When David Cameron spoke recently of entrepreneurs banging the drum for British business, he possibly wasn't referring to the woman whose entrepreneurship has become the talk of New York. In her own way, though, Anna Gristina, 44, could be cited as a curious example of British excellence.
The Scottish woman, who allegedly ran a high-class prostitution racket from her Manhattan apartment for 15 years, has been showing that when it comes to sex scandals the Brits still lead the world.
Heidi Fleiss may have had an A-list clientele but she didn't have Playboy models working for her, royalty and former presidential candidates on the books, an ex-husband who is a noted politician, and a stunning stand-up comedienne sidekick. For wild originality alone the "McMadam" story surely wins out.
She didn't succeed before a New York judge last week though, failing in the latest of several bids to get her $2m (€1,523,000) bail reduced. Gristina's lawyers argued that she is as poor as a church mouse -- she "does not have two nickels to rub together", they said -- while prosecutors claim that in the process of setting up her vice empire, she amassed a fortune of $15m (€11,384,000) in personal profit, much of which they say has been "squirrelled away".
They also submitted that they believe she is a flight risk and gave evidence that she fled "within hours" of being "tipped off" about the prostitution investigation, which led to the resignation of former New York governor Eliot Spitzer.
District Attorney Charles Linehan told the court that there "was no plainer example that she (Gristina) is a flight risk". If the prosecutors are playing hardball, however, so is Gristina. From her cell in Riker's Island she sent word that she would sooner bite her own tongue off than betray any of her prominent clients.
One would expect nothing less of a doughty Scot, who decades ago left behind her tiny village of Kirkliston, near Edinburgh, to make her fortune in the big city but is still well remembered back home.
She was adopted when she was just five months old by an older couple, John Tennant, a gardener, and his wife, Annie, a maid, who already had five children. She attended the local primary and secondary school, but after finishing there moved to America and cut most ties with her family.
In Scotland there has been a sort of dazed bemusement
that one of their own could have become a Big Apple vice queen, but family members say they saw the glint in her eye.
"I'm not surprised to hear she is involved in this," her sister Gwen told the New York Daily News. "We have nothing to do with her anymore. She moved away and never bothered." Which was surprising because Gristina has shown herself to be a dab hand with social networking sites. Her Facebook page was dominated by pictures of her pet pigs, which slept in beds in her upstate New York ranch.
On a school reunion website she posed, apparently nude, with her beefcake toyboy husband who draped a protective arm around her breast. He was one of three husbands, the second of whom gave her the last name she still uses. That would be Dario Gristina, a multimillionaire engineering heir and conservative Republican candidate for the New York Assembly.
He says he divorced Anna years ago and had no idea she was allegedly one of the city's most famous madams. Not that she needs her ex to bat for her -- the prosecution has alleged that Gristina had friends in high places.
Before she was arrested she boasted that she had law enforcement contacts who would tip her off if she was in danger of getting caught, an assistant district attorney said in court.
Several powerful figures in the legal and entertainment worlds are said to be scrambling to cover their tracks, and a New York sergeant, Richard Wall of the NYPD, was under investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau in connection with his repeated visits to Gristina's Manhattan apartment (he has since been cleared of any wrongdoing).
Rather disappointingly for journalists covering the story, the building at the centre of the case did not fit the accepted mould for palatial vice headquarters -- the New York Post sighed that it was "more wham bam than glam". Although located in one of Manhattan's most salubrious neighbourhoods, the Upper East Side, it is a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment situated above an Indian restaurant. It doesn't seem like a place a former presidential candidate -- John Edwards was named last week in connection with the investigation -- would be caught dead in.
Edwards is the most high- profile name to be roped into the case so far, but others include a Morgan Stanley employee, a disgraced former IRS (American equivalent of the Revenue Commissioners) official, and an apparently loyal attorney who has offered up his home to try to raise the bail money she needs.
Peter Gleason, described as "part lawyer, part saviour", also couldn't help publicly noting that the women in these cases get tarred for life while the men get their own prime- time television shows (he was referring to Spitzer, who briefly hosted a daytime show on CNN).
In her court appearances thus far, Gristina has cut a surprisingly haggard figure -- her dress somewhat unkempt and her bearing matronly. Whether this is a strategic move to make her appear an unlikely madam remains to be seen, but certainly she contrasted greatly with the woman whom prosecutors allege helped her run the prostitution business.
Thirty-year-old Jaynie Mae Baker swept into court looking like a supermodel on a day off and finally provided an element of tawdry glamour to proceedings. Baker is a one-time comedienne who also auditioned on a wrestling talent show called WWE Raw in 2004. Both she and Gristina claim that Baker was a legitimate matchmaker supplying women for wealthy Manhattan businessmen to date.
Gristina herself denies the single charge against her -- of promoting prostitution. The culmination of this five-year investigation will be known soon -- a verdict is expected within weeks. Gristina faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
In the meantime the focus is all on her little black book, and whether any more names of Edwards's magnitude will emerge. Her attorney has said that there categorically is no such book. And if that is the case it will come as a bitter disappointment to both the media who have salivated over every detail of this case, and to prosecutors who are hell bent on catching the pig-loving McMadam telling porkies.