By Gregory Kohs
If you’ve heard of Jimmy Wales, there’s little doubt that you know him for his 2001 role in helping to set up Wikipedia, a site beloved by common folk trying to settle bar bets, while loathed for its inaccuracy by many in the academic world. However, Wikipedia is in decline — long touted as the world’s 5th or 6th most popular global website — with a 6% drop in American readers in April, it has slipped down to the 16th most popular site among U.S. web users (according to Quantcast). Jimmy Wales’ star was diminishing, so what’s a web celebrity to do? One might say that Jimbo (as he’s affectionately called on Wikipedia) decided to hitch his wagon to another horse, in order to stay in the global spotlight and make a fair bit of cash in the process. Who was this new engine of Jimmy Wales’ resurgance? None other than former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Blair represented a “New Labour” party between 1997 and 2007, which advocated for a British minimum wage policy, less-crowded classrooms, more government healthcare, and a young adult work program; while on the other side of the coin, Jimmy Wales espoused a much more conservative Libertarian and objectivist approach that aligns with individual responsibility and small government. The two men would seem to be strange bedfellows. But it appears that love, and money, and perhaps quite a bit of love of money, brought Jimbo fully under Blair’s umbrella of power.
Let’s document the various linkages between Jimmy Wales and Tony Blair, now going on eight solid years of undeniable connection.
First the love
Perhaps Jimmy Wales’ first exposure to the sphere of Tony Blair was at the TED Global 2005 talks, where Wales graced the same stage as Charles Leadbeater, a favored advisor of Mr. Blair’s. In January 2005, Tony Blair attended his first World Economic Forum (WEF) summit. Also in 2005, an organization called the Young Global Leaders was spun up from the World Economic Forum, with seed money from an Israeli outfit, the Dan David Prize. All three of these organizational bodies will sooner or later play a role in cementing the Wales-Blair relationship.
At the invitation of U2 lead singer Bono — a match enabled by Elevation Partners bigwig Roger McNamee — Jimmy Wales would attend his first WEF at Davos in 2007. Here, Wales spoke privately with Bill Gates about paid editing on Wikipedia. (Author’s note: in August 2006, Jimmy Wales reached an agreement with me that encouraged paid editing of Wikipedia-ready content.) Tony Blair was also in attendance, speaking at the opening press conference. At this 2007 meeting of the WEF, two people who didn’t yet know each other would be selected as new Young Global Leaders — Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, and Kate Garvey, an influential insider of the Tony Blair administration, Blair’s diary secretary. In early 2008, super-wealthy Richard Branson would invite both Tony Blair and Jimmy Wales to his private Caribbean island, to discuss global climate change and new ways of profiting off it.
In November 2009, Jimbo would travel to receive the Monaco Media Prize, where he would meet Kate Garvey in person for the first time. Apparently there was a spark there, because after meeting again together in Davos in 2010, the two began dating. Asked later whether he fell in love with Garvey, Wales said, “Well, yeah, I suppose so“. Shortly after, in January 2011, Wales was in London to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia’s founding. To make the ceremonial first cut of the cake with Wales was none other than Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie. Wales’ divorce from his second wife became final in April 2011, which legally freed him to pursue Garvey’s hand in marriage. Wales first had a child with Garvey, and then he sealed the deal with a lovely church wedding (though Wales is an atheist) with Garvey in October 2012. In attendance at the ceremony were Tony and Cherie Blair, as well as a bagpipes performance by Alastair Campbell, Blair’s communications director.
Then the money
In May 2009, Tony Blair would accept a $1 million prize in Israel, from the Dan David Foundation. Recall, an earlier Dan David prize set up the Young Global Leaders program, which would soon honor Blair’s diary secretary and Jimmy Wales. Blair gave 90% of the money to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, an organization whose public relations handler was Kate Garvey, now of Freud Communications. At some point prior to November 2012, Jimmy Wales would also get involved with Blair’s Faith Foundation. In May 2011, UK Israel Business hosted Tony Blair, and in June 2012, it was Jimmy Wales’ turn, when he delivered a keynote speech at the British Israeli Business Awards gala dinner. In June 2011, both Wales and Blair had participated in the 3rd annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem; both were also listed speakers for the 2009 Presidential Conference. Fast forward a few years, and the Dan David prize of $1 million goes not to Blair, but to Jimbo Wales.
Tony Blair’s (and Alastair Campbell’s) lucrative financial business of consultatively assisting the repressive regime in Kazahkstan is no secret. It therefore should have come as no surprise when in 2011 Jimmy Wales pledged $5,000 of his own money to support a once-and-future government operative in Astana who was undertaking an effort to replace the free and open Kazakh language Wikipedia with a version that was state-approved by Nursultan Nazarbayev’s henchmen. When the Wikipedia community scolded and questioned Wales’ judgment about aligning with such an autocrat, Wales sort of panicked and forbade anyone from using his Wikipedia “talk” page to discuss Wales’ relationship with Tony Blair. It was an odd moment.
Then there was the half-million-dollar prize from the United Arab Emirates government to Jimmy Wales. The UAE reportedly also fund several of Tony Blair’s consultancy contracts. (Tony Blair has been pitching for $45m to advise the United Arab Emirates.)
Similarly, Wales appeared again in the Middle East as a keynote speaker for the Oman Ministry of Commerce & Industry in 2014, just like Tony Blair had done before him.
As if pocketing money from Israel, the UAE, and Oman were not enough, Wales and Blair each have their financial ties to the nation of Qatar. For Blair, it was his assistance to the Qatari royal family that helped them land the purchase of a prestigious London hotel. For Wales, it was his Wikimedia Foundation’s acceptance of a huge financial gift from the Qatar Foundation. Not surprisingly, we here at Wikipediocracy later discovered that the Qatar Foundation had long been spinning its own message on the pages of Wikipedia, with the assistance of two different public relations firms that did not disclose their involvement in paid Wikipedia editing.
You may imagine that all of these lucrative deals that have come Jimmy Wales’ way may have materialized even if he had never met Kate Garvey and never followed in the financial wake of Tony Blair. But the evidence that the deals were inextricably linked to Blair is impressive. Even Wales’ newest financial venture, wireless carrier The People’s Operator, came to him through a notable connection with the Labour party. Wales took over the company when that Labour financier unexpectedly passed away.
Image credits: Wikimedia, Flickr/World Affairs Council of Philadelphia ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic