Pandora

DESPITE HEAVY rumours circulating on the restaurant scene, Des Gunewardena, the chief executive of Conran holdings, has denied that Conran's flagship Soho restaurant, Mezzo, is up for sale: "I've been hearing this rumour for ages, and I don't know where it came from, but its not true." So Mezzo's off, then. But even if you can't buy the restaurant, you can certainly get a table in one of Conran's many eateries. He owns 12 restaurants in London alone, seating 50,000 customers a week.

Pandora had no trouble booking a reservation at prime times in all of Conran's establishments, all of which command high rents and have substantial running costs. Great Eastern Hotels, which is, remarkably, planning six Conran-branded restaurants in one hotel, must be hoping Conran's star continues to shine when the hotel opens later this year.

u

TONY BLAIR'S declaration that "we will all be middle class soon", made recently at the 10th anniversary party of the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), inspired the think-tank to hold a seminar yesterday called "Are we all middle class now?" The commentators Peter Kellner and Bea Campbell pondered the subject, while the refreshments being served tested the class credentials of the audience. A working-class snack of corned beef and pickle sandwiches, served with bitter, competed with the rather parvenu Parma ham, focaccia and wine. Sadly, Dennis Skinner - whose railing against Blair's middle-class sentiment apparently attracted at least one donation towards Labour Party funds - wasn't present at the seminar. However, Dennis would be pleased to learn that Pandora spotted one senior member of the Downing Street Policy Unit heartily tucking into the corned beef option.

u

FRIEDA HUGHES, the daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, created a literary sensation at the Whitbread Prize dinner when she read out a confessional letter by her late father saying how he wished he had published Birthday Letters earlier in his career: "I might have had a more fruitful career - certainly a freer psychological life." It is a valuable document for literary historians. But would Frieda have revealed it if her late father hadn't won?

"She wouldn't have," a Whitbread organiser admits. "She was adamant she would read it out only if her father's book won the prize." Frieda also did the artwork, called Fire, for the cover of her father's book. Before the guests were ushered into dinner, a candle fell on to a tablecloth and one of the tables caught fire. So perhaps Hughes Senior was there in spirit to remind the Whitbread judges that they had a duty to posterity.

u

WHILE the Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown was busy retiring last week, one of his party's health spokesmen, Evan Harris, also had pressing issues on his mind. At around the time his leader was preparing to go public, the former medical student was being interviewed by the lingerie model turned L!ve TV presenter, Emma B. Dr Harris MP was being quizzed on binge drinking in the "ladette" culture, which the MP describes as a "very important issue". Despite the serious nature of the topic, Evan found his host very convivial, telling Pandora: "The floor manager told me that I must keep my eyes on the presenter. I didn't find that a difficult task."

u

THE TRANSPORT Minister, Glenda Jackson, told the House yesterday that the Walking Steering Group [sic] completed a report last year, and that a Government strategy statement will be published shortly. Their noble lordships' House have now added cycling and horseriding to the steering group's responsibilities. A confused Pandora will have to approach the Ministry of Silly Walks for advice.

u

IF YOU have a story, Pandora is ready and waiting to hear from you at: pandora@ independent.co.uk

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