American publishers McGraw Hill. We were so rich.

"He just wanted to do it because it was great fun. He was seeking some adventure, something that hadn't been done and especially here from Ibiza. To see him now at 61 and successful makes you realise that all he ever wanted to be recognised.

"He had this idea and he went for it. Whatever people have said about him being a crook I know he wanted the excitement of hoaxing the world. To take on one of the world's greatest publishing houses and convince them he had the one book everybody wanted was a fantastic joke.

"I went along with it and the idiocy of it was my involvement. McGraw Hill believed the advances for the book were going to Howard Hughes and so we had to have a Swiss bank account to clear the cheques. But we couldn't think of one person we could trust to pick up so much money. Cliff suggested two or three people we knew, but in the end I decided it would have to be me.

"Early on I remember Cliff saying it would be very amusing when he finally told McGraw Hill it had all been a spoof. We thought it was fun, an adventure. But when there was so much money Cliff didn't want to let go of it.

"One of my best friends on the island was a Danish singer called Nina and I didn't realise they were having an affair and that doing the book gave Cliff the opportunity to travel with her, once for a week in Mexico.

"I will never forget what happened when I found out. Howard Hughes denied ever meeting Cliff and there were all sorts of stories appearing in newspapers and on television.

"I was in the lawyer's office in New York and there was a copy of a magazine on the desk. Cliff was stood at my side and there, staring at me, was a picture of Nina and a story saying it was her and not Howard Hughes who had been with him in Mexico.

"It was the first time in my life I went wild and I punched him on the chin there and then in front of the lawyer. It ended our marriage on the spot. It was over.

"Nina still comes to Ibiza and it wasn't until about five years ago that I started talking to her again. I realised I didn't have fun any more threatening her! If you feel emotionally something is finished, then it's finished.

"But the worst thing of all was when I was jailed for two years in Switzerland and the children were not allowed to visit me. Cliff and I wrote to each other, but my letters to him were not very pleasant.

"Cliff had the boys taken to America where he was serving his sentence at the same time because they were allowed to visit him. We both didn't want them to think we had deserted them.

"Even the jail experiences were interesting. If I hadn't had the kids it would have been exciting. I could have escaped, but I didn't want to lose my remission for good behaviour and I served 14 months. Cliff got out of his prison just two months before I was freed, but even then our problems were not over.

"The Spanish authorities would have arrested him at the airport if he had tried to come to Ibiza. Then the Americans wouldn't give me a visa to go and pick the kids up and Cliff couldn't get into Spain to bring them. I managed to sort it out for him with the government here, but the marriage was utterly finished.

"Still, we have become good friends now and he stayed here with his fifth wife and our two sons for six weeks this summer.

"Everybody on the island who is our age remembers us, but we are getting older and young people don't know about us. Clifford has had twenty years of not making money until now.

"Now he's had two best-sellers, one called Daddy's Girl about an accused couple and the latest called Trial about Texan law that might he made into a TV movie. He's living in Mexico with his new wife and he's much quieter now. We are really good friends.

"The revelation about Nina broke up the marriage, but I had always known he was a womaniser. You can't change people like him.

"It was a cheating story and once you get into the cheating and lying business you pull after yourself the same sort of treatment.

"Right up to the hearing, Cliff could have denied everything. Even Nina wouldn't have mattered because he could have said this time, on this visit to Mexico, he didn't meet Howard Hughes.

"There was no way Howard Hughes would have come to court and the case would have collapsed without his personal denial that the meetings Cliff claimed took place all over the world had ever happened.

"The book was eventually published, but only in Spain. Then a deal was done so that the lawyers got the rights to the real story of what happened as a book in exchange for the legal fees. It was a gamble because that book could have become a best-seller but it paid off because it didn't.

"I am Swiss although I was born in Germany and I was told that I could face ten years in a Swiss jail. Then we were told a deal had been done and that the Swiss would drop the charges against me there, but the DAs were lying.

"The money was almost all in place so it could be returned, but I was angry when I discovered Cliff had somehow spent around $100,000. The Swiss charged me with everything and sentenced me to two years. It was horrible. I served 14 months with all these women who all claimed they were housewives and hadn't done anything. They were mean and boring.

"We didn't think it was criminal and thought we could give the money back and laugh about it. I never needed to do crazy things and thought it would all end with laughter, not a prison sentence. But Cliff did what he wanted to and it's not right to hold crazy people back.

"I did think about escaping from the jail. I had knitted a sweater and I could easily have made a skirt from the curtains, got into a lift from the kitchen to the ground floor and just walked right out. It would have been fun and I would have tried it but for the kids. Mentally I was fine and in many ways I was well off. Some of the other women in there were so frightened of just being in their cells alone.

"As for me, I learned my lesson. I would never do something like that again. If I had that time over I would tell him to do it on his own.

"You shouldn't stop people like Cliff doing crazy things, but you shouldn't get involved.

"The main thing I learned is that I would never just go along with something again.

"I'm still happy here in Ibiza and I've just had central heating put in after thirty years with a wood-burning stove. I'm 56 now and as well as still painting I'm looking for creature comfort.

"But I cannot imagine getting married again. I think the ideal solution for people is to live in their own houses and just see each other from time to time. I know a couple in Germany who did it for thirty years and it was absolutely ideal because they each kept their personalities, just meeting when they wanted to.

"I wish I could have done that with Cliff.

Sinclair Newton

sinclairnewton@liveibiza.com