Pandora

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The Independent Culture
A QUIZZICAL photo of Peter Mandelson appeared at the end of yesterday's first instalment of Margaret Cook's vitriolic memoirs in The Sunday Times. It stood beside a blurb promising next week's revelations about "Peter Mandelson's role in her bitter fight for her home". In fact, unless Mrs Cook has a new bombshell to drop, this is rather old stuff. It has been widely reported that Mandelson served as an "honest broker" between Robin and Margaret after their split, attempting to resolve the twin issues of her financial settlement and the Foreign Secretary's concern about future publicity. In this regard, after making at least two trips up to Scotland to meet with Margaret, Mandy's efforts were said to have satisfied both husband and wife. In retrospect, however, Robin must be having his doubts.

PANDORA HEARS that leaders of London's fashion industry are justifiably outraged at the aggressive behaviour of their New York City counterparts. With the next round of international pret a porter fashion collections due to begin in mid-February, the organisers of New York's fashion week have decided to usurp London as the first city to show in the twice-annual, month-long frenzy of catwalk displays and late-night parties. Not only has New York decided to go first (instead of its usual final week), before London, Milan and Paris, but the closing day of New York's fashion week takes place on the Friday before London Fashion Week's Saturday morning launch. Indeed, two of New York's most important designers, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, will hold their shows on that Friday afternoon, thus ensuring that many fashion journalists miss London's opening shows.

ONE OF high-flying Richard Branson's lower-profile activities is publishing porn, most notably with Virgin Publishing's Black Lace series of "erotic novels" aimed at women. Now the Labour MP Stephen Pound has written to Branson on behalf of a constituent who was shocked by a scene in a novel called Games of Deceit by Pan Pantziarka, part of Virgin's Crime and Passion series. It's not the highly explicit account of fornication that is objectionable but, as Pound tells Branson, the bit where "the female protagonist whispers to her lover that he doesn't need to use a condom. The partner is relieved as he hadn't brought anything with him". The MP compliments Branson, who used to own Mates, the condom company, on "your restraint in the area of product placement" but beseeches him to send a note to forward to his constituent. Pandora is pleased to have the opportunity to share this example of New Labour's ongoing campaign against sleaze.

IS THE Dorchester Hotel for sale? Owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who poured millions into its glittering refurbishment, the Dorchester is just one of the Sultan's platinum-edged international portfolio of hotel properties, which also includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and the New York Palace. The severe economic crisis in Asia has definitely affected oil-producing Brunei, although the Sultan and two ranking female members of his household were in a jolly enough mood when they joined the Queen for tea at Buckingham Palace on 9 December. Recently, the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) sold off its stake in a major Australian investment bank for pounds 76m. Now the New York Post is claiming that the Sultan "has a `for sale' tag on most of the assets he collected during a three-decade spending spree". At least there's some good news in the tiny Pacific kingdom this week: the Sultan's estranged brother, Prince Jefri, who used to head the BIA, just had the "white slavery" suit brought against him by a former Miss USA thrown out of federal court in California.

ACTOR JAMES Woods (pictured), the hip, fast-talking, pock-marked American star of many an Oliver Stone film, has been hyping his own latest film, Another Day in Paradise, which he produced and stars in as a drug addict. In customary Hollywood style, Woods offers his verdict on President Clinton: "I'm the last person in the world to be judgmental about morality and sexuality. But I feel mostly for his wife. What he did to her was rude." British readers may be confused by this, wondering if Woods doesn't have Hillary confused with Monica Lewinsky. Pandora hastens to remind that rude behaviour in America has more to do with poor table manners or smoking in public than anything Bill got up to with his cigar.

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