Life & Culture

My cousin’s wife’s dad— and Phil’s 3 deaths

Peter Rosengard discusses surviving death and selling life insurance to the mafia


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I’ve had to organise a family funeral. On Tuesday morning I called the print shop to say I’d come in to pick up the 100 programmes that I’d ordered for the service.

“I’m sorry but you can’t come over right now,” the manager said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“There’s a dead body right outside the front door. A man has fallen off the roof of the building. The police have cordoned it off and nobody can enter or leave the shop.”

I am not making this up. And yes — I spotted the irony.

Two days after the funeral I had dinner in my local bistro with a friend and her pal, Phil - a healthy looking man in his early 50s who I’d never met before. As he sat down, pulling his anorak off over his head, his t shirt rose up. I couldn’t help noticing a big bulge in the heart area.

“That’s my implanted defibrillator. I’ve been dead three times!” he said cheerfully. “Three cardiac arrests. It keeps me alive.”

As opening dinner conversations go, that’s not an easy one to follow.

I settled on, “What would you like to drink, Phil?”

I instinctively knew I wouldn’t be selling Phil Life Insurance (as regular readers of this column will know, that’s what I do for a living). There’s rather a long waiting list for the ‘After-death Life Insurance’ policy, let alone the ‘Three Times Dead’ policy.

I told Phil that I once gave a speech in New Orleans to 5000 Life Insurance salespeople, during which I’d casually mentioned that I’d once sold Life Insurance to a Mafia hit man.

In the question and answer session that followed someone asked, “Are you telling me that your company accepted a Life Insurance application from a Mafia hit man?”

“He didn’t disclose it,” I said.

“There wasn’t a question on the application form — after ‘Have you ever had a heart attack or cancer? Or ‘Are you a Mafia hit man?’”

“He said he was a wine bar proprietor from Surbiton.”

Three months after the policy was issued, I bumped into my client, Francesco, coming out of the Jack Barclay Rolls Royce showroom in Berkeley Square. He was wearing a black fedora hat, a full length cashmere overcoat over his shoulders and large mirrored sunglasses. He had a huge Havana cigar in his mouth.

“Bonjorno!” he said. I shook his hand. It was like shaking hands with a rock

“Francesco! What are you doing here?” I asked. He pointed to a blue Rolls Corniche in the window.

“I just bought a new car,” he said.

The wine bar in Surbiton must be doing rather well, I thought.

18 months later, the Evening Standard front page headline read: ‘Mafia Hit man jailed for 25 years for heroin Pizza parlour distribution ring’. It added that Francesco ‘Frankie the Strangler’ Di Carlo, a wine bar proprietor from Surbiton, was also wanted by the Italian police for 37 mafia murders.

That’s the thing I love about selling Life Insurance — you meet so many interesting people: one minute I’m selling to Irving the dentist from Cricklewood and the next to Frankie the Strangler. Everyday’s an adventure. Everyone needs to protect someone — someone they’d take a bullet for or, in Mr di Carlo’s case, give a bullet to .

I’ve spent my career talking to strangers, which just happens to be the name of my best selling memoir (available at OK, so it’s not giving JK Rowling sleepless nights but it has 210 rave reviews, although since my marvellous mum died aged 98 a year ago I’ve noticed there haven’t been any new ones.

I’ve been selling Life Insurance 50 years. I know what you’re thinking: it’s unusual for a 3 year old boy to become a life insurance salesman. I recently said that to a young Swedish woman and she looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” she said. “You cannot be a salesman when you are three.” I love the Swedes.

As we were about to leave the restaurant after dinner, I said, “By the way, Phil, you might like to know that my seventh cousin, Big Bruce Rosengard’s wife, Ariella’s father, saved your life.”

“What do you mean? How?”

“She was born Ariella Mirowski and her father, Dr Michel Mirowski, invented the implanted defibrillator. The very same one, Phil, that resides inside your chest. In fact if you take it out — not now please — you’ll see it’s got his name on it. So my cousin’s wife’s dad saved your life, Phil, not once but three times! You should have a plaque above your bed that says, ‘I had dinner with Peter Rosengard and unfortunately he didn’t sell me life insurance’. They are very rare. You could sell it at Sotheby’s.”

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